For the second offseason in a row, the Buffalo Sabres have improved their roster.
Whereas last summer was mostly about getting the forward group to a more respectable level with a few middle-of-the-lineup additions, this time around the team seems to have focused on its more pressing need: the worst defense in the league.
There are bright spots, of course, with Rasmus Dahlin and Lawrence Pilut being two exciting young exceptions, but everyone else is just above replacement level or worse. And that makes you wonder how much those other guys are holding Dahlin and Pilut back. So now, Jason Botterill has gone out and acquired Colin Miller and Henri Jokiharju for very little — the combined cost of Alex Nylander, a second-round pick in 2021, and a fifth-round pick in 2022.
The Sabres also improved up front, to some extent, by adding Marcus Johansson and Jimmy Vesey.
One problem: The Sabres now have nine NHL defensemen on the roster. (We can, obviously, use the term “NHL” a little liberally there because guys like Matt Hunwick and Marco Scandella aren’t really good enough to be NHLers anymore but that’s what the contracts say.) A second problem: They’re over the cap somehow.
All along, the presumption has been that the Sabres would trade Rasmus Ristolainen, their most expensive and most overrated defender, to parts unknown. Now it appears he wants out of Buffalo, telling a Finnish outlet the last few years have been tough and that he hasn’t “been able to enjoy hockey.”
If that sounds an awful lot like Ryan O’Reilly’s “I lost my smile” quotes last year, well, I’m not sure that’s a coincidence. Playing even a few years for these Sabres must be mentally draining and we can all understand that. It must suck to lose so much. But unlike O’Reilly, who was always quite good with the Sabres (especially at 5-on-5), Ristolainen was always a big part of the reason the Sabres were bad (especially at 5-on-5).
He delivers plenty of value on the power play, hence his point production, but he gets absolutely speedbagged in his own end, can’t stop turning the puck over and all that kind of stuff that leads to being on the ice for 307 goals against at 5-on-5 in just the last five seasons.
So if he wants out, the Sabres need to stop goofing around this summer and get him the trade he apparently wants. It doesn’t have to be for very much, and it can even just be for futures: The guy is bad, expensive, and has been a drag on this Sabres team for years.
Sell him as a power-play specialist to a team who struggled on the man advantage last year, eat some money if you have to, but by all means get him off the roster.
This was a trade that should have been made years ago, when most of the hockey world — including the Sabres themselves — was convinced he shouldn’t be traded straight-up for Taylor Hall. And even if he is diminishing his value not only with his poor play in the time since, but now with his comments to Finnish media, the inevitable must come to pass.
If even Ristolainen himself thinks he’s not going to be a Sabre when training camps open, what is Botterill sitting around waiting for? This isn’t going to be the trade that pushes the Sabres to the playoffs, but simply sending him elsewhere will make them harder to play against.
No matter what the return, there’s little reason to worry he’ll have a borderline MVP-type season and win the Conn Smythe like O’Reilly did. Unlike the former Sabres forward, any team that uses Ristolainen as much as the Sabres have will be in tough to hit 85 points.
Anaheim Ducks: All Dallas Eakins has to do to make the team better than last year is look at the card in his pocket that says, “Always do the opposite of what Randy Carlyle would do.”
Arizona Coyotes: Already feels like we’re about five or six years away from this guy selling the team because he can’t get a workable arena deal going.
Boston Bruins: Cam Neely is correct.
Buffalo Sabres: Don’t you, Jason? Don’t you?
Calgary Flames: Johnny Gaudreau says Lucic can push the Flames over the edge, and he’s right. Usually when you go over the edge of something, there’s a big drop involved.
Carolina Hurricanes: Not sure how anyone sees this as something other than a stalking horse. Pretend like, “Oh the Wild are SUPER interested” to get a bigger payday with a team that actually has a future. Simple.
Chicago: I’m probably gonna write something longer about college guys who will become RFAs, but in the meantime: Beau Starrett isn’t any kind of loss.
Colorado Avalanche: Oh is J.T. Compher gonna get to play with Artemi Panarin too?
Columbus Blue Jackets: I don’t know how many years in a row I’m gonna think to myself, “I bet Dano finally puts it together this year,” but it’s happening again.
Dallas Stars: Slow down, guys.
Detroit Red Wings: This does not speak well to the state of the Red Wings roster.
Edmonton Oilers: Yikes.
Enlarged a bit for clarity. It's better than what the earlier mockups suggested. pic.twitter.com/pKUo3f6rFr— Dave Waddell (@dave_waddell) August 10, 2019
Florida Panthers: Usually, career years at 29 years old aren’t too repeatable.
Los Angeles Kings: The Kings are gonna need to hit big on a bunch of prospects if they want to be competitive again before Doughty and Kopitar are cooked. Maybe they have?
Minnesota Wild: I’m setting the over/under on the number days before the start of training camp before they announce the new GM at 14.5.
Montreal Canadiens: If the Habs bailed on Andrei Markov for being old when he was still good a few years ago, why would they want him now at age 40?
Nashville Predators: If the Preds don’t get even a solid season out of Kyle Turris they’re gonna be so mad at him.
New Jersey Devils: It’s fun to remember they’re going to enter next season with no guarantee of retaining Taylor Hall.
New York Islanders: Sorry but this is insanely funny.
New York Rangers: Yeah, I’m feeling this.
Ottawa Senators: Where would we be without wishful thinking?
Philadelphia Flyers: Sean Couturier is easily a top-10 center in the league, so...
Pittsburgh Penguins: I’m not sure why the Penguins signed John Marino. Harvard got outscored 43-30 when he was on the ice last season.
San Jose Sharks: This is 100 percent factual.
St. Louis Blues: This is what happens when your two goalies who might be league-average at best next season make $8.75 million against the cap combined.
Tampa Bay Lightning: The Lightning might carry eight defensemen next season. Probably means a lot of 11F-7D lineups. Let’s go.
Toronto Maple Leafs: This is also insanely funny.
Vancouver Canucks: The answer to this question is “Tyler Myers.”
Vegas Golden Knights: I wonder if any of these holes could be filled by better allocating most or all of the $6.625 million being spent on Cody Eakin and Ryan Reaves.
Washington Capitals: I think the obvious answer here should be Siegenthaler but you know how it goes.
Winnipeg Jets: Looks like those Laine/Connor extension talks aren’t going great. Fun times up there for sure.
Gold Star Award
Okay this was cool.
We gotta start the season soon. Anton Shelfeld is ready. pic.twitter.com/BbkUnqbfHH— KHL (@khl_eng) August 11, 2019
Minus of the Weekend
All these RFAs who aren’t going to re-sign until camps open are bumming me out!
Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week
User “Jets4Life” is all over the road.
Edmonton's 2020 1st round Draft Pick
No you may not. The bathroom is for paying customers only. If you purchase an item, you may use the bathroom.
Ryan Lambert is a Yahoo! Sports hockey columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.
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