Who’s going to win the turtle race for 30th – and gain a franchise player?

Columbus Blue Jackets v Carolina Hurricanes

If Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel and Noah Hanifin are the top three amigos for the 2015 NHL draft, the Buffalo Sabres, Carolina Hurricanes and Calgary Flames are their top three suitors.

Yesterday, my esteemed boss Jason Kay wrote a blog wondering if the Sabres killed their chances of winning the McDavid sweepstakes by filling out their roster with established veterans Matt Moulson, Brian Gionta, Josh Gorges, Andrej Meszaros and Cody McCormick. No need to worry, the Sabres aren’t going anywhere other than 30th place.

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Did Buffalo kill its chances of winning the Connor McDavid sweepstakes? Does it matter?

Jason Kay
Matt Moulson of the Buffalo Sabres. (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)

As you might imagine, there were some intense discussions around our office following a free agency feeding frenzy a few weeks ago that lived up to the hype. Our staffers were dissecting the moves that were and weren’t made, the winners and losers, when someone floated the Buffalo Sabres.

On July 1 they splurged, adding Josh Gorges (via trade), Brian Gionta, Matt Moulson, Andrej Meszaros and Cody McCormick. That’s nearly $19 million towards their cap this season dedicated to five new players.

But money wasn’t the issue. The Sabres had oodles of cap space. The concern was whether they had done too much and had critically wounded their chances of landing the first overall pick in 2015, most likely Connor McDavid.

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Which franchise will be the next to win its first-ever Stanley Cup?

Wild-Blues

We recently sorted out our Yearbook predictions for 2014-15, which included projected standings and which team will win the Stanley Cup. Without giving it away, our anticipated winner has been to the promised land before. Which mathematically, should not be surprising. Only 12 of the NHL’s 30 teams have never won the league title and it’s hard to say who will be next. When the Los Angeles Kings won their first Cup in 2012, they broke a streak of futility that had stretched back to 1968 when the team originally entered the league. The following teams would like to join them:

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The NHL’s weakest division? Um, “congratulations”, Metro

Marc-Andre Fleury

When the NHL made its most recent realignment, last season, it reemphasized the importance of divisional play by also restructuring its playoff format. The wild card element throws a bit of a wrench into it from year-to-year, but for the most part, teams have to play their first two playoff rounds against division rivals – and that means a weaker division has the potential to make the road to the Stanley Cup easier for the team that can emerge from it.

I’d argue that’s one of the reasons the New York Rangers qualified for the Cup Final this past spring. They faced a flawed Flyers team in the first round and a Penguins squad in the second that had serious issues of its own before they beat the injury-depleted Canadiens in the Eastern Conference final. You have to give the Blueshirts credit for their resilience, but they had a much easier go of it than, say, Los Angeles or Chicago.

So which division is shaping up to be the NHL’s weakest in 2014-15? It’s not in the Western Conference, that’s for sure. Six of the Central Division’s seven teams (every one but Winnipeg) have a bona fide shot at making the playoffs, and the California Trinity Of Doom, combined with the desperation to make the playoffs in Vancouver and Edmonton, makes the Pacific Division daunting as well.

So, the “honor” of the league’s worst division has to go to either the Metropolitan or the Atlantic. And although the Atlantic has seen more separation between the haves and have-nots of its teams this off-season, I’d still make the case the Metro is the weaker of the two. Read more

Why the Buffalo Sabres will be Stanley Cup champions in 2020

Ken Campbell
New Jersey Devils v Buffalo Sabres

The NHL draft, as we all know, is a reverse meritocracy. The worse you do the previous season, the closer you get to sit to the podium and stage. And with 30 teams, things are always arranged so nicely: five rows of six teams each, with the teams finishing 25 through 30 having the best seats in the house and the highest picks in the first round. Picking in those spots is kind of like being declared the winner of The Biggest Loser. The prize is great, but you’re only up for it because you really let yourself go.

Newly minted Buffalo Sabres GM Tim Murray was up close to the action at this year’s draft. And he figures to be in the front row in 2015 when the draft is held at the home of the Florida Panthers. (A team that will probably be right there with the Sabres.) It’s a badge of honor for those who run drafts to move out of the front row, and Murray, 50, figures to be a little deeper into the queue by 2016.

To be sure, he doesn’t want any part of being a permanent fixture on the draft lottery show – previously known as Fireside Chats with Steve Tambellini – for an extended period of time.

“I don’t want to be going back to the draft lottery in four years. I just don’t want that,” says Murray. “I’m going to work extremely hard not to be there. We know we need a couple of drafts under our belt, but after that I want to be competitive. I want to be a hard team to play against and I don’t want it to be an automatic two points (when a team plays us). And I do not want to go back to the draft lottery.” Read more

Rumor Roundup: Are the Maple Leafs done making moves?

nazemkadri

Toronto Maple Leafs fans hoping for their club to make a big splash in this summer’s trade market are likely to be disappointed. The Toronto Star’s Rosie DiManno believes the rest of the summer will be a quiet one for the Leafs.

DiManno speculates the “small-beer” moves made by Leafs GM Dave Nonis – signing Stephane Robidas and Mike Santorelli via free agency, swapping Carl Gunnarsson for Roman Polak, bringing back Leo Komarov and Matt Frattin – could be his only significant ones this off-season. She also claims no one’s calling about Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf or unhappy backup goalie James Reimer, and she rejected talk of Martin Brodeur signing with the Leafs as mere rumor.

If DiManno is correct, that also means center Nazem Kadri and defenseman Jake Gardiner – fixtures in last season’s trade rumor mill – will also return with the Leafs for 2014-15. That means the only Leaf facing an uncertain future is defenseman Cody Franson, who (along with Reimer) was among 20 NHL players to file for salary arbitration. Nonis reportedly offered up Franson to the Montreal Canadiens in a failed bid to acquire Josh Gorges, who nixed that move. Read more

Rumor Roundup: Better fit for Red Wings – Green, Myers or Petry?

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Having been thwarted in his efforts to land a top-four, right-handed defenseman via free agency, Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland will, according to Ansar Khan of mlive.com, continue to explore trade options.

Khan considers Washington Capitals defenseman Mike Green a viable candidate following their recent blueline additions of Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik. CSNWashington’s Chuck Gormley speculates the Capitals could draw upon their blueline depth as trade bait for depth at center, with Green topping his list of possible trade candidate. The Washington Post’s Alex Prewitt believes Green (who will be eligible for unrestricted free agent status next summer) might make a good trade-deadline chip, but Capitals management intends to keep him for the upcoming season. Read more