At this point, you know the deal. I sat down with another TCB contributor to ask about the Sabres, Amerks, prospects both in and out of the Sabres organization and much more. This time, I sat down with Joe Marino and I have to say, I had a great time talking with him. A lot of great insight and opinions, so lets get right into it!
Note: This conversation occurred on Saturday morning before the Flyers game, so comments about that specifically will not be included.
Bill: Give some basic info to TCB readers about you, Joe.
Joe: I’m turning 20 next month. I’m currently going to Medaille College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications. I graduated from Lancaster High School in 2017. Currently working at Ted’s Hot Dogs and finishing up my first internship at WGR 500 and where I plan on going back next semester.
When did you join The Charging Buffalo?
I have been with The Charging Buffalo from the start, when it was Sabres Fanatics. I met our other co-founder Jared at a sports management conference. I followed Jared for a long time on Twitter and he mentioned not being able to get tickets for the draft in Buffalo back in 2016. I was trying to find tickets too and I came across this Sports Management Worldwide Conference.
It was $200 to go and it was a great experience. You got to hear from guys like Brian Burke, other executives, people in the media and that all came with tickets to the draft. So, Jared and I hung out the whole time and talked a lot and a few months later, Sabres Fanatics started up. Jared brought me in late summer/fall of 2016 and I’ve been here ever since.
What are the biggest things you’re involved with The Charging Buffalo?
I’m the co-host of The Charging Buffalo Podcast along with Luke. There’s a link to the podcast on our website www.thechargingbuffalo.net. You can also find it on SoundCloud and iTunes as well as some smaller podcasting sites.
With school, the internship and work, I haven’t been able to write all that much, but I do have my monthly draft rankings. Keep an eye out in the coming weeks for the December rankings.
When did you become a fan of the Sabres?
I became a fan after the 2006-07 season. Keep in mind, I was very young during those Eastern Conference Finals teams and I was more of a casual fan. I really started paying attention in the 2007-08 season right after Daniel Briere and Chris Drury left, so was watching guys like: Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville and Ryan Miller. Those guys were my favorite.
That season was tough because they just fell short of the playoffs, that was one of the most painful sports memories for me. I remember Tomas Plekanec scored for Montreal to beat the Sabres and essentially knocked Buffalo out of the playoffs.
Besides that season’s disappointment, are there any other times which you could erase or rewrite history for the Sabres?
The first thing that comes to mind is the McDavid lottery. Obviously I wish they won that, but things are turning out for the Sabres. I’m not one for revisionist history and usually get on people when they do.
Drafting Charlie McAvoy of Mikhail Sergachev over Alex Nylander wouldn’t have made a huge difference when it comes to the standings, but enough that we certainly wouldn’t have gotten Rasmus Dahlin. Next thing you know, the Sabres win a few more games and teams like Ottawa, Arizona or Montreal could have Dahlin instead of Buffalo.
What are you looking for from the Sabres for the remainder of the 2018-19 season?
What I really want to see is more growth of the players. Obviously they are a much better team and playoffs are pretty much an expectation at this point. With that said, I’m still looking for further development from players like Rasmus Dahlin and Casey Mittelstadt.
At some point I’d like to see Mittelstadt start producing more points. He’s playing well so far and there will be a stretch where the points start coming, so I think 35-40 points is still a reasonable expectation for him.
I want to see Rasmus Ristolainen to continue to grow. The game against Toronto was probably his best game as a Sabre and hopefully he can build off of that.
I want to see Jack Eichel and Jeff Skinner build off that chemistry they established in the first quarter of the season. Hopefully Eichel will finish top 5 in points and gets the recognition around the league that he deserves.
Lastly, I’m hoping to see Linus Ullmark take over the starting job from Carter Hutton. That being said, Hutton has been very good for the Sabres, but he’s hurt now so it’s Ullmark’s net. Hopefully he can do that come playoff time because he’s supposed to be the goalie of the future for Buffalo. Hutton is here to challenge him, so he need to go out there and steal the starting job.
So far this season, who is your team MVP, unsung hero and biggest disappointment? (Not in that specific order)
The biggest disappointment has to be Patrik Berglund. Even back in preseason I thought he could be a 15-goal scorer, but it seems like he’s completely hit a wall. He’s on the back-end of his career now and he’s signed until 2023 at $3.5 million per year. He’s 30 years old and he’s not getting any better, so that’s a problem for the Sabres.
For the unsung hero, I have to go with Sam Reinhart. No one is really talking about him in Buffalo or around the league, but he’s on a tear right now. He’s had at least a point in every game since November 27 against San Jose, so he’s definitely the unsung hero right now.
As for the MVP, people might say Jeff Skinner, but it’s Jack Eichel. Without Jack Eichel, Jeff Skinner might only have 10 goals right now instead of 20. Eichel is everything to this team and without him, they’re probably a cellar dweller again.
Absolutely, listen to the latest podcast if you want to hear Joe’s thoughts on Jack Eichel and how he’s be treated this season by people on social media.
Yeah that was probably one of my favorite rants.
Changing gears a bit, how close do you think the race for 3rd in the Atlantic division will be between Boston and Buffalo?
I know this is probably not going to be a popular answer in Buffalo, but I think Boston will eventually take over 3rd place. I think of Buffalo as more of a wildcard team. Keep in mind, this wasn’t really expected, nobody came into the season thinking they’d be serious contenders for a wildcard spot. Once Boston gets healthy and they’re going to hit their stride eventually.
Would you rather have 3rd place in Atlantic or the 1st/2nd wildcard spot?
This is tough because I really want to see Toronto vs. Buffalo in the playoffs. That being said, the easier match up would be the 1st wildcard spot and play against a Metro division team like Columbus or maybe Washington. That’s definitely the easier route as the Metro isn’t as strong this year.
Assuming the Sabres are buyers are the trade deadline this season, who is someone you think they should target to bring in? What would be a fair deal to bring them in?
The one guy that comes to mind right away is Gustav Nyquist. He’s a pending UFA and I saw recently that the Red Wings are going to start shopping him. He’s fast and he can produce in a top six role. Put him alongside Casey Mittelstadt and that combination could work well together. Without a doubt the Sabres need another scoring winger. He’s a left handed shot but can play the right side which would be useful for the Sabres lineup.
If the asking price is a first round pick, I’m hanging up the phone immediately. Buffalo needs to keep all of their first round picks.
Even early second round picks have seen their value go up in years depending on the depth of the drafts we’re seeing recently.
And here’s the thing, Buffalo trades a lot of their picks. They don’t have their 2nd round pick, 3rd or 4th rounder depending on if Sheary gets 40 points or Hunwick is traded and no 5th round pick. So for a guy like Nyquist, you’re really not going to be able to trade picks for him.
Now you’re looking at prospects like Rasmus Asplund, Brendan Guhle, Casey Fitzgerald to get packaged in a deal. Alex Nylander’s name might come up, but I think it’s worth it to hold onto him, he still has a lot of promise and could be a top six forward in a year or two.
Other players I’d like them to target is Mats Zuccarello and Tyler Toffoli. Unlike Nyquist and Zuccarello, Toffoli has an extra year on his contract and is younger than the other two. Another guy with a different skill set than them is Wayne Simmonds, but I feel like the Flyers would ask for a 1st round pick for him and I’m hanging up the phone at that point.
Is there a player on the Sabres that you don’t expect to be with the team by the end of the season?
The safe pick here is probably Remi Elie. Once everyone is healthy he’s probably the odd man out and probably gets waived. Maybe Dallas claims him, can’t imagine that they wanted to lose him in the first place.
What is something you want Sabres fans to remember as the season progresses?
The Sabres are a young team. They have young players and they are going to hit some rough patches, like this stretch they are going through right now. Rasmus Dahlin is only 18 years old, Pierre McGuire reminded us about 17 times during the Toronto game. This isn’t a finished product, they’re only going to get better.
They’re most likely not going to finish top 5 in the NHL, so just temper your expectations. Don’t get too high or too low on this team.
What are your thoughts so far on Phil Housley’s tenure in Buffalo not only getting the team back on a winning track, but developing young players?
Up until the 10 game winning streak, I really didn’t know. Honestly, I still don’t know if he’s good or bad, but it certainly looks like it’s trending in the right direction. Defensemen are finally getting up in the play though. Beaulieu and Dahlin both have a couple goals from crashing the net, so I’m glad the defensemen are embracing what he’s been preaching for.
Also, this is important to remember: It’s on the players too. When Dan Bylsma was here he got a lot of flack, but the players here were terrible.
Exactly and when the team is doing well, it’s on the players, but when the team isn’t doing well, it’s on the coach. It’s easy to blame and even remove the coach, look at Chicago this season with Joel Quenneville, they’re a complete mess now.
Anyways, is there any specific game coming up that you have circled on your calendar?
I’m going to the Kings game on Tuesday so I’m excited for that. I’m hoping Cal Peterson gets the start and everyone boos the living crap out of him. I wish he would have signed here, but he must have seen an opportunity in LA, but Jonathan Quick is signed there until the second coming of Jesus Christ, so have fun with that, Cal.
Anyways, I’m looking forward to the rest of the Leafs vs Sabres games and the Ottawa games should be fun because, if you listen to the podcast, I rag on Ottawa a lot. Sink to the bottom, I hope Colorado gets that first overall pick from that Duchene trade.
No mercy Joe, I like it. I’m still salty about that hit on Drury all those years ago that sparked the infamous brawl, so I’m in the same boat.
So diving into the powerplay: In 2016-17, the Sabres powerplay was at 24.5%, 1st in NHL. In 2017-18, it was 19.1% for 20th and so far this season, the Sabres are at 18.1%, which is 19th in the league. What can the Sabres do to climb back in the top 10 for the powerplay?
I feel like they aren’t utilizing Eichel enough on his off wing, where Ovechkin and Stamkos setup at the top of the left circle. That might be teams catching on, but when he is there, he isn’t able to get the shot off enough. I saw the other day he only has 1 high danger scoring chance on the powerplay so far and just not enough for a player like Eichel.
The key to the powerplay is Jack Eichel, he is that powerplay. When he starts really going, which historically has been after Christmas, I think the powerplay will naturally improved when he starts scoring more. He’s always been a pass first guy and he’s racking up assists so there isn’t too much to complain about when it comes to Eichel.
Do you think Alex Nylander is the first call up for forwards?
I think it really depends on what the Sabres need. If a guy like Girgensons or Larsson goes down and they need someone for the 4th line, then they should just play Remi Elie. Either that or you can call up C.J. Smith because I think he’d be fine on the 4th line, but they’d be wasting Nylander if he’s put on the 4th line.
So, for example, if a guy like Sheary, Pominville or Skinner (for example) go down, then I think it’s time to call up Nylander. I think he would play well when he gets called up. Whenever he’s gotten a chance to play for the Sabres, I thought he looked fine. He didn’t look great by any means, but he didn’t look out of place.
In the preseason, he was one of the better players on the team and I thought he should have made the team out of camp. He needs a chance, you can’t just have a 20-year-old, 8th overall pick buried in the minors to begin his career; you have to give him a shot.
Do you think Nylander is getting a fair shake?
I think they are trying to develop him properly. That’s something that Botterill is big on is spending time in Rochester developing. Watching a few Amerks games recently, he’s looked really good. His passing was on point, he’s hustling to pucks and he’s making plays, so I’ve liked what I’ve seen from him. It seems like he is attacking the middle of the ice more, but he’s also better along the boards winning battles and causing turnovers.
The thing that bugged me the most was his hustle like his back checking and taking lazy penalties, but he’s cleaning up his game and it shows. He’s gotten bigger which is definitely helpful, so I think he deserves a shot.
Can you see a scenario and if you do, explain why, where Lawrence Pilut is sent back to Rochester permanently when other defensemen return?
Really it depends on his play. If he continues to play like he did against Toronto, he’s not going anywhere. He’s playing with Rasmus Ristolainen and he doesn’t look out of place at all. As long as he doesn’t regress, they’re going to have to trade or waive someone, but that’s a sacrifice you take to keep him up here. In my opinion, he’s the third best defenseman on the team.
Do you think Justin Bailey will be with the Sabres organization after this season?
I think this is his last season, he’s done in Buffalo. He’s not going to get another chance and I think they just won’t qualify him when that time rolls around. Maybe there’s a trade out there, but I doubt it.
A source close to Justin Bailey told me he was going to request a trade if he didn’t make the team out of camp last year. Obviously he’s still here, so nobody wanted him if he requested a trade and nobody claimed him on waivers. He’s not a prospect anymore so I think he’s just an above average AHL player at this point.
Do you think it’s a similar situation to Brendan Guhle? They have the skating and body type, but is it something about their skills, decision making or ability to perform at the next level that is holding them back? What are your thoughts on that?
I just don’t think Guhle is a very smart player. His hockey sense is just not all there, but don’t get me wrong, he’s still a good hockey player and has a better chance of making the NHL than Bailey and he should.
If Guhle isn’t with Buffalo full-time by next season, I would definitely start to get worried. It’s kind of similar in a sense, but I have more faith in Guhle than Bailey. I mean, Guhle has always been a good prospect, he almost made the team out of his first training camp in 2015, but that’s because the team was horrible and had no depth at defense.
Much like Nylander, they need to give him a shot because he’s too talented not to. He might be working to improve his defensive game and that’s why he’s not getting involved as much offensively as we were expecting, but I think he will be an NHL player.
What do you think of the Nathan Paestch situation? He’s dressed for one game, but his biggest impact is in practices and just being a guy to go to for the younger players? Think he has a future with the Sabres organization coaching?
I could definitely see Paestch coming back in a player development role. Look at all the young guys the Amerks have, they aren’t going to sit Borgen, Guhle, or even Dougherty because they are there to do one thing: Develop.
He’s a leader on the team and if a couple guys go down with injuries, he can suit up and hold his own, but it’s important to have guys like Paestch in your locker room. Last season they had Brian Gionta in a similar role before he went to the Olympics and I think he was an underrated part of their success last season.
Do you think the Amerks have enough scoring depth to sustain success if players on both the Sabres and Amerks start going down with injuries?
Let’s say you lose Nylander and Smith to Buffalo you could be in trouble. Bailey is starting to score again, he scored two goals last night (Friday). You still have Olofsson, O’Reagan who’s a proven scorer in the AHL, but if you lose a couple skill guys to Buffalo, the team is going to take a hit.
And do you think anyone from Cincinnati could come up and fill in nicely for Rochester, at any position?
Johansson was the guy for me, but he’s up there now and I would like to see him stay up for the rest of the season. He’s 2-0-0 in the AHL this year and I’ve always been a fan of his. I don’t think he has the potential to be a starter, but maybe a backup in two or three years. He’s been a standout to me in development camps. Vasily Glotov is having a decent rookie season and for defense, Devante Stephens’ production is pretty good so he’d be my call up.
Lastly, what are your thoughts on Chris Taylor in both Rochester and at Development Camp and the Prospect Challenge?
I like Taylor as a coach. When people were calling for Housley’s head in the beginning of the season, I thought if that happens, maybe give Chris Taylor a shot. I think he has the potential to be an NHL coach someday. Whether that’s as a head coach or an assistant coach, I’m not sure yet.
He’s only been in the AHL for two years now, I’d give it a little time before he gets more traction for him being a head coach at the NHL level. That being said, during his tenure as the Amerks head coach, they’ve been a winning team.
I’ve liked what I’ve seen from him with the prospects in the summer as well. He’s a good coach for the young players and I hope other teams getting rid of guys on their NHL coaching staff don’t take him away from us.
Not to cut you off Joe, but he’s the one that will be seeing most of these players in the AHL, not many in a organization go from their junior, college or overseas team straight to the NHL. It’s a good time for both sides of the team get to know each other. Coaches learn a lot about the player and the player begin their process of learning how to become a professional hockey player and what it takes to make it from their development camp coaches.
Who are a few guys you’re keeping your eye on either in juniors, college or in leagues elsewhere?
Oskari Laaksonen. I know we don’t really have access to watch him, but he’s going to be on Team Finland for the upcoming World Juniors. By all accounts, he’s probably one of the best defensemen on Team Finland’s roster. He’s going to be the guy to keep your eye on at the World Juniors.
He was a 3rd round pick in 2017. Nobody knew who he was and everyone criticized the pick. Corey Pronman wrote an article not too long ago saying he’s an underrated defenseman and he could be in the NHL in a couple years.
Another 2017 draft pick, Marcus Davidsson. He’s too old to play in the World Juniors because he just turned 20, but he’s definitely a guy to keep your eye out for. He makes Rasmus Asplund expendable. They have similar playing styles, but I’d say Davidsson is a better skater. So, when you’re talking about buying at the deadline, he make an older guy expendable like Asplund expendable.
What Sabres prospect do you think will have think will have the best chance of making an impact down the line for the Sabres?
I’d say Davidsson or Mattias Samuelsson. They were both safe picks. At worst I’d say Samuelsson turns out to be a 3rd pair guy that can play some penalty killing minutes for you. Same thing goes with Davidsson. Worst case scenario, he’s a decent 4th line center that can play special teams as well for you.
What do you think their first round pick situation will be the next two years?
St. Louis won’t make the playoffs and will probably finish bottom five in the league, so they’ll keep theirs and we’ll get their 2020 1st rounder and hope they don’t make a vast improvement. San Jose will make the playoffs, I’d be shocked if they didn’t, so I think the Sabres will have two in 2019 and two in 2020.
What kind of players should the Sabres be targeting in the next two drafts?
You need more Lawrence Pilut’s and you need more Jeff Skinner’s. You target scoring wingers that can fill the net and puck moving defensemen that skate well. Scoring is your biggest target. Hopefully you can find a potential 30 goal scorer that can play up and down your lineup. There are a few players in the the next two drafts that I think could fill the net for years to come, but they are mainly higher picks.
There is Cole Caufield who plays for the U.S. National Development Program. I’m a big fan of his and right now I have him 16th on my list after being at 18, so he’s trending up. Back to what I said they need goal scorers and he’s a goal scorer (21 goals in 25 games this season). Caufield is only 5’7″, he’s going to slide down in the draft, it happens every year; look at Alex Debrincat of the Chicago Blackhawks, he went in the second round. He could be there when the Sabres are picking and if not I wouldn’t be surprised, but he’s a guy they should be targeting.
What are your thoughts about the depth at goaltending in the Sabres system? Also, should they be drafting a goalie every year hoping to find a diamond in the rough?
I definitely think you should pick a goalie every year, especially if you have a lot of picks. This year, the Sabres have an excess of picks in the later rounds, so they can get away with taking another goalie. If you don’t have an excess of picks, you main focus should be on forwards and defensemen.
As for the depth the Sabres have now, Hutton is here for three years and is a backup at least. Next year, if he doesn’t end up taking that starting job, I think then you have to start looking. Lukkonen is really good in juniors right now for Sudbury, but you really don’t know if he’ll pan out or not, it’s just too soon. So, if Ullmark doesn’t have ahold of the starting postion, you have to start looking elsewhere.
Speaking of Lukkonen, what do you think would be the timeline for his arrival into the NHL?
He’s too old to play in juniors next year so he will be in Rochester. Then I would say he’ll be there for at least two years. To be a backup in Buffalo, it’d be at least three to five years away from his arrival.
Flats or Drums?
Definitely flat, but I mean you can’t go wrong with either. My friends call me “The Wing Man” so I get a lot of wings and I always prefer the flats.
I like hot, but enough to enjoy the wings.
Pretty typical for a Buffalonian, wings and pizza. My friends call me the skinniest fat guy they’ve ever seen because the amount of wings and pizza I eat. I can’t tell you the last time I had fruit. I’m sure all my unhealthy eating habits will catch up to me
Who do you think with win the Stanley Cup?
I know this is a hot take, but I think the Blue Jackets are going to win the cup this year. I don’t know why, but if they hold onto Panarin and Bobrovsky can get back to what we expect him to be, I think they have a chance.
I think Nashville is flying under the radar with all their injuries but they are a powerhouse. I don’t think Toronto has a shot at winning the cup, but Tampa Bay is loaded with skill as well so this could be their year as well.
Who do you think will land Jack Hughes?
I want Colorado to get Jack Hughes from the Senators pick, but I have a feeling the Kings will land him. They’re bad enough to possibly end up bottom three and they’re the Kings, I just think they’re luck is going to turn and they won’t have to endure a long, painful rebuild. Same thing with Chicago. Two teams that screwed themselves cap wise and they’ll get the easy way out by winning the lottery.
Other than the Sabres and their players, who is your favorite team to watch and who are some of your favorite players around the NHL?
I’m a big Nate MacKinnon guy since he broke into the league, so he’s probably my favorite player around the league. As for another team I’ll keep tabs on, probably Minnesota because I have family in Minnesota. I guess you could say they are my second team, but it’s not like I’m watching them all the time; I just keep an eye on what they’re doing.
Any other sports, teams or players your follow outside of hockey?
Not really, hockey is pretty much it. I have been getting into the Bills more over the last couple years. For the longest time, I wasn’t really a football fan, but being at WGR 550, I’ve been around the Bills a lot so I’ve been able to watch every game this year. I think Josh Allen is the real deal and can turn their fortunes around.
Any hobbies outside of TCB?
I like to run. Recently with all thats going on I don’t have a lot of time to run, but during the summer I ran over 200 miles, so that was fun. I like it, running helps clear your mind.
Do you have a favorite spot to go on vacation or a place you really want to visit?
I go up to Minnesota once a year or every two years and it actually reminds me of Buffalo. They have a lot of lakes there so it’s a nice place to visit. For a place I’d like to visit, I have family in Italy and that’s where my family came from, so that’s a place I’d like to visit one day.
I’d like to thank Joe for taking the time to sit down with me and answer these questions. As the season progresses, I’ll do more of these with the TCB contributors, so keep your eyes out for more in the future.