A full scrimmage was a highlight of development camp in recent years, and a crowd of more than 17,000 came out to KeyBank Center two years ago to watch Jack Eichel in his first game action in Buffalo. Why no scrimmage this year?
The team has cut back its on-ice work to just four days, from the seven days it ran the last couple years under former General Manager Tim Murray. And there's no question the Sabres are trying to cut back on the injury potential.
"Summer training for players this age is critical," said assistant GM Randy Sexton. "I've seen it happen in other development camps where you have these high-intensity scrimmages or practices. Kids are competitive by nature and now you've got five kids that are nursing injuries for 2-3 weeks. And that throws a serious wrench into their training regimens. So we need to be sure, back to helping these players becoming as good as they're capable of them becoming, that it includes a strong summer of off-ice training."
Meanwhile, the Providence Journal reported Sunday the Sabres will be hosting a prospects tournament in September and that the Jason Botterill connection may be at work, with the Pittsburgh Penguins joining Buffalo, Boston and New Jersey. The Sabres had no announcement on any event Sunday but they have hosted the Bruins and Devils the last two years.
An overtime goal by Eichel against Boston won the event for Buffalo two years ago in KeyBank Center. The Sabres went 0-2 in the round-robin event last year at HarborCenter, where this year's tourney is likely to return.
The NHL and NHLPA have set arbitration hearing dates for 30 players this summer, with Buffalo goaltender Robin Lehner slated for July 27 and new defenseman Nathan Beaulieu set for Aug. 4. Johan Larsson's scheduled July 31 hearing was wiped out Saturday when he agreed to a two-year, $2.95 million deal.
The Sabres extended qualifying offers to both Lehner and Beaulieu and will keep negotiating with them until the hearing date. Lehner made $3.15 million last season and is likely looking at a new deal between $4-5 million per season. Beaulieu is coming off a two-year, $2 million deal with Montreal.
Last season, 24 of 25 players who filed for arbitration worked out a deal before the hearing. The lone outlier, Colorado defenseman Tyson Barrie, got a new contract before the arbiter made a ruling.
Larsson made $950,000 last year and got a good bump from his $997,500 qualifying offer to an average annual value of $1.475 million.
West Seneca native Sean Malone signed his entry-level deal with the Sabres in April just hours after Harvard's loss to Minnesota-Duluth in the Frozen Four semifinals. He made his NHL debut the next night in Florida, then watched less than two weeks later as General Manager Tim Murray was fired.
"It was pretty tough because I had a pretty good conversation with Tim Murray right before he got fired," said Malone, skating in summer camp for the first time in three years because he's no longer battling injuries. "But I know Jason Botterill is familiar with me as a player so that helps. And Phil Housley wants to institute a game where I feel I can fit in, so I'm excited about the changes."
Malone said his family was particularly excited about the hiring of Housley.
"My dad grew up watching him," Malone said. "I watched some of highlights on YouTube. Pretty exceptional. Pretty good player."
— Mike Harrington (@ByMHarrington) July 9, 2017
Former Sabres winger Patrick Kaleta, now the youth hockey ambassador for HarborCenter, was among the coaches helping out at practice Sunday. Also working with the prospects is former Kaleta teammate Adam Mair, now one of the Sabres' development coaches.
Players used both rinks for each session, with the defensemen and goalies starting on the featured rink and the forwards opening on the secondary ice. After a brief flood in the middle of the session, the groups then flipped.
The camp continues Monday with sessions from 10:30-11:45 a.m,. and 1:45-3 p.m. It concludes Tuesday morning with the annual 3-on-3 tournament for the French Connection Cup. That starts at 9:15 a.m. and should run until about noon. All sessions are free and open to the public.