For all intents and purposes, the NHL’s offseason is over.
With the exception of a few minor transactions and every team’s rookie development camp going into full swing, most franchises have wrapped up their to-do lists for the summer and have concentrated on re-signing their own players. Some teams accomplished their goals, others failed and a few had to pay the price for their own success.
The Buffalo Sabres, meanwhile, belong in the first category. Knowing the organization had a few holes to fill while also needing to stay fiscally responsible to sign Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart to future contract extensions, first-time general manager Jason Botterill showed in his first summer running the Sabres that he was more than up to the task of orchestrating his own show at the NHL level.
Botterill made several shrewd moves, including:
- Acquiring Marco Scandella, Nathan Beaulieu and Victor Antipin to shore up the defense corps – Scandella, the casualty of a cap crunch in Minnesota, should be the main cog behind a defensive resurgence for the Sabres. A solid two-way defender in the middle of his prime, he will provide a veteran presence next to Rasmus Ristolainen and chip in on both the powerplay and penalty kill.
Beaulieu, a former first-round draft pick by the Montreal Canadiens six years ago, has shown flashes of talent during his time in the NHL. However, he has never quite put it all together, bouncing up and down the Habs’ defensive depth chart and sometimes coming in and out of their lineup entirely.
Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin called out Beaulieu after the Habs’ first-round playoff loss to the New York Rangers, saying that Beaulieu needed to accept responsibility for his inconsistent play. Perhaps the trade to Buffalo can serve as the wake-up call Beaulieu needed.
Antipin, a rearguard who recently played for Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the KHL, comes to Buffalo with a reputation for offensive prowess. In 59 games last season, he posted six goals and 18 assists for 24 points and had seven goals and four assists for 11 points in 18 playoff games. It remains to be seen if his game can translate from more spacious rinks in Europe to smaller NHL ones, but signing him to a one-year deal is a worthwhile gamble for Botterill.
- Adding veteran two-way players in Jason Pominville, Benoit Pouliot and Jacob Josefson – Pominville, a fan favorite from his previous stint in Buffalo, could prove to be an upgrade at right wing. While he is making slightly more money than the departed Tyler Ennis ($5.6 million/year compared to Ennis’ $4.6 million salary), the former Sabres captain is more versatile.
Able to play a top-six role or a bottom-six role, Pominville can also contribute on both special teams units and additionally play a pivotal part in helping the youth on the Sabres’ roster mature on and off the ice.
Pouliot arrives in Buffalo on a one-year contract, and while he didn’t live up to expectations in Edmonton, his time with the Rangers showcased his worth to the hockey world. A sublime third-line winger with the Blueshirts, Pouliot exhibited his ability to play a gritty type of game and score timely goals, helping the Rangers reach the 2014 Stanley Cup Finals.
While the Oilers expected him to contribute on their top two lines, Pouliot looked like a fish out of water in two years there. Able to return to the role that suited him previously, Pouliot may be able to return to his prior form – provided he stays out of the sin bin (a noted chink in his armor is a penchant to take ill-advised penalties).
Josefson also will wear the blue and gold on a one-year deal, and while he showed flashes of talent with the New Jersey Devils – his ability to win faceoffs and maintain a solid checking role helped them reach the Finals in 2012 – Josefson hasn’t shown the capability to stay healthy. If Josefson can prove that he can stay in the Sabres’ lineup night in and night out, his presence could be a boon for Buffalo.
- Bringing in Chad Johnson to serve as Robin Lehner’s backup – Johnson played well during his first tour of duty despite a lack of talent in front of him, and with presumably more talent in front of him now – and a year of gaining experience with the Calgary Flames – Johnson could be even better during his second go-around in Buffalo.
The signing of Johnson is also an indication that Linus Ullmark isn’t quite ready yet to be a full-time NHL’er. The transaction will allow Ullmark to continue to gain starting experience with the Rochester Americans and to become more ready for life in the pros.
Including the signings of multiple players to fill out the Amerks’ roster – former Sabre Kevin Porter being among them – Botterill’s first summer at the helm of the Sabres has been characterized by making intelligent, cost-savvy moves. Whether they can help Buffalo snap their postseason drought remains to be seen, but the future has never looked brighter in Western New York.