Terry Pegula finally got around to selecting a general manager for the Buffalo Sabres. The rumor mill was a little better than average this time with early word that Jason Botterill was the man who was getting the job. Botterhill comes out of the Pittsburgh Penguins organization where he was a fixture for about a decade. His stated goal is to build a contender every year at both the NHL and AHL levels.

Man is that delusional. In order to build a contending NHL team in the salary cap era you have to be constantly flushing talent out of your farm system. Yes there are exceptions, and Pittsburgh is one of them, but they aren’t common. Further more the biggest factors the Penguins have in their favor simply don’t apply to the Buffalo Sabres organization.

The Pittsburgh Penguins have cache they have the two of the top ten players in the NHL in Geno Malkin and Sidney Crosby. They have two cup wins in the last decade. They have an owner who won multiple cups, multiple MVPs, and who is one of those rare generational talents who actually understand’s the business side of the game as well. The other sneaky thing they do that is the kryptonite of other teams is bring players from their successful AHL franchise to their successful NHL franchise while they’re still young

While there are a lot of players who would like to play in one city for their whole career, the truth is that all of them simply want to play in the NHL the bulk of their career. If they can put a couple seasons with Malkin and Crosby on their resume, they know they will get better offers when it is time to go elsewhere. Those players also know that the next man up mantra isn’t just lip service. Unlike with the Red Wings or Boston Bruins the next roster spot will open up before players drafted into the system at 18 turn 25 or 30.

That window to get into the NHL and play for a bigger salary is longer and closer. This enables them to sign free agent out of the USHL, college, and the CHL. While Pittsburgh is hardly America’s premier metropolis, its total metroplitan area population is larger than that of Buffalo and Rochester combined. All those additional opportunities for entertainment are important when you have two or thee months off every year, and when you just want to take your billet parents or your family to a couple nice places.

Buffalo doesn’t have that winning tradition. While Eichel, Kane, Lehner, and O’Reilly are all well above average players, most hockey observers would rate the star appeal of Malkin and Crosby higher, and some would say that either Penguin outweighs the four Sabres.

Am I saying there’s no one in the world who will want to play hockey in Rochester and Buffalo? No. Just that the pool of talent is so much smaller that building not one but two contenders is likely beyond the ability of anyone, much less a newly minted general manager who like his ownership group has done two things when in the big chair. One of them is ‘jack’ and the other starts with ‘s’.

There are more than a couple players being speculated about right, left and center in video, radio, Twitter and by writers all over the globe. Here’s my list of the guys someone really should be smart enough to grab at a respectable price.

Matt Duchene is a gimmie. He’s proven he can play at the highest levels as both a center and winger. If I were a team like the Ducks or the Islanders and wanted a forward who can move, pass, and score, I don’t think I’d let Sakic off the phone.

Evander Kane is among the most underrated players in the NHL this year. If the Sabres had managed to stampede into a playoff slot, that might not be the case. More even strength goals than anyone since December 3. Not powerplay goals, but five on five. That’s playing 90% or more against better teams and the top defense because he is playing with Eichel.

Jaroslav Halak is frankly abusing the AHL, a league he doesn’t belong in, and has a very strong NHL playoff record. Maybe the Saint Louis Blues should consider a second visit for him? Or perhaps the Dallas Stars or Winnipeg Jets jump on the opportunity to get him now, both need goaltending badly. Both should be free of worries about disrupting team chemistry.

Michael Del Zotto, in Episode 0005 we talk a little bit about him. I think on a team that needs a guy and can give him clear, firm, direction without screaming it, and pairing him with a consistent partner, he might just be a player who pushes a team one more round, two more wins. Maybe Edmonton is a solid destination, he can play on a team with little pressure and bring his playoff experience as an asset.

Matt Beleskey isn’t getting a lot of attention, and that’s partly due to a run of horrendous luck and iffy chemistry on ice with the Bruins this year. Realistically, he’s done everything that is asked of him. And when he hasn’t been shackled to Jimmy Hayes, or the inconsistent Ryan Spooner, he’s contributed offensively. If the Nashville Predators or Calgary Flames want a little more belligerence and physicality, they could do much worse.

Anthony Duclair had 20 goals last season on very, very few shots, only 105 in fact in the 81 games he played last year. This year he’s been banished back to the AHL. If he can be induced to shoot more, he’s got 30 goal man written all over him. Forty isn’t out of reach either. I’m not confident the Coyotes believe they can get that from him. The former New York Ranger might just find himself somewhere out east again. Maybe as an Islander playing with Tavares, or in Ottawa on a team that could use a tiny bit more scoring.

I’ll open the dance by stating the obvious; unless Krejci or Bergeron is being moved out, Duchene is entirely the wrong guy for the Boston Bruins. Not for anything that he is, but for what he isn’t; and that’s better (when healthy) than Krejci or Bergeron. He probably will put up more points on a playoff quality team, but he’s not the topic of discussion.

I like Gabriel Landeskog. He’s a very solid player. He’s physical, he’s willing, he plays in all three zones at at least a passable level. He’s been pretty healthy over the course of his NHL. He’s put together three straight seasons with more than 20 goals. He’s even the captain, named so at a ludicrously young age.

Why is he probably not the best available winger? That’s easy, I can name one who has very similar physical attributes, is faster, meaner, and has something to prove.

Here’s the tale of the tape:

Career goals per game: Landeskog: 0.278 vs Winger X: 0.312

Hits per game (2011-present): Landeskog: 2.2 Winger X: 2.6

Goals by strength: Landeskog: 80 ES, 27PP 4SH 16 1stG 4OTG 16GWG Winger X: 94ES 16PPG 4SHG 22 1stG 3 OTG 19 GWG

Shot attempt %: Landeskog 49.71% vs Winger X 50.64%

Goals per 60: Landeskog 0.89 Winger X 1.05

Minor penalties drawn per 60: Landeskog 0.94 vs Winger X 1.21

SHTOI/G: Landeskog and Winger X 1:04

TOI/GP: Landeskog 18:47 vs Winger X 19:31

Cap hit next year: Winger X is $321,429 less expensive.

Why did I pick the stats I did? Partly because the biggest need from a winger would be goals, followed by physicality. And because any player that is going to survive in Boston will need to be able to contribute in all three zones.  In some people’s minds Winger X has a few marks against him. On his first team, in a city not very friendly to the melanin blessed, he had a reputation for trouble making which may have spilled over to his current team. On balance, none of the accusations in either city have ever been proved in court. And of course of the two, Winger X is the one who put together a 30 goal season at all, much less while under 21.

Evander Kane

The Central division is the toughest in the NHL. Last season five teams from the division made it into the playoffs something no other division in hockey matched. In the division you’ve got dynamic goal scorers Norris quality defensemen, top flight goalies and not a lot of mutual love.

Top Shelf

Chicago Blackhawks

They got edged for a trip to the Finals, and will likely be trading someone pretty soon. Two of their core forwards Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa are closer to the ends of their careers than the beginning, but they are probably the best balanced team in the conference. They’ve got got great forwards, strong defense and adequate goaltending.

St Louis Blues

This team is likely to take a half to a full step back this year. Elliot has never thrived as a number-one goalie, and Jake Allen is still an unknown quantity. That said, they may have the best top three for defense in Pietrangelo, Shattenkirk, and Bouwmeester. They downgrade slightly going with Steve Ott over Vlad Sobotka, but did add Paul Stastny. Jaden Schwartz remains unsigned and doubtless need to do some catching up when he gets back into the fold.

Wild Cards

Minnesota Wild

Mikko Koivu led the team to the playoffs where he, Ryan Suter and the rest waged a fierce battle in the second round with the Blackhawks. Out are Clayton Stoner and Dany Heatley. Goaltending remains as unsteady as ever, but that doesn’t distract this team. Charlie Coyle, Erik Haula, Mikael Granlund and the rest will have to dig deep and pull in some more offense, but this team is capable of laying anyone out.

Colorado Avalanche

The advanced stats and the eyeball test said this team should not have been as dangerous as they proved to be in the regular season last year. It took until the playoffs to prove it. They did lose long time contributor Paul Stastny, and replaced him with the notably older Jarome Iginla. I don’t expect them to fall out of the playoffs, but 112 points again is not that likely. It will be interesting to see how older players like Briere and Iginla adjust to playing at altitude.

The Rest

The Dallas Stars

Finally a return to the playoffs last year. This year among other moves was punting the push and passion of Alex Chaisson for Jason Spezza’s finesse and offense. Anders Lindback will be this years backup in the crease. With a full season under his belt Valeri Nichushkin should be crossing the 20 goal mark this year. Given the changes in the roster, and the injury history of some players, this team a not a lock for the playoffs, but I don’t see them in the lottery.

Nashville Predators

In the off season the Predator made several moves that collectively add up to some big question marks. James Neal an elite sniper was added at the expense of Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling. Derek Roy, Olli Jokinen, Viktor Stalberg and Derek Roy were brought in to rearrange the forward group. I have no idea what these players will look like this season, and I don’t think anyone else does either. On the plus side, Pekka Rinne will have a full summer of health under his belt, Seth Jones and the other youngsters have played through the worst of things and the light is indeed brighter this year. Whatever else, the Predators have Shea Weber, and their opponents do not.

Winnipeg Jets

The weak sister of the division, the franchise hasn’t made the playoffs in years. Ownership needs to decide if they are building or breaking down, because what they are doing isn’t going to get them a Stanley Cup. They have a lot of talent in Evander Kane, Blake Wheeler, Zach Bogosian, and Dustin Byfuglien. When you look at the talent level at the top, and an average to above average middle of the roster, you have to wonder if it isn’t either the environment or the players themselves. Without reinforcement, and a strong on ice system, this team is not making the playoffs.

The trade deadline always has surprises. Sometimes it is who doesn’t gets traded, sometimes it is how lopsided a trade appears to be. Right now all eyes are on Ryan Callahan of the New York Rangers, Ryan Kesler the Selkie winning Vancouver Canucks defenseman and of course the healthy goalie void for the Minnesota Wild. Drawing their own buzz are Ottawa Senators captain Jason Spezza, future first ballot hall of famer Martin Brodeur, and Matt Moulson the three time thirty goal scorer currently taking line rushes for the Buffalo Sabres.

Some names that could be moved who aren’t getting the attention:

Bryce Salvador:

With one more year left on his contract he’s more than a rental, and given that he’s going to be 39 before his contract expires that might give some teams reasons to hesitate. On the other hand he’s a very savvy stay at home defender who has more than once in his NHL career met or exceeded his regular season goal total in the playoffs. Teams that are looking to add a defenseman before the playoffs could do much, much worse than the Brandon Manitoba native.

Brooks Laich:

The soon to be 31 year old forward for the Washington Capitals has seen better seasons than his last two in the nations capital. The three time 20+ goal man has not cracked that mark since 2009-10 season, and it is curious why that is. The Capitals trail all teams in the playoff structure in ROW and not surprisingly sit third in the eastern wild card race. A team looking for a 2nd or third line scorer might roll the dice on a player who has all the markings of a guy in need of a change of scenery.

Evander Kane:

It has been consistently rumored that the pugnacious winger is unhappy in Winnipeg. The young 30 goal scorer might not be a player you want to trade, but the depth brought back from that sort of trade could be exactly what is needed to right the ship for the Jets. If Kesler’s asking price is a roster player, a first round pick and solid prospect despite greater age and an extensive injury history, what could the return for a younger, grittier player with four years left on his deal be?

Kevin Bieksa:

With all eyes on a potential Kesler deal, it is easy to overlook Bieksa. Both have no trade clauses, and two years remaining on their contracts, both made an impression on fans around the world in their run to the Stanley Cup finals a few years ago as being the only Canucks skaters to put up a fight in game seven of the the finals against the Bruins while the rest of the team just laid down on the job. While he’s lost a noticeable amount of games to injuries, he’s still had solid offensive production throughout his NHL career.  If the Canucks brain trust decide to turn the page on the rosters core group, Bieksa could be asked where he wants to go.

Brad Boyes:

Last year when he put up 35 points in 48 games in the regular season it was assumed that most of the revival of Brad Boyes was due to playing next to John Tavares. This year however he’s playing in Florida on a team much less well structured or talented than last years Islanders and has put up 17 goals in not a great deal of ice time giving him the team lead in goals. He’s second in scoring on the sons of Sunrise, and earlier this year picked up his first shorthanded goal since the 2006-07 season. As a rental or a player with potential to play someplace for two or three years, Boyes is solid option.

Cody Franson:

The 26 year old blueliner has seen a dip in per game production over last years grueling pace. If the Maple Leafs decide to make changes, this pending RFA blueliner might find himself playing in a different jersey real soon. Due largely to highly uneven goaltending, the Leafs have the fifth highest goals allowed per game. Franson might find himself moved for any number of reasons, from a crowded blueline, to the desire for someone better than average defensively to replace him in the lineup

The rumors surrounding Evander Kane have been higher hip waders for two plus years. There’s his supposed off ice issues. There’s the rift that is said to exist between he and management and or coaches. There’s the fact that fans in 29 cities not named Winnipeg that are home to NHL franchises would love to have him. There is also the fact that the Jets are more likely to be tanking in February than looking to add depth for a playoff run.

The latest round of hot air and hearty keystrokes has Kane, the 30 goal scoring 22 year old who is 3rd in his draft class in goals and points headed to Montreal. On the exhaustive list of players the Jets would supposedly get in return for him are Max Pacioretty. Such a trade would free up an additional three quarters of a million in cap space the Jets don’t particularly need. What else it would do for the Jets is unknown.

The question is what is Evander Kane worth? If you use the Phil Kessel benchmark of two first and a second round pick, you may be at least in the right ball park. Kane has not scored as many goals in one season as Kessel has, but he’s also never had as much offense around him. On the plus side for Kane is much more physicality, no history of cancer and an ability to shrug off media attention.

If your the Winnipeg Jets, the return for your best young talent needs to be high. The teams needs are pretty noticeably: a center capable of excelling in the one or two slot, a long term solution in goal, and a 22+ minute a night defensive defenseman who can help protect whoever is in net from some of the NHL’s top talent. Getting experienced number one centers is not easy, just look at the number of guys the Calgary Flames have tried to put into that position. Right now the Anaheim Ducks have an embarrassment of riches in net, and one of their younger goalies would be good mix for a Winnipeg team still building. Dan Girardi who is a UFA this off-season fits the mold of a shutdown defender, as does the Boston Bruins Dennis Seidenberg.

Another way for the Winnipeg Jets organization to approach this might be to aim for adding quality second line and second pairing depth via the draft. If they could swing a deal for Kane and five or even four relatively high second round picks they might just be better off long term. In Atlanta as the Thrashers or now Winnipeg as the Jets the franchise has never been known for its depth. Is this the time to go for it? As it looks very much like they will have at least one top ten draft pick of their own in the near future, it might just be.

This irregular feature will run when I get bored. It will ask one scintillating question about each NHL team.

 

Anaheim Ducks: Can this team take advantage of its abundance of youth to compliment its savvy and skilled veteran core?

Boston Bruins: Is there a single hockey observer anywhere who doesn’t think the team is dangling Matt Bartkowski for trade?

Buffalo Sabres: So ah, how about those Buffalo Bills?

Calgary Flames: Are you the one non Flames fan or executive who expected the team to start the season 2-0?

Carolina Hurricanes: Isn’t it great that the Canes put in a great effort for their goaltender Cam Ward opening night and only allowed 38 shots on goal?

Chicago Blackhawks: If the media doesn’t have Patrick Kane’s off ice antics to talk about, will they actually cover the team now?

Colorado Avalanche: We all know the limited shelf life of firey over the top NHL coaches like Guy Boucher and Patrick Roy right?

Columbus Blue Jackets: Do we blame Bobrovksy’s four goal opener on moving east, a lack of defenders who play defense, or just a fat pay day?

Dallas Stars: Will Alex Goligoski ever get recognized as top defenseman?

Detroit Red Wings: Is there a player in the system 30 or under who can emerge as the next “face of the franchise”?

Edmonton Oilers: Can prodigal son and eco-warrior Andrew Ference lead his band of merry man-children to liberate a playoff spot from and deliver it to their poor fans?

Florida Panthers: With new ownership and oodles of cap space this year, how wide with the tap be opened for established NHL talent in the future?

Los Angeles Kings: Without a proven backup will Quick get overworked in the regular season?

Minnesota Wild: Will the Wild faithful stay true if the team underperforms this season?

Montreal Canadiens: With the soon to be 35 year old Brian Gionta’s star waning and an expiring contract, will the Habs relocate the C to another jersey possibly before moving him?

Nashville Predators: Barry Trotz entered the season the NHL’s longest tenured head coach, will he end the season in his current position?

New Jersey Devils: With the leagues oldest team, and all but one of the free agents brought in this season over 30, does this franchise have a path to the future?

New York Islanders: The Islanders took a big step forward last year climbing into the playoffs and battling Sidney Crosby and the Penguins, can Tavares and Hamonic make themselves household names this year?

New York Rangers: How long will it take Marc Staal, Brad Richards and the rest of the blueshirts to adapt to Alain Vigneault’s system?

Ottawa Senators: Captain Spezza, with Bobby Ryan, Milan Michalek, Jared Cowen and Craig Anderson are more than enough to get this team to the second round of the playoffs right?

Philadelphia Flyers: Who will lead the Flyers in the three categories that have defined the team in recent seasons: missed games, PIMS and suspensions?

Phoenix Coyotes: Is Mike Ribeiro the right centerpiece for the teams offense or just another free agent that will do just ok and move on?

Pittsburgh Penguins: This is the year that Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are both healthy right? Right?

San Jose Sharks: Will Bruan, Vlasic, and Hertl emerge to form the new core of this team with Logan Couture?

Saint Louis Blues: Does this team have enough scoring talent and the right coach to take advantage of it?

Tampa Bay Lightning: Does Steve Yzerman who wants fighting out of the game have a punchers chance of seeing his team in the playoffs any time soon?

Toronto Maple Leafs: When the Olympic break rolls around will we be asking where they will find a center, or marveling at Tyler Bozak and Nazem Kadri as a one two punch?

Vancouver Canucks: With a new coach and system in John Tortorella and a general manager Mike Gillis, who has to be fighting for his own job, how much of the current roster will still be in place after the trade deadline?

Washington Capitals: We can all agree that Alex Ovechkin is good for 50+ goals this season, and Mikhail Grabovski will set a personal high in at least one offensive category right?

Winnipeg Jets: With Evander Kane, Dustin Byfuglien, Blake Wheeler, Zach Bogosian, and more in full stride, the biggest question about this team is once again in the crease isn’t it?

The Winnipeg Jets lost three of their last five games to end the season. Two of them were to the Washington Capitals and New York Islanders who they were chasing for a playoff berth. They finished four points short of returning post season hockey NHL to Manitoba. In the process, some things became clear. Their depth at center was inadequate. Their goaltending was something short of iffy, and their resolve wasn’t quite enough to make them a playoff team.

Since last season the two most notable on ice changes are the loss of Ron Hainsey on their blueline, and the addition of Devin Setoguchi. There are youngsters like Mark Schiefele and Jacob Trouba vying for roster spots but the off season saw more in the way of extensions than big new contracts. Off the ice, their transition to the revamped western conference was completed in time to start this new year. With Hainsey gone, this could be the year Zach Bogosion jumps into the spotlight. Evander Kane only needed 74 games to notch his first 30 goal season, it would not be surprise to see him surpass that mark this year.

The Winnipeg Jet’s first season in the western conference opens when they travel just a bit further west to visit the Taylor Hall, Andrew Ference and Jordan Eberle led Edmonton Oiler on October first. They nights later they will be home to host the Los Angeles Kings and then the Anaheim Ducks. October 10th has them in Minnesota to trade chances with the Wild before returning home the next night to engage Alex Goligoski and the Dallas Stars.

Number of days 1-5: 10

Number of cites: 3

Best opponent: Los Angeles Kings

Weakest opponent: Edmonton Oilers

Home games: 3

Projected points: 5

The Anaheim Ducks who have Teemu Selanne in the fold for another year, and the Los Angeles Kings who have a very, very crowded blueline will present stiff challenges to the Dustin Byfuglien, Blake Wheeler and the rest of the squadron. The other three teams are playing at about or slightly below the Winnipeg Jets level. If one or two of the young players can not just make the roster but make a difference early, the Jets have a very solid chance at claiming one of the West’s eight playoff spots. For not just Zach Bogosian, but Mark Scheifele, Jacob Trouba, and Eric Tangradi the future is now.

The Canadian talent pool is deep enough to field two teams and have both of them medal most years. That said, some names being left off even the initial roster are baffling.

Forwards:

  • Jaime Benn is an enormously talented winger who was forced into the center slot last season and still came close to dragging his team into the playoffs.
  • Jarome Iginla is a head scratcher, unless he said he didn’t want to be there, or is going to be having a surgery that require a long recovery, he’s got all the tools anyone could want on their roster why he isn’t listed is at best curious and at worst an embarrassment.
  • Nathan Horton he was the leading Canadian scorer on the right wing in the playoffs, he’s won a Stanley Cup and even if he’s not due back from injury at the start of the season he’s still a big game force.
  • Pascal Dupuis, another talented right winger who led all Canadian right wings in goals in the regular season and plays in all situations. He’s never had a chance to play for his country, and has more than paid his dues in the NHL.
  • Matt Moulson is probably being snubbed for going to an American College and not playing Canadian Junior, but three 30 goal seasons in a row isn’t something you leave aside lightly.
  • Evander Kane if you want to upgrade the teams aggression without sacrificing skill there are few better names to insert.
  • Wayne Simmonds might just be one of those pugnacious wingers you take over Kane, but it’d be a close thing.

Defense:

  • Francois Beauchemin is a pure workhorse capable of playing gigantic minutes, staying disciplined, and willing to sacrifice his body for the team.
  • Cody Franson was third among Canadian defensemen in scoring this season, and fifth for the playoffs despite only playing one round. He’s young, talented and mobile.
  • Dan Girardi in any sane universe he’s going to be one of the first three names out of the mouth of someone reciting the list of the NHL’s best shutdown defensemen, apparently that isn’t good enough for Team Canada. He was also fifth total minutes played among Candian NHL defensemen last year. Go figure.

Goal:

  • Devan Dubnyk has played for the his country several times, including this years Spengler Cup, and turned in service that ranges from strong to exemplary. How he’s not invited at all is the single biggest mystery on of the whole years roster.