Two themes are currently striking this corner about the Atlantic Division. One is how much better it seems Montreal and Ottawa are going to be, while the other is how much the Canadiens and Senators might be driving up the price for Sam Reinhart in the Oct. 27 arbitration hearing of the Sabres winger.
The Canadiens traded Max Domi to Columbus for Josh Anderson and promptly signed Anderson to a seven-year extension with an average annual value of $5.5 million. They signed Tyler Toffoli to a four-year deal at $4.25 million on Monday and agreed to the biggest deal yet on Wednesday with Brendan Gallagher at six years and $6.5 million per year. That’s three pretty massive additions on the wing.
Meanwhile, the Senators signed Evgenii Dadonov to a three-year deal with an AAV of $5 million after he’s put together seasons of 28, 28 and 25 goals the last three years in Florida.
Reinhart has wrapped up a two-year, $7.3 million deal he signed during training camp in 2018 that carried a $3.65 million cap hit. It was reasonable to think the Sabres were looking at $6 million and up in an arbitration award. In the wake of the latest deals, you have to wonder now how close that figure might get to $7 million.
Gallagher has 173 goals in 547 games, Dadonov has 91 goals in 280 games and is already 31 years old. Anderson, 26, has just one 20-goal season in his career and only 65 career goals in 267 games.
Reinhart, 24, has four 20-goal seasons and has 109 goals in 400 games. He’s a nice player. He’s not a $7 million player. It would make more sense to pay someone like Patrik Laine in the $9 million range than to spend that on Reinhart.
Laine’s representatives again sent out feelers this week that it might be better for the Winnipeg Jets to send their client elsewhere. The big assumption is that he’s a fit in Philadelphia. Call it a warped fantasy perhaps, but how about a top line in Buffalo of Jack Eichel centering Taylor Hall and Laine?
Reinhart, a former No. 2 overall pick like Laine, would almost certainly have to be part of any such trade, along with a defenseman or two. At some point, of course, the Sabres are going to be capped out, particularly among their forwards.
Sure, this is one of those dare-to-dream kind of trades. But it comes back to the reality of paying $10 million to Eichel, $9 million to Jeff Skinner (albeit the 2018-19 version) and $8 million to Hall. Now it’s Reinhart’s turn to cash in and you wonder how willing the Sabres will be to let him.
There’s still a long offseason ahead, with the continued spread of coronavirus chipping away at the draft plan of starting a new season on Jan. 1. So once Reinhart’s award comes in, it will be fascinating to see how Kevyn Adams & Co. react to it.
Big bucks led to Hall surprise
A key reason the Sabres got Hall was obviously the winger’s longtime connection to coach Ralph Krueger from their Edmonton days. But another factor was the club’s willingness to make him an immediate offer for a short-term deal at big dollars.
Hall revealed in his introductory media call that the Sabres offered both a one- and two-year deal, and the Sabres were easily able to offer $8 million because of their available cap space. Lots of contenders were going to struggle to do that for Hall without moving other assets off their roster first.
It was Krueger whom Hall says a decade later “got the most out of me” and brought the superstar winger to the Buffalo Sabres.
That allowed Hall to do a spin-o-rama on his presumed path of signing with a current playoff team, instead taking a bet-on-me deal with a club aspiring to get there. Columbus, Boston, Colorado and Vegas had to be stunned by Hall’s decision.
Wrote Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman of Hall in his “31 Thoughts” blog: “The Sabres were in and committed, with a coach he likes and the best center he’s ever played with (Eichel). It’s bold. The NHL needs that.”
February start to season?
Vegas owner Bill Foley caused a stir during a radio appearance in Sin City this week with old friend Brian Blessing of WIVB and Empire fame, saying he thinks the season may not start until Feb. 1 because NHL owners must have some fans in buildings to generate revenue.
Foley dropped another bombshell in the same interview when asked about the wisdom of trading Nate Schmidt within the Pacific Division to Vancouver. Foley said it was no problem doing that with Schmidt because “he’ll be in the Canadian division.”
It’s well-known within the sport that the NHL is considering an all-Canadian division for next year consisting of the seven teams in Canada playing a schedule against each other because of the ongoing border issue, but it’s far from a done deal. It’s simply one scheduling possibility the league is mulling among several as we wait for clarity on an opening of the border, which feels unlikely to happen in 2020.
Vegas always rolling dice
Speaking of Vegas, it’s unbelievable how the Knights try to get involved with every big name. They had to ship out Paul Stastny and Schmidt to make room for Alex Pietrangelo, opted to keep Marc-Andre Fleury in tandem with Robin Lehner and even checked in with Tampa on Steven Stamkos in case the Lightning pushed their captain to waive his no-trade clause.
In three years, the Golden Knights have been to a Cup final and a Western final. And they could have gone deep in 2019 had they not gotten completely hosed by the erroneous major penalty late in Game 7 of the first round at San Jose that produced an avalanche of power-play goals and wiped out a 3-0 lead.
Remember who that call was against? New Sabres center Cody Eakin.
Banged-up Bruins may need reinforcement
Big news out of Boston as the Bruins announced Brad Marchand (sports hernia) and David Pastrnak (hip) had surgeries last month with recovery times expected to breach the start of next season, whenever that is.
Marchand is expected to be out until mid-January and Pastrnak until mid-February. Wonder if the Bruins try to get a decently priced winger on the cheap to fill their roster and perhaps take up a bigger role for the first month of the season.
Mike Hoffman and Mikael Granlund would not qualify as cheap but ex-Sabres like Dominik Kahun and Conor Sheary would. Perhaps Boston would be a fit for Anthony Duclair, who was not given a qualifying offer in Ottawa.
The same might apply in St. Louis, where another shoulder surgery could keep Vladimir Tarasenko out until early February and could send the Blues shopping for help.
New York, New York
What a rivalry the Rangers and Islanders are going to have in the coming years. It’s going to be as hot as things were in the ’70s and ’80s, when meetings were so bitter that fans in Madison Square Garden started to chant their low opinion of Denis Potvin.
They still do it once a night during a quiet moment in play in an ode to the Hall of Fame Islanders defenseman. But the teams haven’t met in the playoffs since 1994, so the hatred has largely been a thing of the past.
Things heated up considerably last week as No. 1 overall draft pick Alexis Lafreniere signed his max entry-level deal with the Rangers while the Islanders, who lost to Tampa Bay in the East final, erected the final piece of structural steal at UBS Arena adjacent to Belmont Park, which opens for the 2021-22 season. The Isles are expected to play again this year in NYCB Live, the renovated Nassau Coliseum.
“The best thing that could ever happen for us is the Islanders and the Rangers are good at the same time,” said Tim Leiweke, CEO of Oak View Group, a partner in the new arena. “They’ve always missed each other. If they get going, and they’re both good, young teams, it’d be phenomenal for this building because of the rivalry it builds in New York. Great buildings compete for music, we compete for hockey, and I think that’s what New York wants.”
Around the rinks
• Williamsville product Andrew Poturalski will be back with Anaheim, signing a one-year/two-way deal ($700,000 NHL/$350,000 AHL). The 26-year-old had an injury-plagued 2019-20 season in San Diego, notching two goals and seven points in just 17 games after coming from Carolina as a broken wrist KO’d his season.
Poturalski had 70 points for the Charlotte Checkers in 2018-19 and was named the most valuable player of the AHL playoffs with 23 points in 18 games as Charlotte took the Calder Cup.
• Here’s a note that would become especially relevant to Sabres fans if Dylan Cozens doesn’t make the team: The Western Hockey League has announced it will start its season Jan. 8 after the World Juniors are completed in Edmonton. The regular season will minimize travel and keep play exclusively within one of four new divisions.
There will be an East Division with the seven teams in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and a Central with the five Alberta teams that include Cozens’ Lethbridge Hurricanes. There’s also a B.C. Division with the five teams in that province and a U.S. with the five American clubs.
• NHL clubs continue to wait nervously on a return-to-play plan from the AHL, which is undoubtedly held up as teams try to find out if they can have fans in the stands and the league ponders how to operate its Canadian teams in Toronto, Winnipeg, Belleville and Laval.
Meanwhile, the ECHL has announced that 13 teams will begin a 72-game schedule on Dec. 11 while the other 13 teams open a 62-game schedule on Jan. 11. The latter group includes the Cincinnati Cyclones, where the Sabres have put some prospects in recent years. Standings will be based on winning percentage because of the uneven number of games.
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