KHL defenseman Victor Antipin was a coveted free agent last season. Former Buffalo Sabres GM Tim Murray started the process of landing Antipin before he was fired and his successor, Jason Botterill, finished the job by signing him to a 1 yr. contract with a base salary of $925K. Also involved was a reported stipulation that Antipin play in the NHL with Buffalo or he could return to Russia.
Antipin got his contract and his wish and played the 2017-18 season for the Sabres. Unfortunately for him, things did not go all that well. Buffalo was disaster from the get-go and Antipin found out just how difficult the NHL could be, especially on a last place team that was a train wreck. In all the 5'11" 175 lb. mobile defenseman played in 47 games scattered throughout the season with zero goals and 10 assists. He also got plastered into the boards by Nashville Predators forward Scotty Hartnell in an unpenalized boarding with four games left in the season. Antipin left the ice on a stretcher that game which is how his season and NHL career ended.
He was asked about that hit at locker cleanout and told the gathered media that "he didn't remember." Antipin was also asked what he thought of his first NHL season to which he replied, "it was tough." In the measured English of a person just learning the language, Antipin said, "sometimes good play, sometimes no good, but it was a good experience."
At the time of locker cleanout Antipin was asked whether he wanted to stay or head back to the KHL. He said that he didn't know and that he didn't have any plans. Turns out he is headed back to Mother Russia, according to reports from earlier this month, to resume his professional hockey career. The #FreeAntipin brigade finally got their wish, although I highly doubt that's what they meant when they trumpeted that hashtag.
The Sabres had plenty of bodies on the blueline before Antipin decided to move on and it got even more crowded when they won the lottery and the right to select Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin at the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. Dahlin is expected to slot right into the top-four and possibly in the top pairing.
However, Botterill continued to revamp his organizational d-depth with the signing of SHL Defenseman of the Year, Lawrence Pilut.
Pilut had a breakout season for HV71 in Sweden's Elite Hockey League and was rumored to be headed to Buffalo weeks ago. That was confirmed yesterday as the Sabres announced they had signed the 5'11" 179 lb. mobile, offensive-minded defenseman to a 2yr./$2.7 million contract. Unlike that of Antipin, Pilut's contract will allow him time to season in the AHL if necessary as there's no stipulation he must play in the NHL. The two-way deal sets his NHL salary at $925K ($92,500 as a signing bonus) and his AHL salary at $70,000. There's also a potential for a $425K performance bonus which is unspecified right now.
The signing of Pilut adds desperately needed depth to the organization and also adds the type of play that's the style d'jour for today's NHL. Pilut is a puck mover who has offense on his mind. According to his coach he's a great skater and very smart although he did tell me that Pilut has the tendency to be "overly enthusiastic" when it came to jumping in on the play.
"He wants to be involved in the play all the time," said HV71 coach Johan Lindbom. "He had to learn to do the right things. We told him you start with defense then you take the next step."
That next step was a breakout season that saw him tally eight goals and add 30 assists in his fourth season for HV71 while on his way to the Borje Salming Trophy for the league's best defenseman.
Now he's in the Buffalo organization soon to be joined by fellow countryman Dahlin. In all, that's not a bad trade-off for the Sabres.
For a little more insight on Pilut, click here
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