Archive for the ‘Hockey’ Category

Buffalo Sabres’ 2023 Off-Season Summary

17 Aug

Buffalo general manager Kevyn Adams entered the 2023 off-season in a different place than in previous years after the Sabres finished a single point out of an Eastern Conference playoff spot, behind the eventual Stanley Cup finalist Florida Panthers. The team is now considered an up-and-coming franchise, so Adams is under pressure to make sure the Sabres continue to progress in the 2023-24 season. He beefed up his squad at the trade deadline by adding forward Jordan Greenway and defenseman Ryan Stillman, but hasn’t dabbled in the trade market as of yet in the off-season to improve the club. Here are the moves the team has made with an eye toward next season:


Free Agency

It was all about adding to the defense corps for Adams. He signed a pair of veterans, Connor Clifton and Erik Johnson, one of whom should wind up pairing with young star Owen Power this season on the back end. Both appear to be slated for the top 6 in some way. Buffalo’s goaltending situation may be a possible weak spot, but the team seems to be content with going into next season with a pairing of rookie Devon Levi and either Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen or Eric Comrie. The only free agent signings in the net were depth additions probably slated for their Rochester AHL affiliate – old friend Dustin Tokarski and Devin Cooley.


Entry Draft

The team’s top draft pick is an intriguing player. He is Zach Benson, a winger for the WHL Winnipeg Ice who was a teammate of the club’s 2022 top pick, Matt Savoie. Savoie is considered a can’t-miss future star, but some pundits claim Benson is even better. The second round pick is Swedish centerman Anton Wahlberg, who at 6’3 and 191 lbs. will add size to the roster once he’s ready for NHL play, which should be a few years off. Four of the remaining 6 picks were defensemen, as the team looked to boost an area of their pipeline that was lacking. The most interesting of those picks is local product Gavin McCarthy from Clarence, NY. The team had 2 second round picks, and along with Wahlberg they plucked another big defenseman in 6’3″ 205 lb. Maxim Strbak, a good two-way player with excellent skating ability from Slovakia. Although he’s a long way off from the NHL, the team did add a netminder in the draft, 5th round pick Scott Ratzlaff.

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NHL – Buffalo Sabres’ 2022-2023 Season Review

17 Apr

In their first full season under coach Don Granato the Buffalo Sabres established an identity and showed a lot of improvement over past years. Here is our annual review of the club’s season and look into the future for next year:


Front Office/Coaching


The fruits of GM Kevyn Adams’ patience with the Jack Eichel trade began paying dividends in 2022/23. He has also shown a knack for improving the Sabres’ draft record, although some of the young players are still growing in junior hockey, college and the AHL. Don Granato’s background in coaching before becoming the Sabres’  head man was in the USA player development program, and he has done wonders in developing the overall games of the team’s players.



Goaltending was a four-man carousel for the Sabres this season. They started the year with 41 year old Craig Anderson and free agent signee Eric Comrie, with top prospect Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen eventually joining the mix. All 3 had mixed results and their share of ups and downs all year, and below par goaltending haunted the team all season. It was arguably the main reason they fell 2 points short of a playoff berth. When his college season ended, one of Adams’ trade acquisition gems, Devon Levi, signed with the club, made an immediate impact as the team’s goalie of the future by being thrown into the net during their season-ending playoff quest, and didn’t disappoint. Anderson retired after the season ended, so Adams will have to decide on a plan of how to supplement Levi with a capable backup, either keeping UPL or Comrie or looking outside the organization for a new option.



Nowhere has the job Granato has done developing players to their maximum potential shown more brightly than with the forward ranks. Tage Thompson has become an NHL star and only injuries kept him from reaching the 50 goal mark as he centered the team’s top line most of the year. The wingers on that line, Jeff Skinner and Alex Tuch, also attained career highs in goals and points. When Thompson was sidelined late in the year, Casey Mittelstadt was moved up to center the top line and was a revelation. His playmaking skills were on display at new heights, and he added a goal scoring touch, finishing with a career high 15. That line was kept together even after Thompson returned, which leads to a question of how Granato will construct his lines next season. It’s a good problem to have. Thompson finished the year on a line with Dylan Cozens, who also had a career year with 31 goals, and Jordan Greenway, a trade deadline acquisition power forward with tons of potential. Cozens, despite his breakout year, still has a lot of growth potential also, as do 2 rookies who became valuable forwards in 2022/23 – J.J. Peterka and Jack Quinn. The hope should be that this pair match the growth that Cozens achieved this season in 2023/24.
Another youngster picked up in the Eichel deal was Peyton Krebs, who won a job on the checking line and was a valuable contributor. He showed a physical edge to his game and also a lot of playmaking ability. There looks to be a lot of untapped offensive potential for him too. As for the rest of the forwards, there are a lot of questions. Captain Kyle Okposo and Zemgus Girgensons are both free agents. Okposo is pondering retirement, but if he decides to continue playing it would be a smart move for the Sabres to try and re-sign him for his leadership. Victor Olofsson is an enigma. An extremely talented goal scorer, his inconsistency and streaky play won him a spot in the press box when the team was playing their most important games at season’s end. His plus/minus rating for the year was a putrid -23, but he also scored 28 goals. Has a Buffalo team ever had a good enough roster that they were able to bench a 28 goal scorer at a most crucial period? His skill set may make him a valuable trade asset if Adams decides to go that route. The 2 other forwards, Tyson Jost and Vinnie Hinostroza, will be pushed for roster spots next season by some talented incoming youngsters.



Buffalo drafted a pair of defensemen in recent years when they had the top pick. Rasmus Dahlin has emerged as an NHL superstar, and Owen Power is headed in that direction also. Almost as important of a piece on the blue line as that pair is Mattias Samuelsson, a big, young physical presence whose skill set is different but just as valued. There is a stark difference in the club’s record in games that he played versus the ones he missed. The rest of the defense corps is average at best, but with little in the pipeline coming up on defense the Sabres may have to get improvement from most or all of them, or look outside the organization for help. Ilya Lyubushkin and Riley Stillman are bigger, more physical players, while Henri Jokiharju and Jacob Bryson are smaller puck-moving options who can be intimidated physically. Kale Clague was basically an extra spare part, but played well when called upon.



Buffalo has some top prospects who look ready to not only compete for roster spots next year, but play important roles. Levi, of course, has already begun his journey. Top forward prospects Matt Savoie and Juri Kulich are primed to join him in 2023/24. In the AHL at Rochester, another top draftee, Isak Rosen, continues to rise, while some dark horse possibilities there include Lukas Rousek, who flashed potential in a callup this year, Brandon Biro, Linus Weissbach, Tyson Kozak and Aleksandr Kisakov. Simmering in junior hockey, college or in Europe are guys like Olivier Nadeau, Noah Ostlund, Prokhor Poltapov, Ryan Huglen and 2 who could advance more quickly due to the lack of numbers among defense prospects – Ryan Johnson and Mats Lindgren.

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Buffalo Sabres’ 2022 Off-Season Summary

18 Jul

The work of improving the Buffalo Sabres’ fortunes in the 2022 off-season really began during the season for general manager Kevyn Adams. He was patient and eventually completed the blockbuster trade involving the team’s former captain, Jack Eichel. The disgruntled center was shipped to the Vegas Golden Knights for a couple of NHL-ready players – Alex Tuch and Peyton Krebs, and a pair of high draft picks. Last off-season, Adams had the Seattle expansion draft to deal with, and the team was lucky enough to win the draft lottery and made the most of the top pick by selecting big defenseman Owen Power, who will be a cornerstone going forward. Don Granato is now firmly entrenched as the head coach, so this year’s summary has only 3 categories – potential trades, the entry draft and free agency. Here are our opinions on how Adams did or should handle those:


Potential Trades

Most observers expect any trade involving Buffalo will be for their biggest position of need, goaltender. The goalie trade merry-go-round is already in full swing, with Colorado and Detroit swinging deals. Adams tried to swap for Ottawa’s Matt Murray, but he refused to play here and is now off to Toronto. The Sabres seem to have been a step behind other clubs in the goalie market, and may have to look to free agency to fill that need now. There was a rumor, put out in the media by coach Don Granato’s brother-in-law Ray Ferraro, that the Sabres could be considering trading for Chicago’s Patrick Kane, a Buffalo native. At 33, he’s not exactly a good fit for the team’s rebuilding youth movement, but on the other hand he would be a valuable asset for however many years he has left in a couple of different ways. First, in helping the young players learn how to win, and secondly, in helping sell tickets to a fan base exhausted by all the recent losing.


Entry Draft

The Sabres collected 3 first round picks with their own and through the trades of Eichel and Sam Reinhart. They chose skilled centermen with all 3, beginning with Matthew Savoie at pick 9. His strengths are his speed, skating ability, and stick-handling. He was projected as a possible top 5 pick so Buffalo was smart to grab him at 9. With the 16th pick, Swedish centerman Noah Ostlund was the choice. His scouting report is similar to Savoie’s in that it stresses his speed and skill. Finally, Buffalo chose Czech Republic center Jiri Kulich, also known for his speed but one of his strengths is his goal scoring ability. The Sabres pulled a mild surprise when they used their second round pick on a goaltender, the enormous Topias Leinonen from Finland. He’s 6’5 and 233 lbs. Despite his size, his scouting report says he is athletic and quick. One other pick with interesting hockey bloodlines is 4th round defenseman Mats Lindgren Jr., whose father had a long NHL career. With 22 selections in the last 2 drafts, Adams has fortified Buffalo’s pipeline of young prospects heading into the future. Here are the rest of the 2022 picks:

Victor Neuchev (winger from Russia, 3rd round)

Vsevolod Komarov (Russian defenseman who played for Quebec in junior hockey, 5th round)

Jake Richard (forward who played for USHL’s Muskegon Lumberjacks, pick 6A)

Gustav Karlsson (forward from Sweden, pick 6B)

Joel Ratkovic Berndtsson (forward from Sweden, pick 7A)

Linus Sjodin (forward from Sweden, pick 7B)



Free Agency

There were no big splashes for the Sabres in the early days of free agency. As expected, the team inked a goaltender, Eric Comrie, formerly of the Winnipeg Jets. He’s 27 and has been with 3 different teams, mainly with the Jets. Adams is banking on potential with this signing, as he showed some flashes in 2021 while backing up Connor Hellebuyck. Buffalo also brought in a veteran defenseman from Toronto who plays a somewhat physical style in Ilya Lyubushkin. Buffalo signed 3 more little-known defensemen to two-way contracts (Jeremy Davies, Cale Clague and Chase Priskie) to bolster their defensive depth in the organization. Lawrence Pilut, once a promising prospect who bolted to Europe a couple years ago, was re-signed, along with some important pieces of the current team in Victor Olofsson and Vinnie Hinostroza. With Dustin Tokarski signing in Pittsburgh, Adams re-signed goaltender Malcolm Subban, likely with the idea that he will man the nets in Rochester.

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Reviewing The Buffalo Sabres’ 2021-2022 Season

07 May

Buffalo has always been an important franchise in the NHL, despite their recent long string of losing seasons. With the club finally showing signs that they might be ready to be a competitive team next season, we here at Rayonsports have decided to do a year end review of the team for the first time since the 2015-2016 season.


Front Office/Coaching


It’s been musical chairs in both the general manager and head coaching positions with the Sabres during their long non-playoff drought, but it’s possible that owners Terry and Kim Pegula have finally hit on a winning combination with GM Kevyn Adams and coach Don Granato. Adams was patient in dealing with Jack Eichel’s situation and did a great job of prying the best deal possible from the Vegas Golden Knights when he landed Alex Tuch, Peyton Krebs and a pair of draft picks for his disgruntled star. The jury is still out on the draft picks he has made but it was a no-brainer in grabbing Owen Power at the top of last year’s draft. As for coaching, there’s no denying the work Granato and his staff have done in both developing young players into the best versions of themselves (Tage Thompson, Rasmus Dahlin), and in turning around the careers of supposedly overpaid veterans who previously underachieved (Jeff Skinner, Kyle Okposo). The next challenge will be turning the progress made into an actual winning season in 2022-23.



The Sabres made the transition from a forward group led by offense-only Eichel and Sam Reinhart to a more well-rounded and versatile unit this season. Thompson’s emergence and the addition of Tuch were 2 examples of this. Both were key power play pieces and also top contributors on the penalty kill. Skinner’s revival into a 30+ goal scorer and Okposo banking 20+ while also being a locker room leader were priceless. Okposo is a prime candidate to take on the captain’s role next season. Granato was patient with Victor Olofsson and was rewarded when the young winger produced after being fully recovered from an injury to also score 20+. Casey Mittlestadt has suffered setbacks in his development due to injuries but when healthy he looks to be an important player going into the future. Dylan Cozens continued to develop and although he still has the potential for more growth in his game, he is a solid teammate who can be counted on to stick up for his fellow Sabre players. Krebs is still raw but he shows flashes of possessing some impressive skills and looks to be a major part of the team’s future. Zemgus Girgensens is another veteran role player who figures to stick around and provide important minutes on a third or fourth line. Vinny Hinostroza was signed to a one year free agent contract, and his play earned him a future here. Adams should make him a priority to re-sign. John Hayden was signed to a similar deal to add some toughness to the lineup. He was scratched from the lineup most nights but always ready when called upon. The rest of the forward group could see some shuffling next season. Rasmus Asplund and to a lesser degree Anders Bjork have shown they can be contributors, but it will likely be the end of the line for veterans like Cody Eakin and Drake Caggiula, a forgotten piece who was injured most of the year. All of the bottom-end forwards will be challenged for roster spots by the young bucks coming up from the AHL, including Jack Quinn, J.J. Peterka, Arttu Ruotsalainen and Brett Murray, among others. There are also top players in the pipeline, most of whom will need to mature and develop in the junior ranks, college and minors.



This unit going forward will be led by a pair of top draft picks of recent years, Rasmus Dahlin and Owen Power. Their games are not necessarily the same but they already appear to be headed toward being the best at their position. Dahlin has developed nicely under Granato’s tutelage, earning his first All Star game appearance, while Power jumped straight from the college ranks into the lineup and never looked out of place or intimidated. When the season concluded, the remaining top 4 defensemen were a combination of speed and puck-handling ability in Jacob Bryson and Henri Jokiharju, and size and toughness in Casey Fitzgerald and Mattias Samuelsson. The rest of the D corps consists of veteran journeymen Colin Miller, Mark Pysyk and Will Butcher. It’s unlikely all of them will be back in 2022/23. The only AHL prospect who might make the leap to the Sabres’ roster next season is Oskari Laaksonen. Ryan Johnson, a first round draft pick from a couple of years ago, is returning to college for another season.




This is the team’s top area of concern going into next season. They will have to make a move here if they expect to compete for a playoff spot. Craig Anderson was a warrior as the top netminder this year, but he is 40, injury-prone and an unrestricted free agent who isn’t sure whether or not he wants to continue to play. Dustin Tokarski did about as well as expected when he had to play, but he is an AHL goalie if truth be told. There has to be an upgrade made here. In the system, the other options are Malcolm Subban, another AHL-level goalie, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, who was to be the goalie-in-waiting but can’t stay healthy and Michael Houser, who played in the ECHL with Cincinnati this year and probably belongs there. A pair of top-fight prospects who should eventually compete for the #1 goaltender spot for the franchise, Devon Levi and Erik Portillo, both decided to remain in school for another year, and aren’t ready for the NHL yet anyway. Whether Anderson returns or not, there is a crying need for a legitimate NHL-caliber bridge type netminder to hold the fort until Levi and Portillo are ready.

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Buffalo Sabres’ Offseason Summary

31 Jul

We here at Rayonsports haven’t published much as far as our local hockey team, the Buffalo Sabres, is concerned, but the reality that the 2021 offseason is undoubtedly the most consequential in franchise history made it absolutely necessary to comment on. The following is a list of all the major issues GM Kevyn Adams has faced and our opinions on how he handled them:


1. NHL Draft Lottery

In this case, Adams didn’t have an important decision to make, he just needed Lady Luck on his side. She came through for him, as the Sabres won the lottery and gained the top pick.


2. Coaching Hire

Interim coach Don Granato did an admirable, if not remarkable, job when he was handed the reins after Ralph Krueger was fired. He simplified the game for the players, removed some of the pressure from fear of making mistakes by telling them to have fun, challenged them to reach their full potential, and with a severely depleted roster, squeezed a top level of compete from what he had to work with. Points go to Adams for promoting Matt Ellis and Dan Girardi from the hockey development department to assistant coaching roles to help Granato, as they did outstanding work in supporting the interim coach. After conducting a thorough search with multiple interviews, Adams made the wise move of removing the interim tag and hiring Granato as the full time head coach. Ellis will stay on as a full-time assistant, as will goaltending coach Mike Bales.  Two other new additions are Jason Christie and Marty Wilford, both of whom have a history with Granato, while Girardi will return to his player development role.


3. Expansion Draft

The addition of the new Seattle franchise, and the accompanying player draft that comes with it, added another layer to what was already a busy time for Adams and his staff. He made his first positive move when he convinced Jeff Skinner to waive the no-movement clause from his contract, helping  the club protect another young player from being exposed to the draft. Unfortunately, the team had to lose a player and in the Sabres’ case that player was promising young defenseman Will Borgen. The Kraken drafted a load of defensemen in the draft, and it’s questionable whether Borgen even makes their team. He would have to clear waivers before he can be sent to the minors, and Buffalo will have first claim on him if that happens. They could theoretically steal him right back.


4. Potential Trades

Following another dismal last place finish in the regular season, some important players, including the team captain, Jack Eichel, expressed, or at least hinted at, wanting to move on from the Buffalo franchise. Adams has said he plans on building the team with people who want to be here, and began that process by dealing some players who have worn out their welcome. He got a great return from Philadelphia for defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen, snagging the Flyers’ first round draft pick (# 14), a second rounder in 2022 and a solid replacement D-man in Robert Hagg. The return for Sam Reinhart, one of the team’s top scorers, doesn’t appear to be as good. Only 2 assets came back in return from the Florida Panthers – their first round pick in the 2022 draft and an intriguing goaltending prospect in Devon Levi. Only 19, he plans on playing college hockey at Northeastern this season, and is a long-term prospect at best. He played remarkably well for Team Canada in world junior tournaments in 2019 and 2020. On the day free agency opened, the Sabres made an interesting deal, acquiring defenseman Will Butcher and a draft pick from New Jersey for “future considerations”, which basically means they got a serviceable veteran defenseman for free. The last remaining shoe to drop is Eichel. There’s a significant rift that has developed between Sabre management and Eichel and his representatives, mostly concerning how and when to treat his neck injury. The disagreement has become serious enough that Buffalo almost certainly will have to deal their disgruntled star. However, as Adams has pointed out, Eichel is under contract for 5 more years, so there is no pressure to give him away for anything less than full value. Minnesota, Vegas and Anaheim appear to be the teams most likely to make a serious offer for the Buffalo captain.


5. NHL Entry Draft

This, of course, will be an extremely important step to get right for the future of the franchise, and the results of the choices made, good or bad, won’t be immediately known as most of the players taken will need more development before they’re ready to enter the NHL. Buffalo did the expected by choosing 6’6 defenseman Owen Power to open the draft, and although he plans on attending Michigan in the fall, he looks ready to step into the NHL right now. With the Flyers’ pick obtained in the Ristolainen deal, the Sabres picked Swedish winger Isak Rosen, then followed up by grabbing three consecutive slightly-built Russian wingers – Prokhor Poltapov, Aleksandr Kisakov and Stiven Sardarian. All 4 of these prospects will need to grow into their bodies but have one thing in common – they’re proven goal scorers. This was supposed to be a weak draft, and the NHL draft is always a crapshoot, especially in the later rounds. Will any hidden gems emerge from the rest of Buffalo’s 2021 picks? Here they are:

Josh Bloom, LW, Saginaw (OHL)

Olivier Nadeau, RW, Shawnigan (QMJHL)

Viljami Marjala, LW, Quebec (QMJHL)

William Von Barkenow-Lofberg, C, Malmo (Sweden)

Nikita Novikov, D, Dynamo Moscow 2 (Russia)

Tyson Kozak, C, Portland (WHL)



5. Free Agency

Buffalo should have ample cap space to add some veteran leadership to their roster through free agency. The challenge will be to convince players to sign with a franchise that has seen nothing but failure for years. The team lost a couple of important veterans to free agency when Jake McCabe signed with Chicago and goaltender Linus Ullmark, who Adams hoped to retain, bolted for division rival Boston. When UFA Carter Hutton signed with Arizona, Buffalo was left with an empty cupboard as far as goalies were concerned. They made a couple of underwhelming signings to fill that need in 40 year old Craig Anderson and 32 year old Aaron Dell, who inked a two-way deal which means he likely is Rochester bound to play for the Sabres’ AHL affiliate. Buffalo opted for bargain basement signings this time around after getting burned by low-effort, high salary Taylor Hall last year. Most of the players brought in appear to be depth for the Rochester club, but there are a trio of interesting additions who should help the Sabres in 2021-22. Vinny Hinostroza is a bottom six center who has floated around the league, most recently with the Black Hawks. John Hayden, a Yale graduate, adds some much needed size to the lineup and could be a top contributor on the fourth line and as protection for the team’s smaller players. The defense corps, weakened by the losses of Ristolainen and Borgen, was helped by the signing of an old friend, Mark Pysyk, lured away from the Dallas Stars.







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Reviewing The Buffalo Sabres’ 2015-2016 Season

16 Apr

Expectations for the Buffalo Sabres entering the 2015/16 season were certainly higher than the previous two bottom-dwelling years, but maybe those expectations were a little too high, as the club missed the NHL playoffs again. However, this season did show marked improvement. It took awhile for the team to come together, but they were much better, and their young players improved immensely, in the second half of the season. Here is a review of the recently completed Sabres’ season, with an eye toward what they need to accomplish in the off-season to continue improving:


Front Office/Coaching

General manager Tim Murray completely remade both the coaching staff and the roster, hiring Dan Bylsma, a Stanley Cup winning coach in Pittsburgh, as the new coach, replacing the popular Ted Nolan. Bylsma didn’t work any wonders, but the team looked more organized under his leadership and definitely improved over the course of the season. Draft day was hectic for Murray, and he parlayed his treasure chest of top picks into a future superstar, Jack Eichel, with the second overall pick, and a couple of trades that yielded young but experienced players. His deal with Colorado to bring in Ryan O’Reilly and Jamie McGinn was a steal, although later dealing McGinn away was disappointing. O’Reilly is a brilliant young leader who should eventually become team captain. The other trade, for goaltender Robin Lehner, gets an “incomplete” grade, as injuries kept the big goalie from playing enough to prove his worth.


Eichel, O’Reilly and 2014 top draft pick Sam Reinhart head a roster of forwards that appears to be headed for big things next year. That trio, along with another Murray trade acquisition, Evander Kane, gave the Sabres a quartet of 20 goal scorers who figure to only get better. It was almost a totally lost season for Tyler Ennis, due to concussion issues, but if he can regain his past form the club will have another scoring threat. After slow starts, two younger veterans, Marcus Foligno and Johann Larson, improved their all-around games and started to contribute offensively. The same could be said for two of the team’s older veteran leaders, Matt Moulson and captain Brian Gionta. Zemgus Girgensons was a workhorse under previous coach Ted Nolan, but his play dropped off in 2015/16 and he’ll need to rebound next season. It’s hard to imagine the Sabres re-signing veteran David Legwand, who’ll be a free agent, especially with young up-and-comers like Hudson Fasching and Justin Bailey competing for roster spots next year.  One player who is the type of player every team needs, and the Sabres should keep around, is Nicolas DesLauriers.


Jack Eichel


The Sabres have three solid young defensemen to build around heading into the future in Rasmus Ristolainen, Zach Bogosian and Jake McCabe. Another youngster, Mark Pysyk, is a probably a tier below that top three talent-wise but should be a regular competitor in 2016/17. Among the three veteran D-men on the roster, Josh Gorges, being an alternate captain, is most likely a lock to stick around next year, while the other two, Cody Franson and Carlo Colaiacovo, are stopgap players who likely will be replaced next year. In Franson’s absence at the end of the year due to injury, rookie Casey Nelson stepped in and did an admirable job, staking a solid claim to a regular spot on defense next year.

Zach+Bogosian+Buffalo+SabresZach Bogosian


Lehner is one of GM Murray’s prize acquisitions and the type of big, intense goalie he likes, but overall he was overshadowed by free agent-to-be Chad Johnson this season. Lehner battled injuries, and in his absence Johnson proved his worth as a starting NHL netminder, posting a winning record for a losing, non-playoff team and gaining the total confidence of his teammates. It will be hard for Murray to let him walk away in the off-season. Linus Ullmark also played pretty well in limited opportunities, while newly signed Jason Kasdorf was shaky in his lone late-season start. He will definitely need more seasoning in the minors before he’s ready for the NHL.

chad-johnson-buffalo-sabres-590x900Chad Johnson

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The 10 Best Hockey Team Nicknames of All Time

21 May

There’s a tradition in the National Hockey League of placing nicknames on both memorable teams and historic three-man lines, and this list includes both. The Montreal Canadiens, being the most storied and successful franchise in the league, have two entries on the list. Here are my 10 favorite hockey team and tandem nicknames:



  1. Flying Frenchmen – this nickname has been affiliated with the Montreal Canadiens dating back as far as 1917, but the “Flying Frenchmen” I remember are the 1970s Canadiens, featuring players like Guy LaFleur, Larry Robinson, Steve Shutt, Bob Gainey, Rejean Houle,  Jacques Lemaire and Serge Savard. The ultimate “Flying Frenchman” on this club was LaFleur, and the Canadiens won 5 Stanley Cups during his career.




2. Broad Street Bullies – this would be the 1970s Philadelphia Flyers, who won back-to-back Stanley Cups using a rugged style of play that was big on intimidation and short on style. They were regularly the most penalized team in the NHL, and most of those penalty minutes were fighting majors or roughing minors, featuring players like Dave “The Hammer” Schultz, Andre “Moose” Dupont, Don “Big Bird” Saleske, Ed Van Impe and captain Bobby Clarke, the ultimate instigator.




3. The French Connection – right around the time that the movie “The French Connection”, starring Gene Hackman, was hitting the theaters, Buffalo Sabres’ GM Punch Imlach assembled a line of three French-Canadians. Centered by Gilbert Perreault with Rene Robert and Richard Martin on the wings, the trio was tagged with the French Connection nickname and became one of the most prolific lines in NHL history.




4. MPH Line – if you were to try to name a top line of the 1960s and ’70s Chicago Black Hawks that was named after the players’ last initials, you’d probably guess that the “M” was for Stan Mikita and the “H” for Bobby Hull, but you would be wrong. The players who made up this famous line were Pit Martin, Jim Pappin and Bobby’s brother, Dennis Hull.




5. Triple Crown Line – this line got their nickname because of the team they played for – the Los Angeles Kings, whose uniforms featured a crown logo. Consisting of Dave Taylor, Charlie Simmer and Hall of Famer Marcel Dionne, they were a prolific scoring line that was the first line in NHL history to have all 3 members score 100+ points in a single season.




6. Big Bad Bruins – this nickname is used on the Boston Bruins’ franchise to this day, for their rugged style of play, but was really earned in the 1970s when the team had players like Terry O’Reilly, Wayne Cashman, Carol Vadnais, John Wensink and Mike Milbury, and even carried some of their battles into the stands with opposing fans (see picture above).




7. Les Habitants – this nickname for the Montreal Canadiens is a favorite of their French Canadian fans in Quebec. Like the New York Yankees in baseball and Boston Celtics in basketball, the Canadiens are the standard for their sport that all other clubs hope to be. They are one of the oldest North American sports franchises, and have won a total of 24 Stanley Cup championships.




8. Broadway Blueshirts – this is a long-time nickname New York fans have for their Rangers, an original six franchise that played in the 1920s at the old Madison Square Garden, which was just blocks away from Times Square and the Broadway scene. They were a huge fan favorite in that Roaring Twenty era, having won the Stanley Cup in their second year of existence.




9. Desert Dogs – when the old Winnipeg Jets’ franchise made the unlikely move to the desert to become the Phoenix, and later Arizona Coyotes, they were tagged with this nickname. Coyotes have long been known as “desert dogs”, so the nickname fit the new hockey club when it changed locations in 1996.




10. The Production Line – this line, consisting of hockey legends Gordie Howe, Sid Abel and Ted Lindsay of the Detroit Red Wings, was named after their home city’s long-standing automotive industry connection. They are considered one of the greatest lines in hockey history, with all three members having been elected to the sport’s Hall of Fame.


Reviewing The Buffalo Sabres’ 2014-15 Season

19 Apr

For the second consecutive year, the Buffalo Sabres finished at the very bottom of the National Hockey League standings, and for the second straight year they also lost out on the top pick in the NHL’s entry draft due to the league’s “lottery” system. Even without the top pick, Buffalo should be able to grab another good prospect with the second overall choice, most likely Boston University standout Jack Eichel, to go with last year’s top choice, Sam Reinhart. One big disappointment of the 2014-15 season, besides the losses and supposed “tank” job to secure a top draft pick, was coach Ted Nolan being made a sacrificial lamb for all the losing. Here is a season review of what was a dismal year for Buffalo hockey fans:

Front Office / Coaching

Now that the dust has cleared from 2013’s front office fiasco involving Pat Lafontaine’s abrupt departure, it’s clear who is running the Sabres’ hockey operations – general manager Tim Murray. It was probably unfair of Murray to jettison Nolan after completely dismantling the team’s roster as the season went on, as Nolan was put into an almost impossible situation. That being said, Murray, by making the move, is being consistent with how he has made decisions so far, meaning that sentiment is not part of his criteria. Murray, at his post-season press conference, intimated that he and Nolan didn’t communicate much, and that he wanted a better “fit”. He also said that, to a man, the players praised Nolan as a “good man”, yet there wasn’t much of an uprising among those players when Nolan was fired. Whoever Murray brings in to coach the team is going to have to be a guy whose strength is developing young players into winners, since that is clearly the Sabres’ blueprint moving forward. There is general consensus among hockey experts that Buffalo’s prospect pipeline is the strongest of all teams in the league, with more to come in this year’s draft. Of course, Buffalo, over the years, always seems to have all kinds of stars-in-waiting in their minor league system, yet those players either totally fall off the map, or never develop into much more than “average” players at the NHL level.


Anders Lindback

Anders Lindback

Consider what Nolan had to go through as far as goaltending was concerned in his two seasons. Since 2013, Murray traded Ryan Miller, Jaroslav Halak (now starting for the Islanders in the playoffs), Jhonas Enroth and  Michael Neuvirth. He has been forced to play Enroth, Nathan Lieuwen, Connor Knapp, Neuvirth, Andrey Makarov, Matt Hackett and Anders Lindback. Chad Johnson, acquired from the Islanders, would have probably played also but wound up getting hurt. One of the amazing things about this season was that whatever goalie the Sabres threw into the net, eventually they looked great. Lindback, a throw-in in the big trade Murray made to acquire Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian from Winnipeg, wound up finishing the year as the starting netminder and is most likely the favorite to win the job next year unless one of their prospects steps up and claims the job. I think it’s telling that when Nolan was fired, his staff also was let go, with the exception of goaltending coach Arturs Irbe, who apparently worked magic with whatever goalie he was told to coach that week. Despite finishing the year strongly, Lindback has always been considered a journeyman, so it’s likely that even if he starts 2015 as the starter, Buffalo’s long term answer at the position is far from settled.



Brian Gionta

When you’re the last place team in the entire league for two consecutive seasons and one of the lowest-scoring teams in NHL history, there is no player among the forward ranks whose job is safe. So who will still be on the roster next year from this group, and what will the lines look like, especially with a new coaching staff? Good candidates to remain are team captain Brian Gionta, who started the season slowly but finished strong and did a terrific job, as captain, of holding the locker room together in a putrid situation (GM ripping apart the roster, fans purposely rooting for the opponents to get a higher draft pick, etc.), Tyler Ennis, one player who shows some real offensive skills, Marcus Foligno, who has underachieved so far but looks to be finally developing, Nic Deslauriers, a banger who was the only Sabre to play all 82 games this season, and Zemgus Girgensons, a budding star. Johann Larson brought his “A” game late in the year and should have earned a long look from the next coaching staff, and Mikhail Grigorenko is way too young and has far too much potential to give up on yet. The newly-acquired Evander Kane and top prospect Reinhart are likely to play key roles also. Matt Moulson is an alternate captain and has a multi-year contract, but he needs to provide a little more scoring to secure a top-line role, in my opinion. Phil Varone, up and down from Rochester during the season, showed enough to get a look. How much room there is on the team for heart-and-soul guys like Pat Kaleta, Matt Ellis and Cody McCormick remains to be seen. Anybody not mentioned (Cody Hodgson) was not included for good reason – they’re not seen here since they were invisible for all or most of a lost season.



Rasmus Ristolainen

This group figures to be a strength of the team in upcoming years. Murray gave up a lot to acquire Kane and Bogosian, but a straight up comparison of Bogosian to Tyler Myers, who was shipped to Winnipeg in the deal, is an upgrade for Buffalo. Bogosian immediately stepped in as a pillar on the blue line, as opposed to the yearly waiting for Myers to grow from a boy to a man. Rasmus Ristolainen is an emerging star, and another youngster, Nikita Zadorov, could be even better when he matures some. Mike Weber, voted by his teammates as their unsung hero, is a solid defensive defenseman, and alternate captain Josh Gorges is a good player and locker room leader. Tyson Strachan, Andre Benoit and Andrej Meszaros are older, stop-gap players who could be unseated next year by younger, better options currently in Rochester, like Chad Ruhwedel, Mark Pysyk  and Jake McCabe.

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The 10 Best Hockey Nicknames of All Time

10 Jun

I’ve promised myself that I would continue posting one of the things I’ve enjoyed the most since I started this blog, which is the “list” posts. So starting this week I’m going to publish a series of posts listing the ten best nicknames in each of the four major sports, beginning with hockey since the Stanley Cup Finals are now underway. It was harder than I thought to whittle the list down to just ten, but here’s my list, in no particular order:



1. Gordie Howe “Mr. Hockey” – let’s face it, when you play a professional sport until age 51, in five different decades, you deserve to have a nickname that starts with Mister and ends with your sport. Howe is generally regarded as one of the NHL’s best ever, and was the idol of other greats who played after him, most notably Bobby Orr and Wayne Gretzky, who is next on this list.



2. Wayne Gretzky “The Great One” – Gretzky is without a doubt the most dominating player in NHL history, and is really the guy most deserving of the “Mr. Hockey” moniker, but he always demurred to his idol, Howe, and was as humble as he was great.




3. Bobby Hull “The Golden Jet” – with his speed and blonde locks, he had the perfect nickname. He was also known for having one of the game’s hardest slapshots. His son Brett also had a highly successful NHL career and became known, naturally, as “The Golden Brett”.




4. The 1970s Philadelphia Flyers – I cheated with this one a bit. The team itself had a nickname – “The Broad Street Bullies”, that will surely appear on a future list post I do of team nicknames. However, they also deserve recognition on this list of individual nicknames, as their roster included gems like Dave “The Hammer” Schultz, Bob “Hound Dog” Kelly, Andre “Moose” Dupont and Don “Big Bird” Saleski.




5. Dominik Hasek “The Dominator” – his career blossomed when he arrived in Buffalo and eventually took over the starting goaltending job from Grant Fuhr, and he led a sparsely talented Sabre team deep into the playoffs numerous times with his stellar play. He was rewarded years later when he went to Detroit and helped the Red Wings win a Stanley Cup.




6. Nikolai Khabibulin “The Bulin Wall” – the Russian goalie has had a solid NHL career, and became the first Russian netminder to win a Stanley Cup when he backstopped the Tampa Bay Lightning to a title in 2004.




7. Maurice “The Rocket” Richard – one of the most famous players on probably the most legendary NHL team, Richard was the first player to score 50 goals in a single season, and the first player in league history to reach 500 career goals. His younger (and shorter) brother Henri also played for Les Habitants, and was known as “The Pocket Rocket”.



8. Yvan Cournoyer “The Roadrunner” – he played for the Canadiens from 1963 until 1979, an era when the franchise dominated the league with speed and skill, and were known collectively as “The Flying Frenchmen”. They won 10 Stanley Cups during Cournoyer’s career, and his nickname obviously labeled him as one of the team’s fastest skaters.




9. Curtis Joseph “Cujo” – his nickname was derived from the first two letters of his first and last names, but he embraced the comparison with the snarling, rabid dog from the Stephen King movie by wearing a mask painted with the movie character canine on it.




10. Jerry “King Kong” Korab -a big, intimidating defenseman, he earned his nickname by gaining a reputation as one of the league’s toughest fighters during his career. It helped that he looked like a big gorilla.


Reviewing The Buffalo Sabres’ 2013-2014 Season

21 Apr

The Buffalo Sabres franchise bottomed out in the 2013-14 season, in practically every sense of the term. They finished last among all 30 NHL teams, scored the least amount of goals since the league added the “Additional Six” teams in 1967, lost the draft lottery for the top pick in the amateur draft and, in what was actually a positive move, cleaned house in the front office.  Here is an assessment of the 2013-14 season with thoughts about what the team needs to do to improve for next year:

Front Office / Coaching

It took a lot of crazy turns but the Sabres’ front office situation seems fairly settled now, more or less. On the negative side, the situation involving Pat Lafontaine’s abrupt departure was never fully explained, and the man he brought in to mentor him, veteran hockey man Craig Patrick, seems to have disappeared into the woodwork. Does he still work for the Sabres or not? On the positive side, the man Lafontaine hired as general manager, Tim Murray, has slid comfortably into his position and slowly began the work of trying to rebuild the team. He made some bold, creative moves at the trade deadline to stockpile young prospects and draft picks, and completed his most important task – removing the “interim” tag from coach Ted Nolan’s title. Nolan didn’t win a whole lot of games in the time he had coaching the club this year and it’s obvious better players will be required, but he deserved the chance to help improve the team over the long haul just with the improvement he managed to coax out of players like Drew Stafford, Tyler Myers and Tyler Ennis in his short tenure. Nolan’s strength as a coach is in motivating and molding young players, a trait that fits what the team will need in the next few seasons. He should be able to do an even better job next season, once he rounds out his assistant staff with coaches he’s comfortable with.



Goaltender Nathan Lieuwen

Buffalo’s goaltending situation went from solid at the start of the year, with one of the game’s best, Ryan Miller, to a state of flux by season’s end. The team went through an NHL record nine different goalies, including Miller and Harbor Center employee Ryan Vinz, who dressed as a backup the night Miller was traded. Jhonas Enroth, apparently, will enter next season as the incumbent starter, since that’s the spot he held after Miller left and until he was injured and out for the season. Matt Hackett, Michal Neuvirth, Nathan Lieuwen and Connor Knapp all took turns in net toward the end of the season. It looks like Enroth, Hackett and Neuvirth would be the prime candidates to battle for the two open goaltending spots on the Sabre roster next year, although the others could help their chances with a decent playoff showing in net in the AHL playoffs for Rochester. Buffalo also has young Swedish prospect Linus Ullmark in their system. He’ll be 21 in July but doesn’t appear to be on the team’s radar yet.



Nic Deslauriers

After scoring the least amount of goals of any NHL team in the post-expansion era, the Sabres’ biggest glaring need is for some forwards with offensive talent and scoring ability. The forward ranks are loaded with players who would be third and fourth line players in the league’s better organizations. There are some potentially good players in their system, but they’re all teenagers who likely won’t be ready to help the team in 2014/15, like William Carrier, Nicholas Baptiste, J.T. Compher, Hudson Fasching and local products Sean Malone and Justin Bailey. Johan Larsson could emerge, although he didn’t show much in the way of a scoring touch in the short stint he had with the Sabres this year. It would help if a couple of Darcy Regier’s top draft picks, Joel Armia and Mikhaill Grigorenko, would develop into something. Armia is playing in his native Finland and not exactly putting up great numbers, while Grigorenko has talent but hasn’t shown much maturity. As for the current roster, the “keepers” appear to be young Zemgus Girgensons, Cody Hodgson, Stafford, Ennis, Nic Deslauriers and maybe Chris Stewart, who seems to be the type of player Nolan likes, and who has shown some ability to score. Deslauriers’ physical style surely endeared him to Nolan also. Players like Brian Flynn and Torey Mitchell are worth keeping as role players. It’s almost certain Ville Leino, a big free agent signing a couple years ago who has produced next to nothing, will be gone. Then there’s Marcus Foligno, who you would hope would develop into a scoring power forward but has been wildly inconsistent. It’ll be interesting to see how Nolan uses Pat Kaleta when he returns from injury. In any event, other than Girgensons there probably isn’t one forward on the roster that Murray wouldn’t consider trading at this point if he thought he could improve the team.



Jake McCabe

Defense is a position Buffalo seems to be well-stocked in going into the future, to the point where Murray felt comfortable trading a pretty good prospect away in Brayden McNabb at the deadline. Tyler Myers has been mostly a disappointment so far but his play improved a lot under Nolan before he got hurt. Christian Ehrhoff  was signed as a free agent the same year as Leino, and has at least given the team some return on their investment. Jamie McBain and Mike Weber play differing styles but seem to be serviceable players. The future of two other veteran defensemen – Alexander Sulzer and Henrik Tallinder, are in question if the team plans to rebuild with youth. Three of Regier’s draft picks, Jake McCabe, Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov, appear to have bright futures but it’s uncertain if they’re quite ready for prime time yet. However, management may decide to take their lumps with the younger players next season on the back end. If that’s the case, players who’ve been up and down between the big club and Rochester, like Chad Ruhwedel, Mark Pysyk, Ristolainen and Zadorov could claim roster spots instead of the crusty veterans.

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