We’re about halfway through the NHL off-season and hockey season is very slowly approaching. With the headlines of the NHL off-season, the NHL Draft and Free Agency in the rear view mirror, we’ve reached the worst period in the hockey cycle; waiting.
We’ve posted lots of interesting content on our Twitter and Instagram pages over the last month or so, some of it worthy of a blog post on here, but it seemed like a good idea to just take a breather and see what’s left to do in this waiting period as well as catching up on some notable story lines surrounding the team. (These are in no particular order of importance).
- Getting Eichel signed
After the signing of Connor McDavid by the Edmonton Oilers for 8 years, the hockey world, and Sabres’ fans especially, knew it was only a matter of time before Jack Eichel was to be inked long term. It seems likely that something will get done here soon as it’s been reported both Jack Eichel and his agent, along with Jason Botterill are eager to get something done. The most likely scenario seems to be that Eichel will be signed to the max term of 8 years and potentially have an average annual value of over 10 million dollars per season. Whether these speculated numbers wind up coming to fruition is to be determined and will probably be revealed soon.
2. Sign Zemgus Girgensons
The Sabres recently came to terms with four of the remaining five restricted free agents needing to be signed this off-season, Nathan Beaulieu (2 years, 2.4M AAV), Robin Lehner (1 year, 4M AAV), Johan Larsson (1 year, 1.4M AAV), and Evan Rodrigues (2 years, 650K AAV). This leaves just Zemgus Girgensons needing a new deal heading into the upcoming season, despite the 23 year old Latvian not filing for arbitration. Girgensons was thought of highly before not really finding a role in his two years under Dan Bylsma but will look to find his game again under new head coach, Phil Housley, once a deal is reached.
3. Casey Mittelstadt is good at hockey
The Sabres’ first round pick from the NHL draft just this past June is already leaving a highly regarded impression on Sabres fans and others around the hockey world. After being a standout at Sabres development camp in July, Mittelstadt has so far dominated the World Junior Summer Showcase. Through three games he leads the entire tournament with 6 points. Mittelstadt really stood out Tuesday afternoon vs Team Canada and fellow Sabre draftee Cliff Pu when he posted 4 points. Mittelstadt was all over the ice and was clearly the best player for either team, evident in the highlight material goals he scored. We highlighted a lot of Mittelstadt’s plays from that game and they can be found here: https://www.reddit.com/r/sabres/comments/6r04s6/no_more_mittelstadt_pull_up_jokes_from_me/
Mittelstadt was dynamic in the first game as well which we recapped in an earlier post found here:
4. It doesn’t appear Brian Gionta will be back with the Sabres
In mid July the 38 year old told WHAM 13 “The hope is always there, but it doesn’t look likely right now and that’s for sure disappointing,”
Gionta went on to discuss what he’s looking for in his ideal landing spot other than Buffalo and added “At this point, I have to figure out what’s best for my wife and kids. I still know I can play, I still know I can contribute to a team.”
5. Alex Nylander and Brendan Guhle hit the weights
Both Brendan Guhle and Alex Nylander are notedly much bigger and stronger in pictures posted this summer
6. The Defense will be very improved
Aside from adding a hall of fame coach who happened to be one of the best defenseman of all time, Jason Botterill shored up the Sabres defense more in about two months than Tim Murray did in three years. With the signing of Russian defenseman, Viktor Antipin, and trading to acquire Nathan Beaulieu and Marco Scandella, the Sabres defense will look nothing like it did under past management. With Brendan Guhle and Casey Nelson likely getting big minutes in Rochester they should be primed to fill in for injuries and make the jump to the NHL when necessary, especially with both fitting the style Coach Housley wants to play. With Housley behind the bench rather than Byslma, the likes of Rasmus Ristolainen, Jake McCabe, and Zach Bogosian should vastly improve which will go hand and hand with the new additions to the D-core.
7. The Population of Pominville will rise again
Although Marco Scandella was clearly the focal point of the trade sending Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno to the state of hockey, a lot of fans favorite part was the return of Jason Pominville to Buffalo. Although the former Sabres captain won’t be the same player as he once was last time Sabres fans saw him in blue and gold, he’s still a productive player. Pominville put up 47 points last season, more than Foligno had his last two combined, and was top 10 in the NHL in 5v5 scoring per 60 minutes. Pominville will likely find himself in a 3rd line role but is an immediate upgrade offensively to the Sabres’ bottom 6 and will bring good leadership to the locker-room.
8. The Sabres appear on National TV seven times
The Sabres will play 7 games on NBCSN this upcoming season starting with back to back games on 10/24 vs Detroit and 10/25 on Wednesday Night Rivalry vs…. Columbus? No one really knows when the Sabres became rivals with the Blue Jackets but at least it’s not the Flyers, Penguins, or Blackhawks. The Sabres play five other games on NBCSN highlighted by the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day vs the New York Rangers and then facing off on March 5th vs the Maple Leafs. If all goes as planned and the Sabres are either defending or pushing for a playoff spot, that March game against the Leafs could be a fun one.
9. The Rochester Americans will be better
The Amerks have been relatively left in the dust over the past several years under Tim Murray. When Jason Botterill arrived he stressed being competitive at both the AHL and NHL level and the importance of success at the AHL level for development. Botterill talked the talk and walked the walk making multiple signings headlined by Seth Griffith, Kevin Porter, and Stevie Moses as well as hiring Randy Sexton as assistant GM to also oversee Rochester as GM. The Americans named former Rochester American himself, Chris Taylor, as head coach and with prospects like Brendan Guhle, Sean Malone, Nick Baptiste, C.J Smith, etc, the Amerks should find themselves in a playoff spot.
10. Prospects Challenge returns
The annual prospects challenge returns to Buffalo for the third straight year this upcoming September. It will take place from September 8th-11th at HarborCenter and feature prospects from the Sabres, Devils, Bruins, and Penguins. The full schedule can be found here: https://www.nhl.com/sabres/news/third-annual-prospects-challenge-set-for-september-8-11-at-harborcenter/c-290390080
11. Kyle Okposo is doing well
After a health scare at the end of last season leaving Kyle Okposo in the Neuro Surgical ICU, Okposo recovered and was able to return to playing hockey recently. Okapis has been playing in ‘Da Beauty League’ in Minnesota with loads of other NHLers and multiple Sabres. Okposo wrote a heart-felt letter to the fans and his supporters which is a must read: https://www.nhl.com/sabres/news/kyle-okposo-thank-you-letter/c-290487168
We’ve made it this far.. We can survive until October. Hopefully this was informal and you’ve enjoyed our coverage this off-season heading into what’s shaping out to be an eventful year for Sabres hockey. Make sure to follow us on Twitter and Instagram @sabresfanatics and Facebook @sabresfanaticssf