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Analyzing the Ennis contract: Value now and flexibility later

By Mike Harrington

Where does Tyler Ennis fit in with the Sabres now and in the future? Is a $4.6 million cap hit too high for him going forward for the next five years?

Interesting questions. We're here to try to provide answers.

General Manager Tim Murray acknowledged today that Ennis is the team's No. 1 center for this year, with the obvious caveat that we don't know what lies in the future (see McDavid, Connor)

"He's a part of the team," Murray said. "Is he a center, is he a winger? We've talked about that with his agent and where he fits. He fits somewhere on this team. I have to look down the road when I feel we're going to be a competitive team. Is he the No. 1 center on that team? He may not be. He may be this year and next year he may be a No. 2 left winger. It depends on what we bring in here, depends how we surround him. That's going to dictate how he fits."

Ennis had 21 goals and 22 assists last year for 43 points. He got a $23-million deal with the aforementioned cap hit of $4.6M. So courtesy of the folks at Capgeek, I got a picture of players who are comparable to Ennis cap-wise for 2014-15 and studied how they produced last year.

The list is as follows:

Continue reading "Analyzing the Ennis contract: Value now and flexibility later" »

Aaron Ekblad: Potential No. 1 overall draft choice is impressive in multiple ways

By Mike Harrington

MISSISSAUGA, Ont. -- Aaron Ekblad tried to keep things simple when talking to reporters Saturday at the NHL Scouting Combine. The Barrie Colts defenseman is the top-rated blueliner in the draft and considered a building block on the back end. He says he's 100 percent ready to play in the NHL but just focused on trying to make a team.

"I watched some NHL games this year and realized this is a hard league to get into," Ekblad said. "The NHL Draft is just a foot in the door. It means nothing until you prove you're ready to do it."

Forget that. Ekblad is going to be a 20-minute a game defenseman next year and there's a good chance he'll be the first defenseman taken No. 1 overall since St. Louis took Erik Johnson in 2006

Ekblad is a physical specimen, listed at 6-3 1/2 and 216 pounds. He pushed his heart rate over 200 during the VO2 max test in the International Centre as scores of scouts and media watched from a few feet away. That was impressive. So is the 18-year-old's demeanor. It's like talking to a 32-year-old who has played 12 years in the NHL. Eklbad interviewed with 16 teams here this week and the Sabres, of course, were one of them.

Ekblad said he hasn't closely studied rosters of the top teams in the draft. I asked if it would be better for him to come to a team like Buffalo that already has a cachet of young defensemen rather than a club like Edmonton or Florida that has huge holes on its blueline and would rely on him to be its top young prospect. Here's his answer:

"I look at it as I want to make a team. It doesn't matter who's there. It's going to be tough to beat out a guy that's fighting for their lives. This guy could have kids and a wife. That's how you have to look at it. These guys are going to fight for their careers and their well-being. Everyone has been doing this their whole life, not just myself.

"Expectations are other people's thoughts, not mine. I simply hold high standards for myself, high goals. If I reach those goals, I'm still not happy or satisfied with what I do."

Yeah. Impressive.

Ekblad earned Exceptional Status into the OHL as a 15-year-old and posted career bests this season in goals (23), assists (30), points (53) and penalty minutes (91). But with the Sabres so desperate for offense, what do they do if Ekblad is available? Remember, GM Tim Murray told me point-blank during the season's wrapup news conference the team will take the best player available regardless of position and said by name he was referring to Ekblad if the label applies. Hmmm.

Be sure to check out my thoughts on the Sabres' Ekblad Dilemma in Sunday's editions of The News.

Choose the three stars

Name the three stars

Name your three stars

Roster freeze is on: No major moves made as NHL teams stand pat at Olympic deadline

Nice snark from the Sabres Twitter feed, using this picture to announce the NHL's Olympic roster freeze was on.

By Mike Harrington

We've hit 3 p.m. Eastern time on Feb. 7. The Olympic flame is lit in Sochi and the NHL roster freeze has gone into effect with basically no moves of any consequence taking place.

The Sabres tweeted the above picture to announce the freeze and essentially confirm that the likes of Ryan Miller, Steve Ott, Matt Moulson and Henrik Tallinder will remain on the roster through the Games. It's the same elsewhere: Old friend Thomas Vanek remains an Islander and Ryan Callahan remains a Ranger.

The lack of activity was completely foreshadowed by new Sabres GM Tim Murray in an interview yesterday in Ottawa and by many other NHL executives. No reason to pay somebody over the Olympic break to not play for their new team.

In case you missed it earlier today, the Sabres put Linus Omark on waivers and sent Chad Ruhwedel and Phil Varone back to Rochester so they could play in the Amerks' six games during the NHL's Olympic break.

Rosters are now frozen until 11:59 p.m. on Feb. 23, which is the day the gold medal game will be played in Sochi. Teams cannot return to practice until Feb. 19. The Sabres play the league's first game after the break, the Feb. 25 makeup game with Carolina.

Be sure to read Sunday's editions of The News, as John Vogl and I will have dueling columns on the status of Miller: Should he stay or should he go?

On an off day, more thoughts on a wild loss to the Caps

By Mike Harrington

The Sabres are off today and currently en route to Phoenix for Thursday night's game against the Coyotes. By the way, the boys from the Valley of the Sun have just announced they will be called the "Arizona Coyotes" starting with the 2014-15 season.

Tuesday night's 5-4 overtime loss to Washington was one of the more entertaining Sabres games of the year and left plenty of follow-up thoughts in my mind as I watched parts of the tape today on my DVR.

---Surprised to hear no NHL discipline hearing for Sabres defenseman Mike Weber, especially for the very cheap shot in the final minute against Washington's Nicklas Backstrom. I may have jumped the gun in today's story saying it was a hit to the head. It appears Weber doesn't hit the head just by happenstance, so he may go unpunished. Still, a pretty stupid play overall. Caps coach Adam Oates certainly thought it was a penalty. Take a look for yourself: 

---How cool is it to watch a kid on any team score his first NHL goal? It always is. As Amy Moritz writes, we saw that last night with Phil Varone, who has certainly not looked out of place since he came up from Rochester.

---How cool is it to watch a superstar in action? Alex Ovechkin was a flat-out stud with two goals in the first five minutes and one of his two assists coming on the game-winner. Bucky Gleason's post-game column on the Great Eight includes plenty of thoughts on the Olympics too. I watched Sidney Crosby and Ovi live on back-to-back nights. Sometimes the gig has its privileges.

Continue reading "On an off day, more thoughts on a wild loss to the Caps" »

LaFontaine on Grigorenko: NHL Olympic break factored into decision to return him to junior

By Mike Harrington

Following today's USA Hockey announcement regarding the return of the Prospects Game to First Niagara Center, Pat LaFontaine spoke to the media for the first time about the Mikhail Grigorenko situation. The Sabres' president of hockey operations made it clear the team believes the decision to return the 19-year-old to junior hockey is by far best for his development and also made a point no one had really thought of.

The kid needs to play. And we're coming up on a month where he wouldn't see much ice if he was still in the NHL.

"One of the big parts of the decision is that once the Olympics come around if he's not playing in Rochester, he's sitting around for 20 days," LaFontaine said. "A player at 19 years of age needs to develop. He needs to be playing. You also want to put a player in a position to succeed. Maybe he's played a few years already there and done very well, but he hasn't won a Memorial Cup yet."

LaFontaine said the message to Grigorenko was clear -- go to Quebec, play 20-25 minutes a game including power play time, improve his all-around skills to become a 200-foot player and try to become a leader on a championship team.

"We're doing what we think is best to help develop our players and care for them and what they need," LaFontaine said. "I really think under the circumstances we're doing the best thing. 

"The old-school part of it is you really have to earn it. There has to be a standard. And when you get to the NHL, you have to be a consistent pro. Becoming a consistent NHL level player every night, that's hard."

And LaFontaine made it clear he feels the team's previous regime (see Regier, Darcy; and Ruff, Lindy) pretty much messed this whole thing up. No disagreement here. Olympics or no Olympics, Grigorenko simply isn't an NHL-level player yet.

"It's unfortunate that it hasn't been the right program or protocol that should have occurred," LaFontaine said. "I don't think it was. It happened. But that's behind us now. What we need to do is what's best for Mikhail going forward."

Olympic berths O-plenty for current and former Sabres

By Mike Harrington

There's been a slew of Olympic team announcements this morning, and the major one that has social media abuzz and our friends north of the border in a complete tizzy is the big reveal of Team Canada that comes at 11 a.m.

No Sabres are in line for a berth with Team Canada but several current and former Buffalo players have taken their spots for Sochi today.

The most recent announcement just in from Sweden is that Jhonas Enroth and Henrik Tallinder have been named to their country's team. Tallinder also played for Sweden in 2010. Enroth joins Detroit's Jonas Gustavsson in backing up Henrik Lundqvist, while Ottawa's Robin Lehner was a surprise omission. Enroth's gold-medal performance in last year's World Championships clearly helped his case.

(Enroth told me yesterday he was quite nervous about getting the call, so it has to be a big relief)

Elsewhere, three as-expected spots were made official today: Sabres rookie Zemgus Girgensons has been named to Ted Nolan's Latvian team while Thomas Vanek (Austria) and Andrej Sekera (Slovakia) were named to their clubs, where they're both expected to be key players.

Girgensons, who turned 20 yesterday, is the only current NHL player on Team Latvia. Its roster also includes 41-year-old defenseman Sandis Ozolish, a Stanley Cup winner with Colorado who has not played in the NHL since 2008.

Vanek has been red-hot of late for the Islanders, with five goals and nine assists in his last nine games. He did this conversation with that was released today. In 28 games with the Islanders since the October trade from Buffalo, Vanek has 27 points (11 goals, 16 assists).

Sekera, a stalwart on the Carolina defense with Team USA selection Justin Faulk, enters tonight's scheduled game against the Sabres second on the Hurricanes in assists (17) and third in points (24).  He already has seven goals after never scoring more than four in a season for the Sabres and his 24 points are just five off his career high.

Former Sabre forward Jiri Novotny, the team’s No. 1 draft pick in 2001, was named to the Czech team Monday.  Milan Bartovic, a second-rounder in 1999, will play for Slovakia. Both are currently playing in the KHL.

(And of course, there's Ryan Miller with Team USA that was announced last week).

Morning skate canceled, tonight's game currently in limbo

By Mike Harrington

The Sabres have canceled their game-day morning skate in advance of tonight's scheduled game against Carolina in First Niagara Center, and have informed the media that pregame availibility for players and coach Ted Nolan will begin at 4:45. That's on the assumption, of course, that the game is played as scheduled.

The team reported this morning that it is currently discussing its options regarding tonight's game with the Hurricanes and the NHL. Carolina arrived safely into Buffalo yesterday afternoon.

Even though the FNC is available, the game cannot be rescheduled to Wednesday night. That's because the Hurricanes have games Thursday at home against Toronto and Friday at Columbus, and NHL teams are not allowed to play three straight days.

Any postponement will be difficult to make up because of the compacted schedule caused by the Olympics.

Travelogue update: Make the snow stop in Buffalo, please!

NDBy Mike Harrington

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- I see the weather is crummy back home. I see the South Dakota State basketball team can't make it in for its game at UB because of tough weather at O'Hare Airport in Chicago. Great. Just where I'm scheduled to be headed tomorrow.

If you've been following on Twitter this week, you know I've had a few issues with this Sabres road trip -- namely I had to fly to Vancouver on Monday to get to Winnipeg on Tuesday, and then had to drive nearly 8 hours here yesterday from tonight's game because of more plane issues (I guess United is not the answer).

The shot above came as I left Manitoba and crossed into North Dakota -- yes, North Dakota -- yesterday on I-29 with the temperature at about minus-15F (You can click the pic for a closer view of the snowy, barren landscape).

The Winnipeg Sun gave my travails some pub with this story that appeared in Thursday's print editions and online Wednesday night.

If you missed the entire circus atmosphere, Global TV in Winnipeg did a quite funny Twitter roundup of what I've been up to. 

According to this CBC story, the deep freeze in Winnipeg was worse than what you see on the surface of Mars. Three trips later, I do wonder how so many people actually inhabit The Peg.

Be sure to join me tonight at 7:45 for our pregame live chat.

Name the three stars

Name the three stars

Yahoo's musical ode to OT winner: 'Goal in a butt'

By Mike Harrington

I'm not making this stuff up. I couldn't possibly do it.

Yahoo's Puck Daddy blog has done a 78-rpm turnaround on a three-minute ditty about the Sabres' overtime winner last night and it's called "Goal in a Butt". Seriously.

My favorite lines:

"Not gonna get you a playoff spot. You gotta be a good team for that and you're not."

"Not gonna get you a new GM. Pat LaFontaine's gotta find one of them."

"Not gonna get you a nice third (jersey). You're stuck polishing that golden turd."

"See, I'm wise enough to know when a team needs loving and to be given a chance to see a puck cross the line in a goaltender's pants."


Ottawa's Cowen gets two-game Shanaban for hit on Girgensons

By Mike Harrington

This just in from the NHL Department of Player Safety: Ottawa Senators defenseman Jared Cowen has been suspended for two games for a shot to the head of Sabres rookie Zemgus Girgensons late in the third period of Tuesday night's game in First Niagara Center.

Cowen will thus miss Thursday's rematch with the teams in Canadian Tire Centre. There was no penalty on the play and Girgensons was not injured. He went on to score the shootout-deciding goal in Buffalo's 2-1 victory.

Cowen will forfeit $31,794.88. The money goes to the Players' Emergency Assistance Fund.

Cowen certainly would have been on the NHL's radar after an elbow to the head of Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk on Nov. 23 left the Red Wings' star concussed. NHL discipline czar Brendan Shanahan pretty much admitted it was a mistake that Cowen wasn't suspended, and from the sound of that article linked he got fooled by the fact Datsyuk finished the game before the symptoms arose.

Shanahan correctly says in the video above that Cowen has no history of supplemental discipline. Although the Datsyuk play was clearly worse and caused an injury. So the bet here was that it was clearly a factor.

The video and stats don't lie: Shootouts have been a strength

By Mike Harrington

The Sabres have decided to take today off and will fly to Ottawa this afternoon to get set to meet the Senators Thursday night in the back half of the teams' home-and-home series. Both teams could use the rest after Buffalo's 2-1 victory Tuesday night, a game that was decided in a 10-round shootout.

You can click above to see the video of the complete shootout. The Sabres won it, 4-3, and Ottawa twice scored goals to keep it alive. The 10 rounds were the most the Sabres have ever gone to win one, while the franchise record is 11 rounds, set in a 4-3 loss to Colorado in 2010. The teams combined for seven goals in that shootout as well, with the Avalanche getting four off Buffalo backup Patrick Lalime. (The NHL record is 15 rounds, set in a Rangers-Washington game in 2005).

The Sabres are an NHL-best 4-0 in shootouts this year -- which means, of course, they're 3-22-2 in all games not decided by the penalty-shot contest. Buffalo shooters are 10-19 (52.6 percent, third in the NHL), which is pretty crazy when you consider the team's path to an NHL record-low goal total. Matt Moulson is 3 for 3 for the Sabres while Tyler Ennis is the only other shooter with two goals.

Continue reading "The video and stats don't lie: Shootouts have been a strength" »

An offensive offense: Links to today's story, slideshows and a cleaner look at the crazy numbers

By Mike Harrington

Be sure to read my story in today's paper about the Sabres' astonishing lack of offense thus far this season. Buffalo is on pace for the lowest goal total in the expansion era (since 1967) and is currently on pace to be the lowest scoring NHL team since 1940!!

With a pace of just 132 goals for the season, the Sabres would finish an incredible 58 goals -- 58!! -- behind their previous worst season total of 190. Jeez. The print editions feature two pretty compelling charts that I'm told aren't translating real well to Web and mobile devices. So I'm reprinting them here (the NHL one I took out team records for a little easier read).

CHART 1: The lowest-scoring NHL teams since the 1967 expansion (excludes lockout-shortened seasons)

(Click here for our photo slideshow on some of the struggling players)

TEAM                        YEAR        GF      AVG 
Buffalo Sabres            2013-14    132*    1.61
Tampa Bay Lightning  1997-98    151     1.84
Oakland Seals             1967-68    153    2.07
Columbus Blue Jackets 2001-02  164    2.00
Los Angeles Kings        1969-70    168    2.21
Minnesota Wild            2000-01   168    2.05
Oakland Seals              1969-70    169    2.22
Atlanta Thrashers        1999-00    170    2.07
New York Islanders      1972-73    170    2.18
Carolina Hurricanes     2002-03    171    2.09
Carolina Hurricanes     2003-04    172    2.10
Philadelphia Flyers       1967-68     173    2.34
* - projected total

CHART 2: The Sabres' worst offensive seasons

(Click here for our photo slideshow on these teams)

YEAR        GF        AVG.     RECORD
2013-14     132*       1.61        6-20-2
2002-03     190         2.31      27-37-10-8
1971-72      203        2.60      16-43-19
1998-99      207        2.52       37-28-17
1997-98      211        2.57       36-29-17
2001-02      213        2.60      35-35-11-1
1999-00      213        2.60      35-32-11-4
1970-71      217        2.78       24-39-15
2000-01      218        2.66       46-30-5-1
2011-12      218        2.66       39-32-11
(* -- projected total. Records in shootout years pre-2005 are listed as W-L-T or W-L-T-OTL)

Sulzer still out; Grigorenko decision could play into McCormick's return

By Mike Harrington

Alexander Sulzer missed his second straight day of practice today and the Sabres defenseman, who missed Monday for what the team termed a "maintenance" day, is now iffy for Thursday's game against the New York Rangers. Interim coach Ted Nolan said he's hoping Sulzer can practice Wednesday but would probably miss the game if he didn't. Jamie McBain and Brayden McNabb have both sat out the last two games as scratches and could step in to replace him.

The Sabres have a bigger decision looming because Cody McCormick will be back in the lineup after missing the last four games. The team has to make a roster spot for McCormick and could simply ship Brian Flynn off the fourth line to Rochester. But Nolan acknowledged today that discussions continue about Mikhail Grigorenko's role on the club.

The 19-year-old could be sent back to junior or could be loaned to the Russian Federation for the upcoming World Junior Championships that open Dec. 26 in Malmo, Sweden. Grigorenko was not on the Russia roster for the tournament that was released late Monday night but said today he would be interested in playing.

"It's always good to represent your country," said Grigorenko, a standout for the Russian team in last year's tournament on home soil in Ufa. "Nobody has spoken with me. If they have put me on the list, I would have been happy. I would have been happy to play for my own country."

Grigorenko was not on the list ostensibly because he's currently in the NHL and would need to be loaned out.

"Patty and I have discussed all those possibilities," said Nolan, referring to president of hockey operations Pat LaFontaine. "We have to make sure we find a good role for him. ... He's got to be playing. I've never seen a player develop not playing."

Defenseman Nikita Zadorov, recently returned to London of the OHL by the Sabres, was named to the Russian roster. 

"I'm pretty sure he's going to dominate there and be one of the best players in the tournament," Grigorenko said.

Click below to hear Nolan's session with reporters today on the roster moves, plenty of thoughts on Drew Stafford and Marcus Foligno and the Sabres' continuing struggles to score goals.

Ted Nolan


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Quick update: No updates today with day off

By Mike Harrington

BALTIMORE AIRPORT -- Ted Nolan said a ton after last night's loss to the Philadelphia Flyers but if you're looking for anything more from him or any of the players today, you'll have a long wait. The Sabres are on one of their CBA-mandated days off today and will return to the ice Saturday morning to prep for Sunday's late-afternoon start against Detroit.

The Red Wings certainly have to look at the Sabres as another tonic to their woes. In Thursday night's 4-3 win over Carolina, they ended an implausible 0-2-6 run at home in Joe Louis Arena and an 0-2-5 stretch overall.  

But they play Saturday night in Ottawa and then have the earlier-than-normal 5 p.m. start Sunday in First Niagara Center. And it will be their third game in four days while the Sabres will be coming off two days rest. Maybe the Sabres can actually lead after the first period two games in a row? Nah.

(Why am I at the Baltimore airport? Check out the fares to/from Buffalo for BWI and then do the same for Philadelphia. Then it will be obvious why)

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John Vogl

John Vogl

John Vogl has been covering the Sabres since 2002-03, an era that has included playoff runs, last-place finishes and three ownership changes. The award-winning writer is the Buffalo chapter chairman for the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.

@BuffNewsVogl |

About Sabres Edge

Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington, a Canisius College graduate who began his career as a News reporter in 1987, has been covering the Buffalo Sabres since 2007. He is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association and can vouch that exposed flesh freezes instantly when walking in downtown Winnipeg in January.

@BNHarrington |

Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz, a native of Lockport, has a bachelor’s degree in journalism/mass communication from St. Bonaventure University and a master’s degree in humanities from the University at Buffalo. An endurance athlete, she has completed several triathlons, half marathons and marathons.

@amymoritz |