The days of wine and roses have come to an end for two recent Stanley Cup winning teams in the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings. The confetti cannons and Dom Perignon memories have faded to black.
The Blackhawks and Kings find their franchises in 30th and 31st place respectively.
The Hawks (23 points) have lost six straight games and are 2-8 in their last 10 games.
The Kings (21 points) have lost two straight games and are 4-6 in their last ten games.
Both teams recently fired its head coach, however, the losing continues.
Well, firing the bench boss hasn't provided the same spark the Edmonton achieved after turfing Todd McLellan and replacing him with Ken Hitchcock. The Oilers are heading north in the standings with two straight wins and a 6-3-1 record since the coaching change was made.
I have been saying for the past ten days to not be surprised if teh Hawks and Kings start selling off assets before the NHL roster freeze. Management staffs from both clubs find themselves rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Cue the inevitable, long overdue, rebuilding phases.
The Hawks have $34 million tied up in the long term contracts of four aging future Hall of Famers in Patrick Kane ($10.5M AAV), Jonathon Toews ($10.5M AAV), Brent Seabrook ($6.875M AAV)and Duncan Keith ($5,538,462).
Stan Bowman would have to get permission from all four vets as they have no move clauses.
All or some might waive their NMC for the opportunity to extend their careers and win more Stanley Cups.
The Hawks are in desperate need of speed, youth and skill at the forwards and D ranks.
The Kings have captain Anze Kopitar earning $10M AAV for the next six seasons. Drew Doughty is $7M AAV this season and then jumps up to $11M AAV for 8 seasons. Dustin Brown's feet and production have slowed down considerably. Brown with earn $5.875M AAV for the next four seasons. Jeff Carter is $5,272,727 for the next for four seasons. Tyler Toffoli is a $4.6M AAV for the next two seasons then will command north of $6.5M AAV when he hits his UFA year. Throw in Dion Phaneuf at $5.25M and Alec Martinez and Jake Muzzin at $4M AAV.
Now you see why the Hawks and Kings are struggling to compete in the young man's NHL. Both franchises hooked their wagons to aging Clydesdales who have lots of miles on their legs.
Denial is not just a river in Egypt.
The future looks bleak for the once high and mighty Hawks and Kings. Changes are inevitable if these two proud NHL franchises intend to be playoff teams for the next decades.
Addition by subtraction is necessary. By off-loading veterans with fat contracts, the Hawks and Kings can demand young, blue-chip prospects and premium draft choices as trade compensation. The Hawks and Kings each own their first round draft choices in 2019 and 2020. Adding more first and second round choices, plus, young, fast, high skill players now can go a long way to expediting the respective rebuilds in Chicago and LA. Look at the San Jose Sharks for a template.
Doug Wilson didn't have to tear it down to the studs. He infused young stars Tomas Hertl, Timo Meier, Evander Kane, Erik Karlsson and others to his core group of Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns, Joe Thornton, Logan Couture, and Marc Edouard Vlasic. The Sharks remain a powerhouse in the Western Conference as a result of Wilson's shrewd roster moves. Wilson didn't wait until the engine and transmission seized up on his older vehicle. He serviced it on the fly and avoided having to Uber to and from work for 3-5 years while his high mileage luxury sled was in the repair shop.
The Hawks and Kings have made trades to shake up their respective core player groups this season. They have traded their head coaches. To no avail. Their rosters are in need of serious changes. Namely, each team needs to infuse youth, speed, and skill into their groups in order to be viable and competitive with improved teams like the Sabres, Maple Leafs, Canucks, Bruins, and Lightning.
Not surprisingly, the Blackhawks and Kings will have two scouts in Buffalo watching intently the Sabres vs. Flyers matinee.
You can include the middling Flyers in the same conversation as the Hawks and Kings in that they have an aging core with expensive contracts. The Flyers fired GM Ron Hextall last week and the team has not responded yet with a statement game. The Flyers are 3-5-2 in their last 10 games and trending down.
Are the Hawks here to watch Philly players? Or, are they peeping the Sabres? Buffalo GM Jason Botterill has a fistful of first round draft choices and organizational gold nuggets in the form of prospects to use to add another top four D or a sniping winger to Phil Houlsey's roster at the NHL trade deadline, or maybe even sooner.
Can you imagine a line of Patrick Kane-Casey Mittelstadt-Tage Thompson?
How about Jeff Carter-Casey Mittelstadt-Kyle Okposo?
What about a Buffalo D pair of Duncan Keith and Rasmus Ristolainen?
How about Rasmus Dahlin and Drew Doughty playing on a D pair for the next eight seasons?
Don't tell me that superstar players can't be traded. Erik Karlsson was traded to San Jose.
Wayne Gretzky was traded.
Think about it.
Other NHL clubs watching Sabres-v-Flyers today will be:
Edmonton Oilers: Looking for a mobile D, scoring forward
Anaheim Ducks: Looking for left D, scoring forward
Dallas Stars: Looking for D depth, scoring
Minnesota Wild: Looking for D depth
NY Rangers: Looking for veteran blueliner, scoring forward
Carolina Hurricanes: In desperate need of a T6 scoring forward.
Botterill is a buyer. NHL GMs want a cup of the coffee that Botterill and Housley are drinking these days.
This week, the Buffalo Sabres slept the beds for the first time in a long time. The upstart Sabres have been home for three days in a row for the first time since the regular season began in early October.
Tuesday night, the red hot Sabres lost in OT to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Their record was 7-2-2 during a marathon 11-games in 19 days. Inside the grueling scheduling odessy, the Sabres won a franchise record tying 10 consecutive games.
Since losing 5-4 in Tampa on November 29, the Sabres have gone 0-2-2 in their last four games. Each game was a one-goal loss.
I believe that faigue played a huge role in undermining the success.
The cure for fatigue is taking a day off from hockey, which the Sabres did on Wedbnesday. Also, sleeping in one's own bed for a few nights in a row can cure all that ails a tired NHL hockey team. That and having a couple of well needed practice sessions.
Having said that, the Sabres cannot have a slow start on home ice on Saturday after their hockey hiatus.
The Sabres host the middling Philadelphia Flyers for a Saturday brunch date. The Sabres are 44-33-10 at home against the Flyers all-time.
This will be Buffalo's fifth afternoon game this season. Phil Housley's gang are 4-0-0 in the first four matinees.
Kyle Okposo will appear in his 700th NHL game on Saturday afternoon.
In 699 career NHL games, Okposo has scored 178 goals and 295 assists for 473 points. He will no doubt hit the 500 point plateau later this season as he has already scores 5G,10A in 29 games this season.
In his 170 games played in the Blue & Gold, Okpoo has scored 39 goals and 65 assists for 104 points. Okposo is healthy and hyper-focused on leading his Sabres teammates to their first playoff berth since 2011.
Jack Eichel has scored 5 goals and 3 assists in his last eight games against Philadelphia, including 5G,2A in five home games.
Eichel recorded his 13th multi-point game of the season with two goals on Tuesday against the Maple Leafs. Eichel now has 13 multi-point games this season which ties him for third-most in the NHL this season. Eichel is now five shy of his career-high 18 in a season.
Conor Sheary has scored 3G,1A in his last four games against the Flyers.
Buffalo enters today’s game with a 9-2-2 (.769) record at home this season. The Sabres' .769 points percentage at home ranks first in the NHL and puts Eichel & Company on pace for their fourth-best home record ever, and the best since the 1979-80 season (27-5-8, .775).
The Sabres have gone 7-0-2 in their last nine home games, marking its first nine-game home point streak since February 17 to March 24, 2012 (7-0-2). A point against would give the Sabres points in 10 consecutive home games for the first time since December 13, 2011 to February 10, 2012 (6-0-4).
With 20 goals and 9 assists in 29 games played, Jeff Skinner is currently on pace for the second-highest goal total (57) in Sabres franchise history, trailing only Mogilny in 1992-93 (76). His 42 even-strength goals would finish behind only Mogilny’s even-strength total from that season (49) and Rick Martin’s 44 in 1973-74 for most in team history.
Sabres winger Samson Reinhart enters the Flyers game on a five-game point streak with 5 goals and 3 assists, matching his career high set from December 20 to 29, 2017. The streak includes goals in each of his last four games, marking the longest goal streak of his career.
Reinhart has scored 7 goals and 11 assists in his last 16 games, including seven two-point games during that stretch.
The Sabres are 12-2-2 this season when Reinhart records at least one point and 25-3-5 (.833) in his career when he records at least two.
So, the Cardiac Kids keep playing to one goal conclusions to their games Thirteen of their last fourteen games have been decided by one goal. One of the chief reasons why is the Buffalo power play units have been invisible and unsuccessful.
The Sabres are 1-for-13 on the power play in their last five games. Phil Housley has seen enough of the PP struggles and is taking measures to correct the problematic situation.
On Friday, Housley switched up his first and second PP units in an attempt to be less predictable to opposing peanlty killers and to kickstart the dormant PP scoring.
Here's the new PP1:
Tage Thompson-Jeff Skinner-Jack Eichel up front with Samson Reinhart at the net-front and Rasmus Ristolainen at the point.
What's the difference?
Eichel has played exclusively on his off-wing, the weak side this season. Eichel has been available for the one-timer, however, has had trouble converting from the left circle. On Saturday, Thompson, the owner of a Glock 9 gun of his own, will be the one-timer option for Eichel, who will have more freedom to distibute the puck and shoot from the right wing boards. Reinhart does a great job of taking the goalies eyes away and tipping pucks on the door step while Ristolainen launches bombs through screens.
Eichel explained the new PP1 configuration after practice on Friday.
"It gives me a couple options for one-timers," Eichel said. "You've got "Reino" in the middle for one-timers and as a support guy who I think makes a lot of really good plays. You've got "Skinny" around the net, who's obviously shown how good he can be there and "Tommer" on the backside shooting one-timers, which I think can be very dangerous for us. Then "Risto" is up to top with the opportunity to shoot the one-timer as well.
"I think it can present a lot of different threats to the opposing team, which is what we want to do. For me, it's distributing and knowing the right times to attack."
PP2 now features Kyle Okposo, Casey Mittelstadt, Conor Sheary and Rasmus Dahlin, with Jason Pominville and Evan Rodrigues rotating in.
Okposo has been shifted from the wing to the low post where he will use his hulking size and soft hands to hunt for pucks at the net front playing the net-front. Okposo was the net-front man when he played with the NY Islanders.
Okposo is a big man and he will no doubt lean on enemy penalty killers and make their lives more difficult. I like Okposo as the net-front man.
I'm confident the two new PP groups will light the lamp against the Flyers on Saturday afternoon.
Phil Housley reports that Carter Hutton has an upper body injury and will miss the Flyers game on Saturday afternoon. Hutton is listed as day-to-day.
Linus Ullmark, come on down.
The injury bug has taken a bite out of the Buffalo Sabres’ back line.
Defensemen Jake McCabe and Casey Nelson were listed as week-to-week on Thursday, while Marco Scandella and Matt Hunwick were listed as day-to-day.
No goalies were listed on the injury report.
On Friday morning, Sabres GM Jason Botterill called up defenseman Matt Tennyson and goaltender Scott Wedgewood from the Rochester Amerks.
Sabres starting goalie Carter Hutton played Monday night in the loss to Nashville. Linus Ullmark started against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Hutton sat out Thursday’s practice.
With McCabe and Nelson out long term, it stands to reason that Botterill call up an insurance policy defenseman. The Sabres host the Philadelphia Flyers at 1:00 pm on Saturday.
The news of the Wedgewood call up comes from out of the nose bleed seats.
Tennyson joins the Sabres for the third time this season but has yet to appear in any NHL games. The Minneapolis, Minnesota native has recorded three points (1+2) in eight games with the Americans this season.
In his first season with the Sabres organization, Wedgewood is is 8-4-1 in 14 AHL games with a 2.91 GAA and a .907 SV%. In 24 career NHL games with the Arizona Coyotes and New Jersey Devils, the Brampton, Ontario native has compiled a 7-10-5 record with a .903 SV%.
It looks to my eyes like Ullmark will get his second straight start against the Flyers one Saturday.
In 9 starts this season, Ullmark is 5-0-3 with a .921 SV% and 2.71 GAA. Ullmark has one shutout this season.
Here are Sabres trios and duos from Friday morning practice:
*Hutton not participating for second day in a row.