Inside the NHL: Golden Knights aren't the only team to watch during big week for drafts - The Buffalo News
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Inside the NHL: Golden Knights aren't the only team to watch during big week for drafts

What a wild week this figures to be.

It all starts Sunday morning, shortly after 10 a.m., when the lists of protected players for the expansion draft are publicly released by the NHL. Then it's time for the Vegas Golden Knights to put months of homework into action.

The only team you can trade with between now and 8 a.m. Eastern time Thursday is Vegas, and you are basically trying to maneuver your players and be at the mercy of Golden Knights General Manager George McPhee, hoping to dissuade him from taking a player you want to keep.

Rumors are rampant around the league that McPhee is building a cachet of draft picks -- including multiple first-rounders, according to TSN -- as the incentives he's getting from teams for fulfilling their wishes.

The Golden Knights' 30 expansion draft choices will be revealed Wednesday night as part of the NHL's Awards Show and then it's on to Chicago for everyone for the draft Friday and Saturday. Vegas is the star of the show, as they like to say on The Strip, but hardly the only team worth watching in the coming days.

Here's some other clubs this corner will have eyes peeled on when everyone arrives in the Windy City:

Sabres: Now, that's the team I'm obviously paid to watch the most. But they're going to be watched closely in the coming days and weeks by lots of folks outside the 716. In Jason Botterill, you have a first-time GM so nobody knows exactly how he will operate in the No. 1 chair. He has a need to keep getting more bodies on defense to help Phil Housley's all-in style and he has a huge available asset in Evander Kane. Somebody, likely Los Angeles or Vancouver, is going to have to decide if Kane is worth the trouble and they want to sign him longterm so they can pull the trigger on a deal.

Wild/Ducks/Kings: These teams were oddly silent prior to Saturday's trade freeze. Minnesota didn't move any of their three defensemen in Marco Scandella, Jonas Brodin or Matt Dumba, and the Ducks didn't move Sami Vatanen. At least not yet. The word is there's a deal in place for the Knights to take someone like Shea Theodore for considerations to stay hands-off on Vatanen or Josh Manson. As for Los Angeles, Jake Muzzin and Alec Martinez certainly have to be on Buffalo's radar in a deal for Kane or some other package.

Senators: Dion Phaneuf would not wave his no-movement clause because he wants to take another run in Ottawa after a big year. That's his perogative. The Sens couldn't trade him Saturday and will now be protecting Phaneuf, Erik Karlsson and Cody Ceci on the back end. As  a result, Marc Methot goes unprotected in a very dicey move. Karlsson's partner the last five years has two seasons left at $4.9 million and has to be attractive to McPhee. Will they simply take him or try to extract ransom from Ottawa not to?

Penguins: Marc-Andre Fleury is almost certainly going to be taken by Vegas and instantly becomes the face of the franchise. There was a ton of thought at the Stanley Cup final that Fleury would agree to be flipped to Calgary by Vegas but that was apparently put to rest Saturday when the Flames acquired veteran Mike Smith from Arizona in part for the rights to former Sabres goalie Chad Johnson.

Predators: The Western Conference finalists would love to protect both James Neal and Calle Jarnkrok and GM David Poile is almost certainly hearing "how much is it worth it to you?" from McPhee. It's always interesting to see how a team less than two weeks removed from the final, win or lose, plays the draft. Lots of them seem content and some are just plain exhausted from the playoff run that they don't see the need to do a lot.

Rangers/Islanders: New homes await for Rangers center Derek Stepan and Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic. Arizona is a prominent place mentioned for Stepan. You mostly hear Kane mentioned as going to the West but you wonder what kind of interest level the folks in Brooklyn would have for him, and what the Sabres feel about Hamonic as well.

Canadiens: GM Marc Bergevin traded P.K. Subban last June and two of his former No. 1 picks on the blueline (Mikhail Sergachev and Nathan Beaulieu) in the last couple of days. Bergevin soured mightily on Beaulieu, who will be the trivia answer to Botterill's first trade acquisition. Said Bergevin of Beaulieu after the season ended with a first-round loss to the Rangers: "At some point players have to take ownership, know where their game is at."

Acquiring Jonathan Drouin and then signing him to a six-year, $33-million deal certainly will keep French fans happy. Now we see if Alex Galchenyuk is dealt this week.

Oilers/Leafs: It wasn't hard to find people in Pittsburgh and Nashville predicting a Toronto-Edmonton final as soon as 2019. Both teams need to get better on the back end, and there's a good chance Jordan Eberle and James van Riemsdyk are among the players who could be on the move to make that happen.

Sabres 'GM for a Day': It's time to make hard choices

@TheHousleys

It will be interesting to watch how active Housley remains on social media now that he's a head coach. One can only imagine the Twitter replies that will head to @philhousley6 when the Sabres are on a losing streak. Housley's wife, Minnesota State Senator @KarinHousley, and his children are also active on the site.

By the way, what was Housley referring to when he talked about pushing the pace as a five-man unit during his introductory news conference? The Sabres had 17 goals from their defense all season in 82 games. By comparison, Nashville got 14 goals from its blueline in the playoffs -- in just 22 games. In the regular season, the Predators got 16 from Ryan Ellis alone and finished with 45.

After paying his coaching dues, Phil Housley cashes in with Sabres

'17-18 schedule on the docket

Also on this week's calendar: Home openers for the 2017-18 season are slated to be announced at noon on Wednesday and the full schedule at 3 p.m. on Thursday. The expectation here is that the Sabres open at home on Thursday, Oct. 5 or Friday, October 6 and then hit the road on an extended trip.

Fans across the league will be checking the dates for their teams' first-ever visits to Vegas, which is bound to become the destination of choice for clubs' annual parents trips. Of note on the Sabres' schedule will be the expected lone visit of the season by Sidney Crosby and the Stanley Cup champion Penguins, Housley's return trip to Nashville to face the Predators and the dates of Buffalo's initial trips to Detroit's new Little Caesars Arena.

Throw a flag on USA sweaters

There's a lot of talk about jerseys with the new Adidas models set to be unveiled for NHL teams Wednesday in Las Vegas. I'll add some more: What in the world was USA Hockey thinking when they unveiled those Bills-style sweaters for Team USA to wear in the outdoor game against Canada in New Era Field?

That might be the most hideous hockey sweater I've ever seen. Giant numbers on the front like a Bills jersey? Memo to USA Hockey: You can actually tell the creative genuises at Pegula Sports and Entertainment their ideas are absurd from time to time.

Since Team USA is wearing a Bills jersey, maybe Team Canada should just show up in 80s-style Patriots red jerseys so we can go all football this one.

USA Hockey unveils Bills-themed jersey for world junior outdoor game in Buffalo

Briere in executive chair

Chris Drury has ascended to assistant general manager of the New York Rangers and now the other co-captain from the Sabres' 2006-07 conference finalists is becoming a front office executive as well.

Comcast Spectacor, the parent company of the Flyers, has purchased the ECHL's Alaska Aces and will relocate the team to Portland, Maine, where it will begin play in the 2018-19 season. The director of operations? Former Sabres and Philadelphia star Daniel Briere.

Briere told the Philadelphia Inquirer his main job will be to “make sure things are running smoothly on the business side, overlooking sales and advertising - and securing all the right people to do all the different jobs that need to be done.”

Briere has worked with Flyers president Paul Holmgren the last two years and said "now it’s going to be cool to put that experience into place.”

Portland, which was the Sabres' AHL affiliate from 2008-2011, has been without hockey since the Pirates were sold in 2016 and moved to Springfield, Mass. Cross Insurance Arena, the city's downtown rink, underwent a $33 million renovation in 2014. The Flyers won't be the parent club, but the Boston Bruins could be one possibility to move their ECHL affiliation from Atlanta. The Sabres recently signed a deal to provide players to Cincinnati.

Sabres agree to ECHL affiliation with Cincinnati Cyclones

They said it

---There was a great description by old friend and longtime Predators broadcaster Pete Weber about the scene on Broadway in Nashville during the Cup final in which Weber called it "Woodstock on ice."

Weber expounded on it to the Sporting News in the kind of wordsmithing only the former voice of the Bisons and Sabres perform: "Hockey and Nashville right now is like Max Yasgur's farm: It's a mass gathering of humanity, though instead of enjoying three days of music, they're enjoying many days of hockey and music. The only difference is that there is not as much nudity here."

After long career in Buffalo, it's been a wild ride for Pete Weber with Predators

---Predators captain Mike Fisher on locker cleanout day: "I was driving into the rink before the game one night and it just kind of hit me about how united the city is at really a time where there's a lot of division too so it was cool to see. It didn't matter what political party or what race or whatever, it was just all about yellow and the city. And that was kind of cool to think about that. That was neat. People were all in for the Preds and we felt it and we appreciated it and it was awesome."

---Kings defenseman Drew Doughty on TSN1050 Radio in Toronto: "I think all of us Southern Ontario players, we secretly want to play for the Leafs. You know, we all have that kind of soft spot.

"We would all want to play here, especially with the team, the way they're getting better and stuff like that but I think it just always comes down to how hard it would be to live in a city being that big of a celebrity. I'm spoiled in LA, where I walk anywhere I want and not one person's going to recognize me. If, say I did for some reason play for the Leafs, I don't know if I could get used to that or not. I think that's the problem why guys don't sign here."

---Tweet from former Bills linebacker Cornelius Bennett (@realcbennett97) on the Housley hiring: "Wow Phil back in Buffalo! Awesomeness to the maximum ness!!!!!"

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