Friday March 27th, 2015

Off The Draw

News and notes heading into an important hockey weekend:

• I feel for Mike Weber. I really do. A heart-and-soul defender for the Sabres, he was clearly crushed after hearing the crowd at the First Niagara Center explode when the visiting Coyotes got the overtime winner on Thursday night.

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“I’ve always spoken extremely high of our fans,” Weber told reporters. “I don’t even know if disappointed is the word. They scored that first one, our fans are cheering. Delayed penalty, they cheer. They cheer when they score to win the game. I don’t know. I don’t even know what to say.

“We understand where we are. We understand what this team is doing, what the organization is doing, the place we’ve put ourselves in. I’ve never been a part of something like that where the away team comes into a home building and they’re cheering for them. I respect our fans. I love our fans. I show up to work every day to do whatever I can for them and to play hard for them and my teammates. I’ve never seen that before.”

Weber is not the only one who is knocking Sabres fans this morning, but the truth is they’ve earned the right to respond exactly as they did. They’ve consistently filled that building for two historically bad seasons, and unlike fans in Toronto, they haven’t resorted to booing or throwing jerseys. They’ve been patient. They understand the process. All things considered, they can legitimately be called some of the best in the league. And they’re hoping for a little return on the money and time they’ve invested in this franchise in the form of a higher draft pick, particularly one that could yield a generational talent like Connor McDavid or at least a pretty sweet consolation prize in Jack Eichel.

Sabres fans have faithfully supported the laundry all season. They’re just hoping that some better players will be wearing it soon. Can’t blame ’em for that.

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College players to watch on the road to the NCAA's Frozen Four

• Now that the Blackhawks have locked up potential runaway draft pick Mike Paliotta, all eyes turn to Columbus prospect Mike Reilly. The two-time Big Ten defensive player of the year and Hobey Baker finalist is expected to forego his senior year and turn pro. As soon as he makes that decision official—some time after the season ends for his Minnesota Gophers—the Jackets will have 30 days to sign him. If they come to terms, Reilly could work his way into the lineup as soon as next season. If not, though, Reilly has the right to become a free agent and shop his services around the league. There’s no massive payday to be gained by doing that—the maximum terms of his entry-level deal are sharply defined by the Collective Bargaining Agreement—but he would be able to choose the team or situation that most appeals to him. It’s the sort of opportunity that most players have to wait years for, but thanks to a loophole in the CBA, Reilly can live the dream now.

There’s a sense that he’ll exercise that option, but as with the Paliotta situation it’s all speculation at this point. “I haven’t looked too much into the overall situation, just kind of focusing on our season,” Reilly told the Columbus Dispatch recently.  “It’s been brought up a little bit, but I’m trying not to think about it too much.” The Jackets, meanwhile, are definitely laying on the charm in hopes of wooing their 2011 third rounder. “Mike Reilly is having a great year in Minnesota,” GM Jarmo Kekalainen told the Dispatch after trading away defenseman James Wisniewski. “He’s a prospect we believe in, and he’ll be stepping into some big shoes with our organization. We look forward to getting him signed.”

Definitely a situation worth watching.

• Speaking of free agents who defected, the Rangers sure landed a beauty in Kevin Hayes. After potting a pair of assists in Thursday’s win over Ottawa, the former Chicago first rounder has nine points in his past nine games. That’s the most of any player on the team during that stretch, despite the fact that he plays on the third line and sees almost no time on the power play. He’s quickly proved that his college success wasn’t simply the result of feasting on Johnny Gaudreau’s apples, and is dispelling concerns about his skating. At this point, is there a more intriguing depth center in the East?

NHL
NHL Roundtable: Alex Ovechkin MVP?; Ducks doomed?; Kovalchuk intrigue

• I was given a chance recently to see how one NHL team uses its own stats to grade its goaltenders’ performances. Along with making note of where shots were taken on the ice and where goals entered the net, the team also tracked how many shots were created off of rebounds. Their goaltender then was assigned a save percentage, a rebound-save percentage and an expected save percentage. Given the quality of shots he faced on this particular night, the keeper was expected to post a .935 save percentage. The .865 he actually delivered was decidedly underwhelming.

• Along those lines, this interesting note courtesy of the stat wizards over at waronice.com: Among starters, the goaltender with the best save percentage on high-danger shots during the past month is ... Winnipeg’s Ondrej Pavelec. Ever since he flubbed that center ice floater against the Blues, he’s played like a man with something to prove. For the season, Pavelec's .919 overall save percentage ranks just 17th among players who have made at least 30 appearances. Since Feb. 27, though, he boasts an excellent .956 mark on the most challenging chances as defined by proximity. That’s a testament both to the Jets defense, which has done a nice job of minimizing chances, and to Pavelec’s own determination. Think anyone wants to play Winnipeg in the first round?

• While players are being shut down around the league (Philadelphia’s Wayne Simmonds just the latest among them), at least one will get a chance to make a small contribution before time runs out on this season. The Stars activated Valeri Nichushkin on Friday, assigning the 2014 first rounder to AHL Texas for conditioning. Nichushkin started the season on Dallas’s top line alongside Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn and was expected to be provide a dangerous physical presence before he was sidelined with hip problems. He’s allowed to play three games in the AHL, so he should be back in Dallas next week. If they Stars have managed to keep their faint playoff hopes alive until then, he could be an interesting addition to their forward mix.

The Capitals made a similar move on Friday, assigning defenseman Dmitry Orlov to AHL Hershey. The defenseman, out of action since suffering a wrist injury at the 2014 World Championships, could suit up for Washington late next week.

The numbers game

• The first team to qualify for the postseason, the Rangers clinched their fifth consecutive playoff berth, and ninth in their past 10 seasons, on Thursday night. At 47-19-7 they also hit the 100-point plateau for the eighth time in their history.

• The New York Metropolitan Area has bowed to the Kings again. Los Angeles swept its games against Devils, Rangers and Islanders on one road trip for the third time in franchise history (also in 2001-02 and 2013-14). Only two other teams have ever visited a similar broom upon those three clubs: the 2006-07 Predators and 2007-08 Ducks. At 9-1-3, the Kings have also grabbed at least one point in 12 of their last 13 tussles with the Isles dating back to Feb. 16, 2004.

​• At 30-1-7, the Ducks continue to lead the NHL in one-goal victories. The last teams to win 30 by one goal in a single season were 2006-07 Devils (32-7-9) and Canucks (30-11-7). 

Hot links

• Royce Tennant's career behind the bench was brief, but he may have made the smartest coaching decision in history.

• Vancouver celebrated the 100th anniversary of the city’s last Stanley Cup win with a pretty cool video tribute.

NHL
Coyotes broadcaster arrested for allegedly biting cop at casino

• That Nick Boynton incident? They’re now calling it a drunken rampage. Here’s hoping the Arizona broadcaster gets the help he appears to need.

• Bruins coach Claude Julien wanted a goaltender interference call on Corey Perry’s equalizer in the final minute of Thursday night’s 3–2 loss to Anaheim. What he really should be asking for is something more than the half-hearted defensive effort he got from Dennis Seidenberg. Check out the video and judge for yourself.

• Frustrated Flyer Vincent Lecavalier was nearly traded on two occasions last summer. Here’s why those deals with Nashville and New Jersey didn’t happen.

• This is the nightmare of every general manager who trades away a first-round pick.

• Watch Friends star Matthew Perry fanboy over Anze Kopitar on Jimmy Kimmel Live.

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