High-five, September. Hello, hockey.
We’re just nine days away from the Sabres’ first game at the NHL Prospects Tournament in Traverse City, Mich. It’s just 18 days to the first official preseason game in Washington, 20 days to the home preseason opener against Carolina. And it’s 36 days to the season opener, Oct. 9 against Columbus.
So while your weeks of Fraud Football are just ending and we’re only at Week One of the NFL season, this corner is more than ready to talk some pucks:
• The Sabres were the worst team in the NHL last season and still figure to be near the bottom this year. So why does it feel like there’s not going to be many competitions for jobs to watch at training camp?
Obviously, there will be injuries. Maybe a stray trade or waiver claim near the end of camp. But as it stands now, things seem oddly set like they would be for more of a contender – and we know this bunch is not. Just look at this likely grouping, listed in order of cap hits:
Goaltenders: Michal Neuvirth and Jhonas Enroth.
Defense: Tyler Myers, Andrej Meszaros, Josh Gorges, Mike Weber, Rasmus Ristolainen, Andre Benoit, Mark Pysyk. (Nikita Zadorov goes back to juniors and either Jake McCabe or Chad Ruhwedel could stick, or both would be in Rochester.)
Forwards: Matt Moulson, Tyler Ennis, Cody Hodgson, Brian Gionta, Chris Stewart, Drew Stafford, Torrey Mitchell, Marcus Foligno, Cody McCormick, Patrick Kaleta (remember him?), Sam Reinhart and Zemgus Girgensons seem like a dozen to start with. Looks like Brian Flynn or Nicolas Deslauriers for an extra slot. It would seem that names like Joel Armia, Mikhail Grigorenko, Johan Larsson and Phil Varone would all start in Rochester. Maybe make Matt Ellis the captain there again too.
The Sabres have said they’re not handing a roster spot to Reinhart but I can’t imagine a scenario where the No. 2 overall pick can’t make this team. That said, you wonder if the club is thinking about a loaner to Hockey Canada come December for the World Juniors in Toronto and Montreal. That would get Reinhart plenty of high-pressure competition.
To this corner, a top-5 pick should almost always make your team these days. Jonathan Drouin, the No. 3 in 2013, was returned to junior by Tampa Bay last year but the Lightning certainly have a deeper set of forwards. Not so in Calgary, where new GM Brad Treliving raised eyebrows this week by telling Sportsnet.ca that he would be “shocked” if No. 4 overall choice Sam Bennett sticks in the NHL.
“He will have to come in here and show beyond a shadow of a doubt that, not only is he ready to be here, but this is what’s best for him,” Treliving said.
The Sabres not keeping Reinhart or the Flames not keeping Bennett would certainly add to the chatter that they were playing more for Connor McDavid this year than the standings.
• One of the big stories around the league to watch this month will be if the Blue Jackets come to Buffalo on opening night with burgeoning star center Ryan Johansen. The team is reportedly millions of dollars apart on a new deal for the restricted free agent, who is seeking a long-term, big-money deal.
The team wants to stay with a two-year “bridge” contract for the 22-year-old, who exploded last year for 33 goals and 63 points in his first full NHL season. That seems like a sound strategy but players and agents aren’t as accepting of those as they once were even though names like Ennis, Montreal’s P.K. Subban, Derek Stepan of the Rangers and Nazem Kadri of Toronto all took bridge deals.
Johansen’s camp sees him as an elite player, worthy of a big deal right away like Steven Stamkos got in Tampa. And, remember, the Sabres gave Hodgson a six-year deal last summer in the last gasp of stupidity from Darcy Regier.
Johansen should take the bridge deal and show up in camp ready to prove he can do it again. He might want to help his team win a playoff series for once in its history too.
• Sure, every NHL beat writer wants Las Vegas to get an expansion team. Great trip. And what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, right? So how will teams actually play hockey there?
I remember taking a Bisons road trip to New Orleans in 1997 and manager Brian Graham explaining he had a “New Orleans Rule” that the team had to win the first night in town, lest the scene on Bourbon Street get the best of them the rest of the series. The Bisons lost all three days. Graham gave me a big told-ya-so after the finale, a 14-5 drubbing.
It would be interesting to see how hockey teams do with a one-game-in-town schedule in Vegas. That said, give Quebec City a team first and then we can see about Vegas or Seattle.
• Speaking of Vegas, the folks at Bovada put the Sabres at 75-1 to win the Stanley Cup, tied with the Flames, Florida Panthers and Nashville Predators for the longest odds. The Panthers don’t really belong in that group. Winnipeg (66-1) sure does. Chicago is the Cup favorite at 13/2
• Martin Brodeur doesn’t have a job yet and might need to wait for a goalie to get hurt to get a call. It’s sad, almost like watching Willie Mays play out the string for the ’73 Mets when his body was long past its prime. Brodeur is a Devil. Period. He should stay home.