The countdown to Feb. 26 is on. Things have been awfully quiet in the NHL in recent days, save for the big Los Angeles-Ottawa trade that involved Dion Phaneuf and Marian Gaborik packing. That's all about to change as the NHL's trade deadline day approaches.
The Sabres are expected to be a prominent seller, with the likes of Evander Kane, Benoit Pouliot, Robin Lehner and Josh Gorges good bets to be moved. It will be a good test for first-year General Manager Jason Botterill to see if he can not only offload some salary but also start the process of rebuilding his team by adding a piece or two.
The Sabres have made it clear to teams they're in position to retain some salary to facilitate deals and perhaps enhance their return. They're expected to keep part of Kane's $5.25 million salary in a trade and would likely have to keep part of the $3.9 million hit on Gorges or the $4 million for Lehner. Teams are limited to three retained salaries at any one time.
Here's a look at some of the latest scuttlebutt around the Sabres and the league:
Golden Knights: David Conte, Vegas' special advisor to hockey operations, has attended multiple Sabres games. He was also in Rochester last week and followed the Sabres to Ottawa on Thursday. While you wouldn't think they'd be all that interested in upsetting their lineup or dressing room by adding Kane, perhaps a veteran spare part like Pouliot would be of some interest. Still, the Knights' continued presence seems to foreshadow something bigger brewing.
And in non-Sabres news, what is Vegas going to do at the deadline? They were built to sell, with big names like James Neal, David Perron and Luca Sbisa all being unrestricted free agents. In October, you figured they would all go for draft picks to build the franchise going forward. They can't go now. The Golden Knights are legitimate Stanley Cup contenders who have essentially been forced to go for it in year one by the play of their team. They have to add, or at least stand pat. Amazing.
Rick Nash vs. Kane: The "For Sale" sign is up in New York for players like Nash, Ryan McDonagh, Michael Grabner and Mats Zuccarello. Nash's presence on the market makes him the top rental player available and teams are likely looking to get their hands on him first before cycling back to the Sabres on Kane. Nashville and St. Louis both seem to be places that would be fits for Nash, who has played 77 career playoff games.
It will be very interesting to see who takes a chance on Kane, who has never appeared in the playoffs and will engender questions about locker room fit. Botterill is known to have talked with his old boss, Pittsburgh GM Jim Rutherford, about Kane and Botterill obviously knows the Pens' farm system better than any other team. And going to most playoff teams will allow Kane to be in a complementary role than trying to be a lead player like he is here. Still, Nash is a much safer bet to most teams.
Pouliot: He's got 11 goals and can kill penalties. He's cheap at $1.15 million. He's been playing better of late, much better than the buyout version that got the boot from Edmonton last season. You could do much worse for a third- or fourth-line left winger going forward and can probably get him for a low-round pick.
McDonagh: The Rangers captain has one more year left on his deal at $4.7 million and TSN reported he submitted a list of 10 teams he would not accept a trade to. There's plenty of chatter both Tampa Bay and Boston are interested, although the Rangers want a high price. Reports out of Boston have rookie winger Jake DeBrusk as one of New York's chief targets.
New York Islanders: What goaltending problem? Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss combined to stop 95 shots in back-to-back nights and post shutouts Thursday against the Rangers and Friday in Carolina. The scuttle has been for weeks they weren't that interested in Robin Lehner, and maybe not in any goalie at all. For two key Metro Division games, GM Garth Snow's faith was rewarded.
Flyers: A big Sabres-Philadelphia deal keeps making the rounds. Kane could be a fit there and the Flyers have all kinds of young prospects on defense like Samuel Morin, Travis Sanheim and 6-foot-5 Philippe Myers, an undrafted 21-year-old having a nice year at Lehigh Valley in the AHL.
While they might be looking at a goalie to replace the injured Brian Elliott, don't discount they possibility the Flyers would be more interested in Sabres backup Chad Johnson than Lehner. Johnson is a UFA after the season while Lehner is a restricted free agent -- and Philly GM Ron Hextall picked Johnson to play for Team Canada at last year's World Championships. Hmmmm.
Canadiens: Extend or trade Tomas Plekanec? Trade Max Pacioretty? There's two major fish that could be available to catch for the right price.
Blue Jackets: Columbus is on the periphery of the East playoffs a year after a 108-point season. The Jackets figured they'd be in easily and now need help. On top of that, defenseman Jack Johnson has asked out as a way to enhance his chances in free agency. Johnson filed for bankruptcy in 2014 after his parents cleaned him out of much of the earnings from his first NHL deal by taking millions of dollars in high-risk loans, and is hoping to get big money this summer to recoup some of the losses.
Other key targets: If you don't get Nash or Kane, Oilers winger Patrick Maroon could be next on your list. Ottawa defenseman Johnny Oduya is expected to land with a Cup contender again as teams hope the 36-year-old finds the form that helped the Blackhawks win it all in 2015. The Senators already made one major move and could be involved in another involving left winger Mike Hoffman, who still has two years left on his deal. The word at the All-Star Game in Tampa was that no player was getting "recruited" more by players on his team than Detroit defenseman Mike Green. Vancouver will deal former Sabres winger Thomas Vanek, who has 16 goals and will get another playoff shot somewhere.
Gostisbehere stunned by shooting at old school
Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere spent two years attending Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., before heading to a Connecticut prep school to further his hockey career. He was stunend to learn of Wednesday's mass shooting at his former school that killed 14 students and three adults.
“They always say it hits close to home, but when it’s actually your home it’s pretty tough to see,” Gostisbehere told Philadelphia reporters. “I haven’t really processed it yet. I still can’t believe it. I was just in that school. I was only in that school for two years, but I felt safe at that school every day I was there. Just to see something like that happen and to those kids and those teachers and whatnot, it just sucks.”
Gostisbehere knew assistant football coach Aaron Feis, who was killed shielding students from the shooting.
“He was always a great guy, always nice to me when I was there,” Gostisbehere said. “Obviously really shows his character and what he did in a time of panic and emergency, putting himself on the line before others, obviously he’s the true hero and he’s the guy we need to focus on rather than the shooter.”
Gionta looking East?
It's been reported for a few weeks that Team USA veterans Brian Gionta and James Wisniewski are ready to make a quick return to the NHL after the Olympics. They would need to be signed by Feb. 26, the day after the gold medal game, to be eligible for the playoffs.
Gionta opted to stay home with his family rather than play in the NHL this year when the Sabres didn't bring him back. You would think he would still prefer to play in the East and that would make Boston and the contenders in the Metropolitan Division as the favorites for his services.
It says here the Sabres goofed not bringing Gionta back for another season, especially if they weren't prepared to name a new captain and with no young players making a big impression in training camp. Gionta had 15 goals last season in what the best of his three seasons with the Sabres. Wouldn't he have been a better choice for a bottom-six forward than the likes of, say, Jacob Josefson or Jordan Nolan?
Also out of the Olympics, one of the biggest talking points is the job former Sabres star and coach Craig Ramsay is doing with Slovakia. The Slovaks beat the Russians in the opener and suffered a 2-1 loss to Team USA in Game Two. Ramsay is 66 and only served 131 games as a head coach with the Sabres, Philadelphia and Atlanta. His '10-11 Thrashers had 80 points, which was pretty good for that moribund franchise before it moved to Winnipeg. Plenty of NHL teams could still use Ramsay's eyes on their bench.
Around the boards
* Lehner on the Sabres' response to Jack Eichel's injury: "Every team in this league needs to have depth. Injuries happen. The way we've been playing is something we've been talking about all season long. When we play that hard-checking, simple, physical game, we usually have really good games and come out with a win or get to overtime at least against good teams. That's happened all year. When we get away from that, it's been the polar opposite."
Really good games: Boston, Tampa Bay. Polar opposites: Colorado, Ottawa.
* Regression coming? Vegas' William Karlsson entered play Saturday tied for fourth in the league with 30 goals, and a 24.8 shooting percentage. Tampa Bay rookie Yanni Gourde had 22 goals and was shooting at 22.2 percent. There are currently 48 players with 20-plus goals in the league and they're the only two shooting over 20 percent.
* Speaking of Gourde, he's up to second among rookies in goals to Vancouver's Brock Boeser (27) and fourth in points behind Mathew Barzal of the Islanders, Boeser and Arizona's Clayton Keller. Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper stumped for his player when the Lightning were in town Tuesday.
"We'll start that Rookie of the Year plug right now," Cooper said. "I don't know if he's going to win it. But it's going to be hard not to sit here and if he continues this, to not be in the top three."
* How bad was the Blackhawks' 6-1 loss Monday in Arizona? The Coyotes had not won a regulation game at home since Dec. 2 and had only won twice in regulation in their previous 26 games. Chicago is absolutely toast, likely to finish last in the Central. You wonder where that leaves coach Joel Quenneville after the season.
* A sad personal note: Veteran Boston Herald writer Steve Harris, who covered the Bruins since 1976, died Thursday at age 66 after a brief illness. Accent & all, Harris was everything you’d picture of an old-school Boston reporter. He thoroughly enjoyed his trips to Buffalo, even visiting for Prospect Challenge games in September, and often said how impressed he was with the HarborCenter complex and the burgeoning Canalside area. He was a true pro and he will be missed.
Story topics: Benoit Pouliot/ Buffalo Sabres/ Chad Johnson/ Evander Kane/ Josh Gorges/ New York Islanders/ New York Rangers/ Olympics/ Philadelphia Flyers/ Philadelpia Flyers/ Rick Nash/ Robin Lehner/ Vegas Golden Knights