The Sabres Observer
Even with an improving and talented young team, the Sabres were the biggest longshot to win the 2017 Stanley Cup just a few weeks ago.
And while reasonable fans aren't expecting the team to be a serious contender for a championship this upcoming season, it's interesting that what Buffalo has done to its roster in recent weeks -- most noteworthy the signing of free agent Kyle Okposo and the acquisition of Dmitry Kulikov -- has vaulted them, for the first time in three years, out of the basement with Vegas bookmakers.
A big and shiny new hockey-themed complex attached to the arena. A remodeled locker room and training facilities. As good a selection of local restaurants as you'll find just about anywhere.
And on top of all of that, a hockey-crazed city with a young and promising team, led by a teenage phenom already drawing predictions that he'll eventually be considered the greatest player in franchise history.
Wooing a big fish like Steven Stamkos into this hockey utopia should be as easy as finding a tasty chicken wing downtown, right?
The day when the narrative of "but it's Buffalo" becomes an obsolete hot take could be here soon, but we're just not quite there. Not yet.
From Mike Schopp of WGR-550 radio,
Murray and the Sabres are going to court Steven Stamkos. The draft comes first on the calendar but that's your future; Stamkos is where the summer starts. Assuming Tampa doesn't sign him beforehand -- or trade him to another team that does so -- the Sabres on Saturday can approach Stamkos in an effort to find out what it would take to sign him.
If he wants to come here, or if he doesn't, that's that and you move on. If he's open to it, things can get tricky. The Sabres have other needs. Do they forsake another good free agent forward because signing Stamkos would render that player (Kyle Okposo?) unnecessary here, or unaffordable? Can they do what they want on defense with a $10M-plus player on the payroll, and might they need to trade Zach Bogosian to make room? A lot hinges on what Stamkos tells them, and at the risk of being naive I'm going to say that they don't know those answers yet.
Some various tidbits on the Sabres, KK's draft coverage and a contest for readers in Buffalo (or anyone visiting!):
Tim Murray stated the obvious yesterday on WGR-550 radio when discussing his need for a left-handed shooting defenseman. Let's take a look at the list of such players, in no particular order, who appear to be available either via trade or free agency:
We're looking at a decent crop of free agents and players on the trading block this offseason, and Buffalo is certainly one of those teams looking to be buyers.
With the Sabres rumored to be willing to plunk down $12M per season for Steven Stamkos (you can take that one or leave it, but it is from Darren Dreger), and with a glaring need to find a top-end defenseman to pair with Rasmus Ristolainen, this might be a good time to take a hard look at how much available credit is on the card.
This is the time of year when many Sabres fans miscalculate what their team is dealing with in regards to the cap. Who can forget those recent past seasons when there was unfounded panic in the streets of Buffalo that the team wouldn't be able to reach the floor?
But times have changed and the rebuild is over. And if Buffalo wants to sign a high end guy like Stamkos, it'll take a lot of work clearing out cap room to make it possible.
I get that Sabres fans love what they've seen from Jack Eichel this season -- count me in that group -- but some of the reaction over the phenom not getting serious consideration for the Calder Trophy has reached ridiculous levels.
It's been pretty clear for most of the season, at least since Connor McDavid's injury, that Artemi Panarin has been the frontrunner for top rookie. Against a tidal wave of scrutiny from a portion of Buffalonian twitter followers, I took the bold step on a few occasions of merely bringing this up. Many writers and broadcasters near the top of the media totem pole have felt the same way. And king of them all Bob McKenzie last night said he surveyed 21 NHL GM's and got 18 votes for Panarin, 2 for McDavid and 1 for Dylan Larkin.
Between that nugget and a twitter poll of hockey fans showing Eichel not listed in the top 4, you'd think from the response here that Buffalo is on the short end of the biggest conspiracy since No Goal.
Folks, it's OK to love Eichel AND be simultaneously and humbly appreciative that there are some other very, very good candidates out there as well. There's no law against that.
And, to be perfectly honest, most of those other rookies are more deserving.
From Howard Simon of WGR-550,
The Sabres are 18-13-7 in the second half of the season. That's 43 points in 38 games. If you project that over an 82 game season, it comes out to 92 points which, if you were wondering, would have the Sabres in 3rd place in the Atlantic Division today and in a playoff spot.
This doesn't mean General Manager Tim Murray doesn't have work to do. He still needs to improve the offense by bringing in another scoring winger for one of the top two lines and another top four defenseman would be nice too.
The two greatest young superstars to come into the league since Crosby and Ovechkin. The opening faceoff. Finally.
Despite their politically correct comments earlier in the day that it was about the teams and not the individuals, this moment was supposed to belong to both Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel.
But when 97 went out to take the historic draw that would begin a 15-year rivalry with 15, Sabres coach Dan Bylsma chose strategy over good theater and sent out..... Johan Larsson.
Coach should've opted for good theater. Just ask the hockey gods, who decided to have a little fun by seeing to it that the number of seconds it took for McDavid to score after that opening draw matched Larsson's uniform number.
But, hey, any small trace of fun these days at First Niagara Center is to be treasured. There hasn't really been too much of it for what now seems like an eternity, which is what happens when the star attraction is a losing team playing boring hockey.
Are you happy with the progress of the rebuild, Sabres fans?
Buffalo (17-22-4) is on pace for 72 points, which would be 18 more than last season.
But 18 points better than one of the worst teams in NHL history isn't really as much as it seems. I was hoping for a bit more. If you've watched this group game after game for half a season, it should be pretty apparent why the jump hasn't been bigger.
That was quite an effort last night in the third period of the Buffalo - Calgary game.
Young Sabres star nets a hat trick, including a couple of power play goals, now second in team scoring, on pace to challenge for a 60-point season. It wouldn't be crazy to vouch for this kid making the trip to Nashville as an Atlantic Division All-Star.
With apologies to Rasmus Ristolainen, whom we in Buffalo love as we enjoy watching his rise to stardom, this is the storyline Sabres fans were hoping -- perhaps not expecting, but hoping -- would be written for Jack Eichel.
About The Sabres Observer
Dave Davis has covered the Buffalo Sabres for various NHL accredited websites and newspapers since 2003. He was the senior writer and Sabres correspondent for The Fourth Period, covered hockey for Western New York Sports and Leisure Magazine, and has had articles featured on NHL.com, FOX Sports, Yahoo Sports and in New York Sportscene. Sabres news and notes can be found on his Twitter page.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: [@DaveDavisHockey]