Despite being separated by just 100 miles geographically, the difference in success between the respective roster rebuilds in Toronto and Buffalo is much greater. While Toronto is closing in on a potential playoff berth, the Sabres appear set to miss the postseason dance for the sixth straight season. The Score’s Craig Hagerman lists three reasons Buffalo’s rebuild has not been as successful as the Maple Leafs.
First, Hagerman argues, once the team landed top draft prospect Jack Eichel the Sabres overextended themselves by dealing precious young assets to acquire veteran forwards Ryan O’Reilly and Jamie McGinn from Colorado. Buffalo dealt two former first-round draft picks, Nikita Zadorov and Mikhail Grigorenko, along with prospect J.T. Compher and the 31st choice in the 2015 draft to get O’Reilly and McGinn. Given Grigorenko’s and Zadorov’s struggles in two seasons with Colorado versus O’Reilly’s solid play for Buffalo, it’s fair to debate that the Sabres have so far come out ahead in that swap. While a case can be made the O’Reilly has been a good fit for the Sabres, able to take the tougher assignments and freeing up Eichel to see inferior competition, ultimately Hagerman believes a rebuilding team should hoard it’s young assets further into the process.
The scribe also credits Toronto for ridding themselves of their most onerous longtime commitments, finding takers for the expensive contracts of Dion Phaneuf, Phil Kessel and Jonathan Bernier, while at the same time bringing in young talent to augment their rebuild. Buffalo, on the other hand, has four players – Evander Kane, Matt Moulson, Zach Bogosian and Tyler Ennis – that account for roughly $40MM against the salary cap at least through the 2017-18 campaign. Finally, Hagerman points out that the Leafs are getting more production from their young players than Buffalo is. Toronto has Mitch Marner, William Nylander and Auston Matthews, all of whom have either reached or are on a 60-point pace as rookies. Buffalo has Eichel, who has been excellent, but beyond that their top picks in recent drafts, players like Sam Reinhart and Rasmus Ristolainen, have yet to fulfill their full potential. That’s not to say they won’t, only that Toronto’s top prospects are maturing at a quicker clip helping to advance their rebuild at a faster pace than Buffalo’s.
Elsewhere in the Atlantic:
- While team captain Steven Stamkos is progressing in his rehab from a knee injury and may be nearing a return to the ice, fellow center Tyler Johnson is no closer to resuming his 2016-17 campaign, according to Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times. As Smith writes, the 26-year-old Johnson hasn’t even begun skating on his own, lessening the likelihood that he will return during the regular season. Johnson, who has struggled to duplicate his breakout performance in 2014-15 when he tallied 72 points, has registered just 19 goals and 44 points in 64 appearances this season. The Lightning have a decision to make as Johnson will be a RFA this summer and will undoubtedly command a sizable raise despite his decreased production the last couple of years.
- According to Cap Friendly, via Twitter, the NHL has rejected the ELC contract signed yesterday by Swedish defense prospect Emil Johansson with the Boston Bruins due to “an issue with payment structure.” Johansson was Boston’s seventh-round selection in the 2014 entry draft and is having a solid season with Djurgardens of the Swedish League, ranking second among the club’s blue liners in scoring. It’s likely just a minor setback requiring the two sides to restructure the agreement before re-filing it with the league.