Vanek had the decisive shot after Briere and Alex Kovalev traded goals, beating Cristobal Huet with a slapshot from the slot. Sergei Samsonov missed on Montreal's last attempt.
Michael Ryder and Sheldon Souray scored for Montreal (16-8-5), while Jiri Novotny and Derek Roy replied in regulation for Northeast Division-leading Buffalo (22-5-1), which was coming off a 3-1 loss in Florida on Thursday.
With Montreal trailing 2-1 going into the third period, Souray tied it with a power-play goal at 2:52. He moved in from the point, faked a shot, then beat Ryan Miller with a high shot.
It was Souray's team-leading 11th goal of the season, but the defenceman left 11 minutes into the third with an apparent wrist or arm injury after being checked into the boards by Paul Gaustad.
The Sabres lacked their usual zip in a scoreless opening period in which they were outshot 11-5 and leaned on Miller to keep from falling behind.
Miller was sharp again to stop Saku Koivu in alone shorthanded to open the second and the Sabres got back on track.
Novotny went to the net to put in Maxim Afinogenov's shot to open the scoring with the teams each down a man at 6:12.
Montreal tied it on a power play at 9:11 when Ryder slid in the rebound of a hard shot from the point by Souray.
But with 2:15 left in the period, a run of pressure in the Montreal zone ended when Roy lifted a shot inside the near post.
Buffalo's Daniel Briere was called for diving in the second after an emphatic fall from a push by Craig Rivet. It was Briere's first diving call and he will be warned by the league. A second offence carries a US$1,000 fine.
NOTES: Defenceman Teppo Numminen broke a toe when he blocked a shot Thursday in Florida and is listed as day-to-day. Buffalo recalled Andrej Sekera, who saw his first NHL action for the Sabres, and returned Dan Paille to Rochester of the AHL. Henrik Tallinder remains sidelined with a broken arm . . . Janne Niinimaa, who took a puck in the eye on Long Island, N.Y., on Thursday, sat out, while Garth Murray was a healthy scratch for Montreal . . . F Chris Higgins, who has missed 16 games with a sprained ankle, skated with the Canadiens on Saturday morning and is expected to return next week.
In the middle of a close playoff race, the Maple Leafs managed to secure a playoff-proven center with size without wavering from their mandate of building for the future.
The day Mike Babcock was hired to coach the Toronto Maple Leafs, team president Brendan Shanahan was asked whether he’d abandon the franchise rebuild if Babcock came to him saying they needed a veteran to help them make the playoffs, but it would cost a prospect and a second-round pick.
“I can tell you that was one of Mike’s questions for us and it was the opposite,” Shanahan said at the time. “It was, ‘If we’re four points out, are we still willing to stick to the plan?’ That was an important answer for him to get, especially from our board.”
Things were a little different Tuesday when the Leafs made a deal that netted them veteran center Brian Boyle. First of all, the Leafs aren’t four points out of the playoffs. They’re clinging to the last spot, one point behind the Boston Bruins with a game in hand for third place in the Atlantic Division. It’s a race that will likely go to the dying days of the season. And even though they did give up a second-rounder, it’s pretty safe to say Byron Froese isn’t really considered a prospect. (Although Babcock did seem to have a strange fascination with him last season when the Leafs were tanking the season.)
This is a deal that looks as though it has Babcock’s fingerprints all over it, but the best part of it is that they managed to secure a playoff-proven center with size without wavering from their mandate. And they can thank their work at last year’s trade deadline for that, when they dealt Roman Polak and Nick Spaling to the San Jose Sharks for a second-round pick in 2017 and picked up another from the Ottawa Senators in the Dion Phaneuf trade. One of those picks is now going to Tampa Bay and another is going to the Anaheim Ducks as part of the Fredrik Andersen trade, which still leaves the Leafs with one second-rounder.
And in return, the Leafs get a player who can play down the middle for them, complementing a center ice corps that now looks formidable with Auston Matthews, Nazem Kadri, Tyler Bozak and Boyle. The 6-foot-6 center has played exactly 100 playoff games, 95 of them over the past five seasons. In fact, no NHL player has seen more post-season action than Boyle has since 2012.
The Leafs are flush with prospects and young players and had a plethora of second-rounders, which seems to be the going rate for big-name rentals these days. In addition to the three they had in 2017, they also have two in 2018. With the success rate for second-round picks varying wildly, it was a small price to pay for a team that needed an upgrade on the Frederik Gauthier/Ben Smith tandem on the fourth line.
More importantly, it gives the Leafs an experienced player who knows what it’s like to play in meaningful games. Whether the Leafs ultimately make the playoffs or not, their young players will be exposed to crucial, tension-filled and important games down the stretch. And when was the last time anyone could say that? And if they make the post-season and expose their young stars to that level of competition, all the better. And not only will Boyle be instrumental in leading the way, he’ll also be able to offer some sage counsel to those players if the Leafs do find themselves in the chaos known as the playoffs.
The Atlantic Division is really weak. Spectacularly weak, actually. And if the Leafs can somehow find themselves in the No. 3 spot, they might be able to position themselves for a bit of a run. If not, they’ll find themselves playing the Washington Capitals in the first round and will almost certainly get trounced, but be all the better for having experienced the post-season.
And in case you haven’t noticed, the Leafs have been known to be woeful in two areas of the game – defensive zone coverage and holding onto leads late in games. Boyle will help immeasurably in both of those areas. To be sure, you just know Babcock will feel a lot better being able to put Boyle out for a defensive zone faceoff in the final minute of the game in which his team is clinging to a one-goal lead.
And don’t be surprised if the Leafs and Boyle make this a more long-term affair. Boyle is 32, but he actually doesn’t have a ton of NHL miles on him because he didn’t become a full-time NHLer until he was almost 25 years old. And it’s not as though the Leafs are going to be asking him to do more than an over-30 player is capable of doing. If he can provide them with two or three more years of quality defensive play and leadership, they’ll be happy to take that.
Largely because of Auston Matthews and Babcock, the Leafs have become a destination. Don’t be surprised if Boyle sees it that way, too.
With 10 pending free agents and the salary cap not expected to increase the Capitals will have a hard time keeping the band together. So it's now or never for their Cup hopes.
When the Washington Capitals drafted Alex Ovechkin first overall in 2004, the foundation for a championship team was set firmly in place. They progressively built a Murderers’ Row of talent that, at one time, looked as though it had the makings of a dynasty.
Which brings us to their acquisition of the crown jewel of the NHL trade deadline, defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, Monday night. It’s a game-changer for the already-stacked Capitals to be sure, one that gives them another talented right-handed defenseman who can move the puck, play the power play and is good in his own end. In making the deal, the Capitals have unequivocally stated that their time to win is now.
And they’re right because that’s exactly what it is. If you think previous Capital teams were under pressure to win a championship, that was nothing compared to the expectation the 2016-17 squad faces. This team was a Stanley Cup favorite before acquiring Shattenkirk, but after their bold move at the deadline, anything short of a Stanley Cup parade will be considered a complete failure.
But compounding this is a whole other layer of pressure that hasn’t been discussed much to this point. And that is, if this Capitals team manages to win the Stanley Cup this spring, it would not be a stretch to suggest the franchise that once held out hopes for a dynasty could very well become a one-and-done in the same vein the Boston Bruins and Anaheim Ducks have been in the salary cap era.
And that’s a shame because it puts even more pressure on this group to win now. The failures of past teams in the playoffs are going to be carried by this group, a team that will face the challenge of erasing those bad memories in one playoff year. The Capitals’ inability not only to seriously contend for the Stanley Cup, but to even get out of the second round of the playoffs all those years, is going to be a demon this particular group of players must exorcise.
That window to win that was once so wide is closing quickly and dramatically, to the point that if the Capitals don’t win the Cup this spring, you have to wonder when they ever will again.
Now it’s not unheard of for a team to face the prospect of having 10 pending unrestricted and restricted free agents on their roster. It happens quite a bit actually. But it is unique for a team to have as many impact players facing free agency and as little cap space to either re-sign or replace them as the Caps have. Not including Nate Schmidt, who has almost certainly been knocked out of Washington’s top six defensemen with the addition of Shattenkirk, the Capitals face the prospect of having half their top 12 forwards, top six defensemen and two goaltenders on expiring contracts.
Consider first that with Shattenkirk now on their roster, the Capitals now stand to have three of the most coveted unrestricted free agents of the summer in Shattenkirk, fellow defenseman Karl Alzner and winger T.J. Oshie. Whether Alzner and Oshie are underpaid or not is probably a matter of preference, but both will undoubtedly be looking for raises.
Alzner, who has made just $2.8 million per year the past four seasons, will almost be certainly looking to cash in on a long-term deal at the age of 28. Justin Williams and Daniel Winnik are the only other UFAs the Capitals have, but they also have Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky, Dmitry Orlov, Brett Connolly and backup goalie Philipp Grubauer to re-sign as RFAs.
And assuming the salary cap stays the same, they have only about $21 million to do it. If it goes down, as some have suggested it might, the Capitals are in even more trouble. When you look at it from that perspective, the band is breaking up. There is no doubt about that.
It would be different if the Capitals were flush with NHL-ready prospects who could come in and fill those roles, the way the young players in Chicago have made it possible for the Blackhawks to negotiate the salary cap like a tightrope, paying their veteran core players huge money and leaving the scraps to their young players who are not yet in a position to command big money. But the Capitals prospects are just good, not great. In THN’s annual Future Watch edition, the Capitals group of prospects ranked 20th overall, a group that was diminished by one when useful NHL prospect Zach Sanford was included in the Shattenkirk deal. Their best prospect is Ilya Samsonov and that would be great if Samsonov were not a goaltender. Jakub Vrana is a future NHLer to be sure, but it drops off after that. And the Capitals have clearly and deliberately mortgaged their future, dealing away their first three picks from this draft.
Any team with talent that includes the likes of Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Braden Holtby will contend, but how seriously depends upon the supporting cast around them and that supporting cast will be diminished after this season. Both Ovechkin and Backstrom will be on the other side of 30 very soon, as is Matt Niskanen, while 36-year-old Brooks Orpik is on a contract that is not at all team-friendly for two more years. That one is going to sting whether the Capitals stick with him through to the end of the deal or buy him out this summer.
If the Capitals win the Stanley Cup, that first-rounder to St. Louis will be the 31st pick overall, which until the summer of 2017, was considered a second-round pick. And that’s where the Capitals are banking that pick will be. And if that happens it will have all worthwhile been worthwhile because they’ll have finally skated off into the sunset with the Stanley Cup. That would be great, because it might be the only one they win for a long, long time.
Defenseman Brendan Smith is an upgrade for the Rangers, a team that is very much in win-now mode, but it again cost them a piece of their future.
The New York Rangers are fighting a war; a war they cannot win. But the Blueshirts must try anyway and in acquiring defenseman Brendan Smith from Detroit for a 2017 third-rounder and 2018 second-rounder, New York at least has a chance of making another run at the Stanley Cup.
The Rangers have been one of the best playoff teams in the East in the past five years, in a league with Tampa Bay and behind Pittsburgh. But the core is aging and there’s no reason to believe stalwarts such as Henrik Lundqvist, Rick Nash and Marc Staal will be better next season. So this is the window to win…but it’s only open a crack.
If the Rangers can finish fourth in the Metropolitan Division, they’ll cross over to the Atlantic playoff bracket as a wild card, thus avoiding Pittsburgh, Washington and Columbus, at least for two rounds. That’s a big advantage and one that must be taken.
New York still has to win those series however and with Smith, they get a puck-moving defender who was having a down year offensively on a bashed-in Red Wings squad. Smith is certainly an upgrade on the now-injured Dan Girardi and since only picks were traded away, New York comes out deeper here. Will it be enough to actually grasp that Cup for King Henrik and his court? The odds aren’t great, but with Kevin Shattenkirk already snapped up by Washington, Smith represents a needed consolation prize for New York.
The tough part to swallow here if you’re a Rangers fan is that once again New York mortgaged its future. Barring more deals, the Rangers will pick just once in the top-75 of the draft this summer. Last year, their first selection came at No. 81 when they landed controversial defenseman Sean Day.
With this year’s second-rounder already given up (last year’s ill-fated Eric Staal trade), the Rangers had to part with their 2018 pick. At the least, New York had an extra second-rounder thanks to the Derick Brassard trade with Ottawa, so the Rangers still have seven picks for 2018…for now.
The bigger problem is that New York already has one of the worst prospect pools in the NHL (Future Watch spoiler alert). Years of going for the Cup have seen the franchise shed picks and prospects at an alarming speed and there will be a gap very soon.
The team’s Manhattan address and recent run of solid play has helped entice young free agents (Jimmy Vesey and Kevin Hayes being prime examples), but that’s a stop-gap at best. Eventually, this organization will have to go back to drafting and developing talent. If the Rangers win the Cup this season, that restocking won’t be painful. If they don’t, the Smith trade will be remembered as another get-Cup-quick scheme gone wrong.
The Sharks are still trying for that elusive Stanley Cup title, while the Canucks are building for the future in this win-win trade
Winning the Stanley Cup one year after losing the final series is very difficult. The Pittsburgh Penguins did it back in 2009 and now San Jose is in that position. With the acquisition of right winger Jannik Hansen, the Sharks have added one more weapon to an already potent lineup.
San Jose grabbed Hansen from Vancouver in exchange for prospect left winger Nikolay Goldobin and an interesting conditional pick: a fourth-rounder in 2017 that becomes a first-round selection, should the Sharks win the Cup. So we know who Vancouver will be cheering for this summer.
"Jannik is a versatile, gritty player who plays with speed and is talented on both sides of the puck," said Sharks GM Doug Wilson. "We think he is a perfect fit for the style of our team.”
Indeed, speed will likely be imperative in the playoffs, as it was last year when the Penguins skated circles around the competition (including the Sharks). San Jose already brought in another burner before this campaign began in Mikkel Boedker and although he hasn’t been a real difference-maker so far, every bit of depth counts in the post-season. Add in ascending rookie Kevin Labanc and you’ve got a decent amount of new blood on a squad led by the impressive veteran core of Brent Burns (a Hart trophy candidate), Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton and Logan Couture.
With Thornton and suddenly-spry Sharks lifer Patrick Marleau in the twilights of their careers, San Jose is really making one last stand here before the mantle gets completely passed to Pavelski, Burns and Couture. And they could pull it off.
For Vancouver, GM Jim Benning continues to have a good deadline with this deal. The Canucks have already amassed a very nice pool of prospects and Goldobin could slide into the NHL lineup right now. He’s a skilled, creative playmaker whose weak spots are defense, but he has been working on rounding out his game in the AHL and the Sharks were pleased with his progress. Add him to a Canucks future centered around Bo Horvat, Troy Stecher, Brock Boeser, Olli Juolevi and Thatcher Demko among others and all of a sudden, Vancouver’s looking pretty good in a few years. Now, they have five picks in the first four rounds this summer and potentially two first-rounders, should the Sharks triumph.
San Jose and Vancouver definitely caught each other at the right time on this deal.