Weekend Takeaways: Nolan has Sabres coming together

The Sabres seem to be coming together, not coming apart, getting further away from the Connor McDavid promised land every day. (Harry Scull, Jr., The Buffalo News/AP)

There’s just this something about Ted Nolan.

Not everyone likes it, and certainly, not every team has wanted to hire it.

But it’s there.

How else to explain what’s going on with the Buffalo Sabres, a team that was supposed to accumulate points this season exactly at the pace the Edmonton Oilers are accumulating points this season, but instead is suddenly one of the hotter NHL teams?

Randy Carlyle was accused of throwing goalie James Reimer "under the bus" last season by saying after a loss he played "just OK." Well, earlier this season, Nolan threw his entire team under the bus, calling them a "peewee" team.

He has scratched Cody Hodgson. He has mocked the manliness and toughness of big forwards Marcus Foligno and Chris Stewart.

Yet the Sabres seem to be coming together, not coming apart, getting further away from the Connor McDavid promised land every day.

This may not be what GM Tim Murray wants. He knows what’s at stake here.

But that’s the chance you take when you hire Ted Nolan.

He may or may not take you exactly where you want to go.

More Weekend Takeaways:

Slimmer is better: It was interesting to see big defenceman Nikita Zadorov score the OT winner for the Sabres on the weekend, further establishing himself as a Buffalo regular after being scratched from a prospects game in the fall and later left sitting around seemingly awaiting a return to junior hockey in October.

Zadarov eventually got his chance and made the most of it. But a big part of it was that he came to training camp at a most robust 246 pounds, too much even for his 6-foot-5 frame. Now at a more manageable 230, he’s playing like he’s here to stay.

No World Juniors for Lazar: The Ottawa Senators insist they’d help the Canadian national junior team if they could by loaning centre Curtis Lazar, but probably won’t be able to. A suspected wrist injury to centre Zack Smith on Saturday afternoon has left the Sens with just one extra forward going into action this week, and if that’s the case, they need Lazar to stay.

Ottawa has until midnight Friday to decide. Ditto for Vancouver with Bo Horvat. More and more it seems the only help the Canadian junior nats will get from the NHL will be in the form of Rangers youngster Anthony Duclair.

Itching To Get Going: Speaking of McDavid, he didn’t play for the junior nats in two games against a team of CIS all-stars on the weekend, and the earliest he’s likely to get back into game action is Dec. 21st in a pre-tournament game.

The juniors cut five players on Sunday night, the most surprising being defender Chris Bigras, who was on last year’s squad.

Americans start preparations: Team USA opens it’s junior camp tomorrow at Boston University, choosing to hold a shorter camp than Canada. Jack Eichel, of course, is expected to be on the squad, setting up a possible New Year’s Eve clash with Canada and McDavid.

One of the more interesting players on the American side is likely to be 17-year-old Auston Matthews, who grew up in Arizona and is already slotted by many to be the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft. Some believe that if Matthews was in this year’s draft, he would contend for the No. 2 selection with Eichel behind McDavid.

Enough is enough: Dallas GM Jim Nill had some tough love for winger Ryan Garbutt after his latest suspension, this one for slew-footing Dustin Byfuglien of the Jets last week.

"He’s got to stop," said Nill.

The three-game ban was Garbutt’s third in 13 months and second this season. As a repeat offender, it’s getting more expensive for him. He got one more game for the Byfuglien incident than he otherwise would have, and because the fine component of the suspension is calculated differently for repeat offenders, it cost Garbutt $65,853.66 instead of $29,032.26.

Big winger for sale?: There’s a fair bit of interest in Chris Stewart of the Sabres, who will be an unrestricted free agent next summer and isn’t having a great season. It sounds like Calgary, Boston and Ottawa all have degrees of interest, with Buffalo’s asking price being a B level prospect and an AHL player.

The trade freeze kicks in at midnight Friday, although Calgary’s self-imposed freeze started last Friday.

Uncertainty in Vancouver: The Canucks are hanging tough in the uber-competitive Pacific Division, but are just two points out of a non-playoff position despite their strong start.

There’s chatter GM Jim Benning would like to make a move or two, possibly including shipping out veteran forwards Chris Higgins (five goals, 30 games) and Alexandre Burrows (six goals, 25 games). Neither will be easy to move. Higgins has two more years on his deal with a $2.5 million cap hit and a limited no-trade clause, while Burrows has a full no-trade clause with two years left at a $4.5 million hit.

Cap squeeze in Chicago: We know the Blackhawks had to move defenceman Nick Leddy on the eve of the season to clear up the team’s cap situation, and it’s worth wonder how long Patrick Sharp and his $5.9 million salary will fit.

After missing 14 games to injury, Sharp is back, skating as a third-line right winger after playing for years on the left wing. The emergence of Brandon Saad on Jonathon Toews’ left side has bumped Sharp down the lineup and out of position. Saad scored the winner against Calgary on Sunday night. Sharp also scored a power-play goal.

With the extensions for Toews and Patrick Kane kicking in next season when both become $10.5 million cap hits, it seems logical Sharp’s salary (he has two more years left on his deal) will be the one to go. The open question is whether he’ll make it through this season before Chicago has to make a move to free up cash.

Johnny Hockey still cooking: Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau is almost a point-per-game player after his slow start this season, and is in hot pursuit of Nashville’s Filip Forsberg for the rookie scoring lead.

Gaudreau’s assist Sunday night gave him 23 points in 30 games, six behind Forsberg, impressive when you consider the Calgary freshman was pointless in first five games of the season. Gaudreau is also a plus-8 and has yet to be assessed a single penalty minute.

NHL in Vegas idea starting to simmer: As reported on the weekend by Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, prospective Las Vegas owner Bill Foley is using Wayne Gretzky as a consultant as he plots an expansion team for the city, a team he would like to call the Las Vegas Black Knights in honour of his own military background.

Gary Bettman insists Vegas isn’t a done deal, and the ticket drive likely to start next month is all Foley’s idea. Funny, but it sure feels like a done deal.

Truculent Enough in Calgary: There has been speculation, at least in media circles, that Brian Burke might not last beyond this season in a senior position with the Flames, preferring instead to search for an open GM job or return to broadcasting.

Not true, Burke said on the weekend while on a scouting trip for the Flames. He has another year after this season on his contract and says he loves the job. Calgary owns several other teams in addition to the Flames including the CFL’s Stampeders, and may be looking to buy another minor league franchise in the near future. Ultimately, Burke could shift into a position overseeing all those teams.

"This is my last job in hockey," he says of his current role with the Flames.

Sitting out a mainstay: New Sens coach Dave Cameron demonstrated right away on the weekend he’s not afraid of making tough choices when he sat out 36-year-old defender Chris Phillips (1,166 games) against Boston.

If Phillips can’t find a role under Cameron, he would be interesting to many teams at the trade deadline after spending his entire career in Ottawa. He has one more year on his contract at a $2.5 million cap hit.

Next captain in San Jose: It seems almost a lock that Joe Pavelski will be the next captain of the Sharks. Most suggest he’s the team’s unofficial leader, with Joe Thornton having been stripped of the role last summer.

Timing, however, is everything. It seems like Pavelski will get the "C" before the end of the season, perhaps as the Sharks prepare for the post-season, assuming they make it. A big win over Nashville on the weekend was an impressive win for a team that often loses to teams it shouldn’t lose to and then shows it can skate with the best.

Leafs soaring in December: The Maple Leafs are piling up wins, and against good teams. The team is healthy, which always helps, and players are fitting into the slots where they belong, like Richard Panik on the fourth line, for example, who now has a career-high six goals.

Korbinian Holzer is filling nicely for the injured Roman Polak, and is offering up a sense of insurance if the Leafs decide they don’t want to spend millions on Cody Franson next summer.

The Leafs host Anaheim Tuesday, then play eight of the next nine on the road. We’ll find out how real all of this is during that string of road starts.

Training teenagers: The Oilers have held rookie centre Leon Draisatl under 12 minutes the last three games, and even bumped him to left wing against Anaheim Friday night. He hasn’t scored in 14 games and is looking both lost and tired. Yet the Oilers seem determined to keep him in the NHL, won’t loan him to Germany for the world juniors and have little interest in returning him to the Prince Albert juniors.

If there’s logic at play here, it’s well hidden. Then again, this is the Oiler way. Carefully grooming top picks in junior and the minors is for other teams.

Let’s talk turkey: While his brother Marcus is taking shifts at centre in Buffalo, Nick Foligno is shooting out the lights in Columbus with 13 goals, which could make him an attractive UFA next summer.

Columbus knows that, and is anxious to start contract talks with Foligno and his agent, Pat Morris. Anaheim’s Matt Beleskey, with 14 goals, is another interesting left winger who may be headed to free agency.

The NHL in Toronto: For anyone thinking the NHL will eventually have a second team in Toronto, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly made it crystal clear one more time last week at the board of governors meeting in Boca Raton that the Maple Leafs do not hold a veto over allowing a second team in the market.

Meanwhile, in a Hockey Night in Canada sit down with George Stroumboloupolous, Leafs chairman Larry Tanenbaum talked about it being easier to work alongside Bell and Rogers as co-owners because they are "strategic" partners (interested primarily in content) while the Ontario Teachers Pension Fund was in it strictly for return on investment.

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