NHL Rumor Mill – March 17, 2019
Latest on the Buffalo Sabres and Philadelphia Flyers in today’s NHL rumor mill.
MORE OFFSEASON CHANGES COMING FOR SABRES?
NICHOLS ON HOCKEY: During an appearance on Friday on Toronto’s Sportsnet 590. NHL insider Elliotte Friedman said he believes Buffalo Sabres general manager Jason Botterill isn’t afraid to make changes. He pointed to Botterill shipping Ryan O’Reilly to the St. Louis Blues last June. Friedman also wondered if there’s any guarantee of the Sabres re-signing left wing Jeff Skinner, who’s slated to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. He’s heard term is the issue. “They haven’t gotten a Skinner extension done yet. The closer you get, the more you wonder, ‘Is it going to happen.”, said Friedman.
Bob McKenzie, meanwhile, believes the Sabres still intend to re-sign Skinner. Appearing on Montreal’s TSN 690 on Friday, McKenzie said negotiations are on, suggesting Skinner would like to stay in Buffalo because it’s close to his Toronto home and he enjoys playing alongside Jack Eichel. He guesses Skinner could seek a long-term deal over $9 million annually while the Sabres might prefer something in the $8 million range. McKenzie felt there will be pressure upon the Sabres to get a deal done because Skinner’s been a big part of their team this season.
THE HOCKEY NEWS: Jared Clinton recently noted the Sabres’ offense, so potent earlier in the season, has dried up in recent weeks. Their second-half struggles could lead some observers to suggest replacing Phil Housley as head coach with a more experienced NHL bench boss like Alain Vigneault or Joel Quenneville, but Clinton points out Housley has done some good things with the club this season.
Clinton instead suggests perhaps a roster makeover, not a full rebuild, could be in order. Decisions will have to be made regarding Jeff Skinner and fellow UFA forward Jason Pominville. There’s little chance the Sabres can shed the contract of oft-injured winger Kyle Okposo, but Clinton proposes ridding themselves of pending RFAs like Zemgus Girgensons and Johan Larsson, trying to move Vladimir Sobotka or find a taker for Conor Sheary, then use the savings to pursue another high-end free agent or two.
Clinton also noted the trade rumors swirling around defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen, suggesting perhaps now might be the time to move him. He also noted Zach Bogosian has had his run in Buffalo.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: If you’re a Sabres fan, you can look at this season as a glass half full or half empty. Their impressive play in the first half of the season could suggest they’re only a couple of tweaks away from a breakout season, while their second-half struggles seem to indicate more work is needed.
If there’s an opportunity to bring in a proven NHL coach with an impressive resume, I think they should do it. No offense to Housley, but if someone like Vigneault or Quenneville is willing to come to Buffalo, the Sabres must explore that opportunity.
Botterill gave up very little to get Skinner, but letting him walk via free agency after just one impressive season alongside Eichel would be a big mistake. It sends the wrong message to the players (especially Eichel), and to the fans, that they’re not serious about building and maintaining a winner.
Yes, it will likely cost over $9 million annually on a long-term deal to keep Skinner. Yes, there’s the risk he might not reach these offensive heights again. Yes, they might find a quality free agent or two willing to play for them. But this is a player who waived his no-movement clause to come to Buffalo. He wants to be there and he loves playing alongside Eichel. It would be foolish to let Skinner go because of quibbling over the contract term. Pay the man and get it done. If they don’t, then what was the point of acquiring him last summer?
I can see Botterill moving one a couple of those depth players mentioned by Clinton, though he might not be keen to give up on Sheary after just one season. I agree that Girgensons and Bogosian have done all they can do in Buffalo and it’s probably time for a change. Moving Bogosian, however, won’t be easy. While he’s got just one year left on his contract, Cap Friendly indicates it’s an annual average value of over $5.142 million with an actual salary of $6 million.
Ristolainen could fetch a good return for the Sabres, but unless he’s unhappy in Buffalo and wants a trade, I think it would be worthwhile to hang onto him for at least another season. He’s only 24 and signed through 2021-22 with an affordable salary-cap hit of $5.4 million and can still be a valuable part of their plans.
LATEST FLYERS SPECULATION
NICHOLS ON HOCKEY: During a recent appearance on Ottawa’s TSN 1200, NHL insider Darren Dreger was asked what he thought might be in store for the Philadelphia Flyers this summer. He believes GM Chuck Fletcher will be aggressive, suggesting perhaps he might target a restricted free agent such as Tampa Bay’s Brayden Point or Toronto’s Mitch Marner, Kasperi Kapanen or Andreas Johnsson with an offer sheet.
Dreger also doesn’t rule out the possibility of Fletcher getting into the bidding for a top UFA like Columbus’ Artemi Panarin, or maybe pulling off a double-signing of someone like Panarin and Erik Karlsson. “When it comes to Fletcher and the possibilities in Philadelphia, I think that anything is possible. And that’s not an exaggeration. I just know how he works, and I know how hard he works,” said Dreger.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Flyers are starting to pop up frequently in the rumor mill of late. After several seasons of building with youth and (for the most part) avoiding expensive plunges into the UFA market, their midseason management change has sparked growing anticipation they’ll return to the free-spending ways this summer.
They could go the offer-sheet route, but that tactic is so rarely used that I’ll believe it when I see it. With over $46.8 million invested in 13 players and mostly youngsters such as Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny and Travis Sanheim to re-sign, the Flyers will have plenty of cap room to retain their best free agents and make a major acquisition via trade or free agency this summer.