Inside the NHL: Lots of Sabres summer takeaways from development camp and beyond - The Buffalo News
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Inside the NHL: Lots of Sabres summer takeaways from development camp and beyond

Clearing the mind -- and the notebook -- off Sabres development camp before the NHL heads into what figures to be a quiet few weeks:

Keeping it real -- One of the key points new coach Phil Housley made about camp was how impressed he was that the team's development staff kept things fresh every day. On-ice drills were different each day and were done at a crisp pace, and the players had several off-ice activities as well to learn about life as a professional player. Even cooking. A lot was accomplished away from the rink -- out of the view of fans and media.

Reinhart's wakeup -- Could more of a message be sent to any returning player than the one Jason Botterill sent to Sam Reinhart by immediately telling reporters Tuesday that there will be no talks of an extension with the team's second-overall pick from 2014? They're playing the season out and telling Reinhart to show up in shape ready to produce. Good for them.

Mittelstadt mania -- Botterill's first No. 1 draft pick was downright dominant at times. And as much fun as it was for the fans and front office to watch him, Casey Mittelstadt said he was blown away by "every employee that we've been in touch with" during the camp.

"For the most part, the hockey was pretty much what I expected," he said. "But some of the things around the locker room, how nice everything is, even if you imagine it once you actually see it, it's pretty impressive. Things like that were definitely above expectations and it's been a great week."

Got bulk, need finish -- Justin Bailey said he was up to 220 pounds and was initially worried that might make him sluggish on the ice. No need. Bailey was flying through most drills and the 3-on-3 tournament. Bailey struggled to finish plays, however, looking much like the player he had just two goals in 40 NHL games the last two seasons. He has 43 goals in Rochester the last two years and training camp looks like a good time for him to bust out and make the team. But he has to start putting the puck in the net.

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What will we see from the 2014 draft? -- Other than Reinhart, it appears like it may not be much. Second-rounder Eric Cornel made it to Rochester last year but scored just five goals in 67 games. Third-rounder Jonas Johansson looks like he'll be the starting goalie in Cincinnati. Fifth-rounder Max Willman of Brown showed a few nice moves in the 3-on-3 tournament. Still, Reinhart might be the only one of the nine players to ever make it to Buffalo

What about the 2016 draft? -- This might turn into Tim Murray's parting gift to the organization. That weekend on home soil, Murray picked up Alex Nylander, Rasmus Asplund, Cliff Pu, Casey Fitzgerald, Brandon Hagel, WNYer Austin Osmanski and Vasily Glotov among his 10 choices. Asplund and Mittelstadt were the best players in camp, with Asplund getting the Craig Ramsay Award for leadership. Especially if he plays for Sweden in the Olympics, you wonder if Asplund could crack the NHL next year after another season in the Swedish Elite League.

Rochester revival -- Several players raved at the words they heard from Botterill, new Amerks GM Randy Sexton and new Rochester coach Chris Taylor about how the Sabres want to succeed at the AHL level after a 26th-place finish there last year.

"Everybody could kind of use a fresh start and a bunch of fresh places to try to change things around there," said Cornel. "I learned a lot last year and I'm looking forward to this year. We're definitely headed in the right direction. What they were doing at Wilkes-Barre has definitely worked the last several years. You've seen it."

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Sexton's speech -- The Sabres brought Sexton in for a routine first meeting with reporters and the media was quickly stunned by the high-energy words of the former Penguins executive and ex-NHL GM with Ottawa and Florida.

"Believe me, it's not manufactured. I'm a passionate guy about hockey. I'm really passionate about Buffalo and Rochester," Sexton said. "We've got an opportunity here to do something really unique. I'm so incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to win a Stanley Cup and I want nothing more than to bring a Stanley Cup to Buffalo. ... I know what it feels like to hoist that Cup. I did it as a Penguin. I'd really like to do it again as a Sabre."

Keep paying attention to Midwest college hockey -- Notre Dame games were must-see TV the last couple of years to watch now-departed goalie Cal Petersen. That changes to Minnesota games so fans can follow Mittelstadt. He'll have a home-and-home series Jan. 6-7 with St. Cloud State and defense prospect Will Borgen, and will play four Big Ten games against Wisconsin, which will feature seventh-round winger Linus Weissbach.

"That was my goal coming to the US last year, to come to college," said Weissbach, who had 19 goals for Tri-City of the USHL last season after coming from Sweden. "I'll get coached by Tony Granato and that will be exciting for me to be coached by an NHL player. Casey and I have been hanging out quite a bit in this camp so we should have a good rivalry."

Cracking the Cap

In response to so many inquries about the Sabres' cap situation, here are the most pertinent numbers (all from CapFriendly.com).

The Sabres head into the summer with about $14.9 million in cap space for the 2017-18 season. That number will likely shrink to around $7 million once you figure new deals for restricted free agents Robin Lehner, Nathan Beaulieu and Zemgus Girgensons. So it shows the dance the Sabres will have to do next year to accommodate a massive deal for Jack Eichel as well as new deals for Reinhart and Evander Kane if the team chooses to keep one or both of them.

Kane's $5.25 million would be a big subtraction if the team trades him at some point this season. The only big subtraction the Sabres would have for next year is the $3.9 million Josh Gorges is making this season in the final year of his deal. In terms of annual money-drags, Matt Moulson's cap hit is $5 million through 2018-19, so a buyout next June could certainly be plausible. They would have Moulson on their books for $3,666,667 in '18-19 and only for $666,667 in 2019-20.

The Sabres remain on the hook for $5.142 million for Zach Bogosian through the 2019-20 season and that remains their one true albatross deal. Of course, Bogosian can make it more palatable if he stays healthy and if his play gets more consistent. The Sabres' additions on defense make that possible because Bogosian won't have to be playing 20-24 minutes per game. And it will be interesting to see what impact the Housley hiring will have on him too.

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Scouting point

A high-ranking Sabres source disputes the notion the team's scouting purge was performed by sending letters to employees who were not being retained, which was how two other sources said the decisions were relayed. The team source said non-renewal letters were sent as part of a standard human resources procedure but affected employees were also told of their fate.

And while it's unfortunate that loyal, longtime employees like pro scout Jon Christino and former player Yuri Khmylev were let go immediately after the draft, it's not all that unusual either. Makes sense that Botterill would want his own people in place, especially with the Sabres' lack of success over the last decade.

Around the boards

---As we hit the weekend, there were 15 unrestricted free agents on the market who played at least 72 games last season. Some like Nashville's Mike Fisher and old friend Brian Campbell of Chicago are likely heading into retirement if their most recent team no longer has interest.

Former Sabres winger Thomas Vanek has the most assists (31) and points (48) of any of them. Fisher had the most goals with 18. It seems like somebody has to take the plunge on Jaromir Jagr (16-30-46) with a one-year deal by training camp. Meanwhile, Brian Gionta is also on the outside waiting for work, with his spot in Buffalo likely gone by the re-acquisition of Jason Pominville.

---Interesting choice in Arizona as the Coyotes have hired former Arizona State athletic director Steve Patterson as their president and CEO. Patterson, the general manager of the 1994 NBA champion Houston Rockets, is coming off a controversy-filled two years as the AD at Texas. His Arizona State ties and work on arenas and stadiums at several stops leads to immediate speculation the Coyotes can rekindle talks of a new arena in Tempe, the city where ASU is located. Those talks broke off earlier this year.

“Arena deals take time, talks and negotiations,” Patterson told ArizonaSports.com. “They’re kind of like vampire movies. You go to the coffin a dozen times and you think they’re dead, but they keep rising back up. Every single deal I’ve been involved with was thought to be dead a dozen times and then it rose back up.”

---The Red Wings will be unveiling the biggest scoreboard in the NHL, at 44 feet on all sides, when Little Caesars Arena opens in September. The Sabres' board in KeyBank Center has fallen well behind places like Tampa Bay, Colorado, Minnesota, Anaheim, Montreal, Toronto and now Detroit. It's definitely time for an upgrade in that department.

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