Buffalo Sabres Fans Deserve a Better Hockey Team
It will be a bowling-shoe ugly 2021-22 campaign for the Buffalo Sabres, and nothing short of a miracle on ice will prevent it. The good people of Buffalo deserve better, but they’re not going to get better anytime soon. © Provided by Hockey News on Sports Illustrated Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports They say the term “empathy” is the feeling that describes putting yourself in the shoes of another and trying to see things their way.
The Buffalo Sabres have reached an agreement with one of their restricted free agents, signing Casey Mittelstadt to a three-year deal. The contract comes with an average annual value of $2.5M, a nice boost for a player that still hasn’t quite lived up to his high draft pedigree. © Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports Buffalo Sabres center Casey Mittelstadt
Mittelstadt, 22, was the eighth overall pick in 2017, selected a few spots ahead of young players like Martin Necas and Nick Suzuki who have already established themselves as key parts with their respective teams. In Buffalo, Mittelstadt has experienced the same struggles that almost everyone else on the roster has, posting just 61 points in 155 games. In 2019-20 he was sent to the Rochester Americans for half the season to work on his game, as it was not quite consistent enough to help the NHL squad.
Buffalo Sabres finalizing three-year, $7.5M deal with Henri Jokiharju
Jokiharju, 22, was the player acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for Alexander Nylander in 2019 and has played 115 games for the Sabres over the last two seasons. His performance in those games has been passable, though the young defenseman has still not taken the step forward some expected after making the NHL as a teenager in Chicago. Selected 29th overall in 2017, Jokiharju was in the NHL by 2018, playing big minutes for the Blackhawks at the age of 19. In fact, he averaged 21:30 in his first 20 games in the league and racked up nine points.
The encouraging part about Mittelstadt, and why this three-year contract may look like quite a bargain very quickly, is his performance under head coach Don Granato. When Granato took over partway through last season, Mittelstadt had just one goal and five points in 13 games. He was seeing inconsistent minutes and not regularly lining up at center. That changed under the new head coach, and the young forward took a huge step forward, scoring nine goals and 17 points in 28 games through the end of the season. In those matches, he averaged more than 17 minutes a night and played center full-time.
If Mittelstadt can continue to play up to his draft pedigree under Granato, the Sabres have a true building block to help turn things around. The young forward has outstanding puck skills and playmaking ability, but seemed completely lost at times under the previous regimes. The team is obviously not giving up on him, investing in a multi-year deal ahead of what could be a breakout season.
A free-agent profile for former All-Star goaltender Devan Dubnyk
Dubnyk could find a spot where he can act as a No. 3 and, if need be or if he shows he is capable, can take over a backup role. Again, it isn’t the most valuable label, but it could benefit a number of teams. At the end of the day, for those clubs that decide they need another goalie this late in the offseason or in-season but don’t want to make a trade, Dubnyk is the best option.Stats2020-21: 22 GP, 6-11-2 (.368), .895 SV%, 3.20 GAA, .444 QS%, 1 SOCareer: 542 GP, 253-206-54 (.546), .914 SV%, 2.61 GAA, .
The $2.5M cap charge brings the Sabres a little closer to the cap floor, with Rasmus Dahlin and Henri Jokiharju still to sign. The big question is Jack Eichel, though, as a trade would leave the Sabres scrambling to add salary if a similar number – $10M – didn’t come back the other way.
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Related slideshow: Every NHL team's likely next retired number (Provided by Yardbarker)
Every NHL team's likely next retired number
There are fewer honors greater for professional sports players than a team retiring their numbers, guaranteeing that no one else will ever wear it again. Just about every team in the league has at least a handful of retired or honored numbers, and now we are going to take a look at the next player for each NHL team who should have his jersey placed in the rafters. We are excluding players whose number retirements are scheduled for this season or next season and looking only at players who have not yet been announced.
Anaheim Ducks: Ryan Getzlaf (15)
When Getzlaf retires he is going to finish his career as the Ducks' all-time leader in games played, assists and total points while also being a Stanley Cup champion and longtime captain of the team. His peak may not have been as good as that of players like Paul Kariya or Teemu Selanne, but his overall resume is as complete as any other player the franchise has ever seen.
Arizona Coyotes: Oliver Ekman-Larsson (23)
Playing in Arizona and on a team that has not made the playoffs often, it can be easy to overlook Ekman-Larsson. But he is an outstanding top-pairing defenseman and has been the Coyotes' best all-around player from almost the day he arrived. He is a constant threat to score 20 goals as a defenseman and is one of the most best offensive blue-liners in the entire league. At this point it still seems like a stretch to think he will one day have his number retired, but he might be the next logical choice in the future.
Boston Bruins: Patrice Bergeron (37)
Bergeron is one of the best all-around players of his era and an all-time great Bruin. In his 16 years (and counting) with the team, he helped the Bruins win a Stanley Cup, play in two other Stanley Cup Finals, won four Selke Trophies as the league's best defensive forward and was the driving force behind one of the best defensive teams in the entire league. He's a Hall of Famer and worthy of joining all of the Bruins' all-time greats.
Calgary Flames: Theo Fleury (14)
No player has worn the No. 14 since Fleury last sported it during the 1999 season. So it is kind of a mystery as to why it has not actually been put in the rafters next to Mike Vernon's and Lanny McDonald's. Fleury helped the Flames win the Stanley Cup as a rookie during the 1988-89 season and then went on to be one of the most prolific scorers in franchise history.
Carolina Hurricanes: Eric Staal (12)
It is easy to forget just how good Staal was in the early part of his career with the Hurricanes. He scored 40 goals two different times, was a dominant two-way player and helped bring the Stanley Cup to Raleigh during the 2005-06 season. He is the best player the franchise has had since it relocated to North Carolina and was the best player on the franchise's only championship team.
Chicago Blackhawks: Steve Larmer (28)
There are a lot of Blackhawks fans who think this should have already happened. He may not have the Stanley Cup clout that the current core of Blackhawks has (Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith), but those players are all still active and years away from being in a position to have their numbers retired. Larmer is also one of the best players in franchise history and helped turn the team into a Stanley Cup contender in the early 1990s, including the 1991-92 season when it actually reached the Stanley Cup Final.
Colorado Avalanche: Nathan MacKinnon (29)
Going far into the future here, but MacKinnon is probably going to be the next player to get this honor. The Avalanche have already retired most of the notable numbers from their championship era, and of the remaining core players from those teams (Chris Drury, Alex Tanguay) they probably did not play long enough in Colorado to warrant such an honor. MacKinnon, though, appears he is going to be with the Avalanche for the long haul and end up being one of the best players of his era. The Avalanche have a chance to bring the Stanley Cup back to Denver in the very near future, and if MacKinnon helps deliver that he will be an Avalanche legend.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Rick Nash (61)
Nash does not get anywhere near enough credit for how good of a player he was. A former No. 1 overall pick, Nash became the Blue Jackets' first star player and finished as the league's leading goal-scorer in just his second season in the NHL. He was a yearly threat to score 40 goals and was an outstanding two-way player who also developed into one of the league's best penalty killers. The Blue Jackets were never really able to build anything significant around him, but it does not take away from the fact he is the best player the team has ever had.
Detroit Red Wings: Henrik Zetterberg (40)
You could make the argument that Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk should probably both get their numbers retired together given their importance between the 2006 and 2015 seasons. They were the backbone of one of the league's best teams and among the best two-way players in the league during that time. I will give Zetterberg the edge as the player who followed Nicklas Lidstrom as team captain and for his 2008 Conn Smythe winning performance.
Edmonton Oilers: Connor McDavid (97)
McDavid is going to be the NHL's best and most dominant player for the next decade and beyond. If the Oilers do not screw it up, he should help bring the Stanley Cup back to Edmonton at some point too. He will be with Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Paul Coffey among the franchise's all-time greats.
Florida Panthers: Pavel Bure (10)
This might be a stretch because Bure spent only parts of four seasons in Florida, while several players have worn the number since he played there (including currently Brett Connolly). But there is no denying the impact Bure made. He was probably the most high-profile superstar to play for the Panthers and was the most dominant goal-scorer in the league during his time there. He finished as the league's leading goal scorer twice and averaged 0.70 goals per game with the Panthers (a 57-goal pace over 82 games). He did that during the lowest goal-scoring era in NHL history. Just for perspective, the next highest goal per game average in the NHL during that stretch was Jaromir Jagr at 0.57 goals per game (a 46-goal pace per 82 games).
Los Angeles Kings: Anze Kopitar (11)
Kopitar helped bring the Stanley Cup to Los Angeles during the 2011-12 season and then did it again two years later. While Jonathan Quick, Justin Williams and Drew Doughty got most of the accolades for those championship runs, Kopitar was the best player on all of those teams and has been the best player on the team since making his debut. He is one of the franchise icons for what he helped bring to Los Angeles.
Minnesota Wild: Mikko Koivu (9)
Technically the only retired number for the Wild is No. 1 — for their fans. When it comes to finally retiring a number for a player, Koivu seems like he will be at the top of the list. He has spent more than 15 seasons in Minnesota and been a truly fantastic player. He is the franchise leader in games played, assists and total points and has been a complete all-around player every year as well as the team captain for 12 seasons and counting.
Nashville Predators: David Legwand (11)
The Predators have yet to retire a number, but if anyone is deserving of such an honor at this point it might be Legwand, the original Predator. He was their first draft pick and is still the franchise's all-time leader in every major category including games played, goals, assists and total points (all by a significant margin). He was never a superstar, but he was an outstanding player who helped build the Predators into a formidable NHL franchise. That counts for something.
New Jersey Devils: Scott Gomez (23)
Gomez does not get enough credit for how good he was in the early part of his career. Between 1999 and 2007, he was an elite playmaker and one of the best forwards on a multiple Stanley Cup winner in New Jersey. Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer, Martin Brodeur and Patrik Elias are the other key players from that era to have their numbers retired by the Devils, and Gomez was right there with them in terms of importance.
New York Islanders: Pat LaFontaine (16)
LaFontaine just missed the Islanders dynasty, making his debut with the team during the 1983-84 season (they lost to the Edmonton Oilers in the Stanley Cup Final that year), but he is still one of the greatest players in franchise history and one of the best American-born players of all-time.
New York Rangers: Henrik Lundqvist (30)
Lundqvist's short-term future with the Rangers remains in doubt beyond this season, but here is what is not in doubt: He is the best goalie the team has ever seen and has been the best goalie of his era. The only disappointing part of his tenure with the Rangers is that he did not win a Stanley Cup with the team. He did lead the Rangers to one Stanley Cup Final during the 2013-14 season and helped carry the team to contention almost every year he was their starting goalie.
Ottawa Senators: Erik Karlsson (65)
A true superstar during his time with the Senators, Karlsson won two Norris Trophies, was a runner-up two additional times (probably should have won the award in each of those seasons, too) and at his peak, he was the most impactful defenseman the NHL had seen since the days of Bobby Orr. He was that good in Ottawa. His best stretch came during the 2016-17 season when he almost single-handedly carried the team to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final...while playing injured. He was so good that postseason that he actually earned a Conn Smythe Trophy vote even though his team did not reach the Stanley Cup Final. That is respect. It is also dominance.
Philadelphia Flyers: Reggie Leach (27)
It might be a little late in the game for this one since 16 different players have worn the number since Leach last did, but he was a pretty significant part of Flyers history. Leach owns the franchise record for goals in a season (61) and won the Conn Smythe Trophy during their most recent Stanley Cup win in the 1974-75 season.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Jaromir Jagr (68)
This has to happen. There was some bitterness with the way Jagr left the Penguins two decades ago, and he was still active playing for opponents as recently as a couple of years ago, but there is no way the Penguins cannot retire this number. Jagr helped bring two Stanley Cups to Pittsburgh and was one of the two or three best players in the league (sometimes the best) for his entire tenure with the team. At worst he is the third-best player in franchise history behind only Mario Lemieux and Sidney Crosby.
San Jose Sharks: Patrick Marleau (12)
Both Marleau and Joe Thornton (19) are going to have their numbers retired at some point by the Sharks. It seems like a given. But Marleau might get that honor first because he was drafted by the team and is the franchise leader in games played, goals and total points. He never won the Stanley Cup in San Jose, but he did help the team reach the Stanley Cup Final during the 2015-16 season. Not only is he one of the Sharks' franchise legends, he is one of the most underappreciated players across the league for his era.
St. Louis Blues: Alex Pietrangelo (27)
Pietrangelo has been a rock on the Blues defense for more than a decade and was the captain of the first-ever Stanley Cup winning team in franchise history. That is exactly the type of player who gets a number retired by a team. He will one day join Al MacInnis and Chris Pronger among the team's all-time great defensemen who have their numbers retired for the Blues.
Tampa Bay Lighting: Steven Stamkos (91)
Stamkos has been the second-best goal scorer of his era, trailing only Alex Ovechkin. He is already one of the greatest players in Lightning history and is one of their biggest superstars. He now also now has a Stanley Cup win on his resume. When it is all said and done, he might be the greatest player in Tampa Bay franchise history.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Auston Matthews (34)
The Maple Leafs have either retired or "honored" several numbers of former players and have included pretty much every noteworthy player from their past. So we will look far into the future and go with Matthews, who has already shown that he is one of the best goal-scorers in the league. If he helps bring the Stanley Cup back to Toronto, his status among the team greats will forever be cemented.
Vancouver Canucks: Alexander Edler (23)
Edler has never really received a ton of national attention during his career, but he has been one of the best defensemen in the history of the franchise and a key piece during one of the most successful eras the Canucks have ever seen. Now that Henrik and Daniel Sedin have had their numbers retired, Edler might be the next logical choice in the future.
Vegas Golden Knights: Marc-Andre Fleury (29)
When the Golden Knights acquired Fleury in the expansion draft he immediately became their franchise player. He has been the cornerstone piece of the team both on and off the ice in its first three years and helped backstop the team to the Stanley Cup Final in its first year of existence. He was one of their first players. He is their first superstar. He will be their first retired number.
Washington Capitals: Peter Bondra (12)
In the future you know Alex Ovechkin will have his No. 8 retired. That is a given. But that is still probably a decade or so away from happening, as Ovechkin still has several more dominant years ahead of him in the NHL. In the meantime, another Capitals superstar from their past is probably long overdue for having his number go to the rafters — Bondra. He is a 500-goal scorer and was an absolute superstar for the Capitals throughout the 1990s. He won two goal-scoring crowns for the Capitals and was one of the league's most dominant goal scorers between the 1990 and 2002 seasons. Given how great he was, it is kind of a surprise his number is not already retired by the Capitals.
Winnipeg Jets: Blake Wheeler (26)
The current version of the Jets (the one that moved from Atlanta in 2012) has not retired any numbers, but they do have one obvious candidate for that honor in the future. Wheeler has been one of the league's most underrated players this decade and one of the top point producers in the league. He has been the face of the franchise, their captain, their leader and the team's all-time leading point producer. Seems like a slam dunk in the future.
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