Free Agency Approaching

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Foligno

Mark Pysyk figured he was in the Sabres' plans. ©2016, Dan Hickling, Olean Times Herald
By Bill Hoppe     Olean Times Herald
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BUFFALO – Fresh off his first full NHL season, Mark Pysyk figured he was in the Sabres’ long-term plans. With the defenseman skating regular minutes in 55 games, the team improved 27 points, moving from last overall to 23rd.

“I wasn’t really banking on anything happening,” Pysyk told the Times Herald by phone Sunday.

Then Saturday morning, as Pysyk slept, his phone began lighting up with calls and texts. Eventually, his fiancé informed him the Sabres had just traded him to the …

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Rasmus Ristolainen has been a strong pick for the Sabres. ©2016, Dan Hickling, Olean Times Herald
By Bill Hoppe     Olean Times Herald
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BUFFALO – To thrive in the modern NHL, teams must build through the draft. It’s that simple. The days of loading up with veteran players through free agency or trades are long gone. The league belongs to the 20-somethings now, and if teams draft poorly, they’re doomed.

How good are the Sabres at drafting? Judge for yourself below. Since drafts usually don’t start paying dividends for a few years, here’s a look at their selections from 2008-13. Eighteen of Buffalo’s 47 …

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Auston Matthews should visit Buffalo with the Toronto Maple Leafs on Nov. 3. ©2016, Margaret Hickling, Olean Times Herald
By Bill Hoppe     Olean Times Herald
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BUFFALO – After the Sabres open their season Oct. 13 at home against the Montreal Canadiens, they start a four-game road trip – longer than any swing they had last season – three days later against Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers.

That’s just one notable stretch of the 82-game 2016-17 schedule the NHL released Tuesday.

The Sabres, who went 19-17-5 on the road last season, better get comfortable playing away from the First Niagara Center early, as eight of their first …

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Johan Larsson (right) battles Florida's Brandon Pirri on Jan. 5. ©2016, Dan Hickling, Olean Times Herald
By Bill Hoppe     Olean Times Herald
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BUFFALO – The Sabres have re-signed center Johan Larsson to a one-year contract, the club announced today.

The deal is worth $950,000, according to TSN’s Bob McKenzie. Larsson, 23, was set to become a restricted free agent this summer.

The Swede just finished his most productive NHL season, compiling 10 goals and 17 points in 74 games, all career highs. His five game-winning goals tied Jack Eichel for the team lead.

After months of so-so play and getting scratched, Larsson started pivoting Marcus …

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Sabres goalie Jason Kasdorf makes a first-period save in his NHL debut Friday. ©2016, Dan Hickling, Olean Times Herald
By Bill Hoppe     Olean Times Herald
1

BUFFALO – In the big picture, failing to hit a .500 points percentage, a notable mark the Sabres sorely wanted, shouldn’t matter much.

The Sabres’ 4-1 loss in Friday’s home finale to the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets secured their third straight losing season (34-36-11), and like so many other home games recently, they let a weak opponent exploit them.

Still, the Sabres’ recent 7-2-2 run thrust them up the standings, giving them a real goal – they haven’t finished .500 since 2012-13 …

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Ryan O'Reilly was named team MVP Friday. ©2016, Dan Hickling, Olean Times Herald
By Bill Hoppe     Olean Times Herald
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BUFFALO – In his first season as coach, Dan Bylsma has experienced so much excitement surrounding the Sabres he wonders how crazy it would feel if his team becomes a contender again.

The Sabres, of course, will miss the playoffs for the fifth straight season. Still, to a rabid fan base yearning for postseason hockey, the progress the Sabres have made this season – they’ve improved 25 points with newcomers Jack Eichel, Ryan O’Reilly and others – offers strong hope for …

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Tyler Ennis is felt good on the ice Thursday. ©2016, Dan Hickling, Olean Times Herald
By Bill Hoppe     Olean Times Herald
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BUFFALO – After experiencing a “strange few months” recovering from a scary concussion, Tyler Ennis can smile now. But at times throughout the past 13 weeks, as his health constantly changed and the emotional toll wore on him, the speedy Sabres winger feared for his future.

“There’s days where you feel great and days where it’s tough,” Ennis said Thursday following his first practice since he was injured Dec. 30. “To say I wasn’t scared at some point would probably be …

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Johan Larsson possesses a strong shot. ©2016, Dan Hickling, Olean Times Herald
By Bill Hoppe     Olean Times Herald
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BUFFALO – The Sabres’ most consistent and sturdiest line in years – yes, years – is a trio comprised of players who underachieved, struggled offensively and couldn’t stay in the lineup earlier this season.

But these days, center Johan Larsson, left wing Marcus Foligno and right wing Brian Gionta quietly form the Sabres’ steadiest combination.

While the line’s technically the Sabres’ third – the players usually face the opponent’s best in a checking role – it has  created offense and scored timely …

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Brian Gionta scored the Sabres' only goal Saturday. ©2016, Dan Hickling, Olean Times Herald
By Bill Hoppe     Olean Times Herald
1

TORONTO – If you passed on viewing a meaningless late-season tilt between the Buffalo Sabres and Maple Leafs and opted to watch some college basketball or, well, do anything else Saturday night, you probably made a wise decision.

In a downright wretched effort, the Sabres meekly fell 4-1 to the NHL’s worst team, imploding late inside the Air Canada Centre after starting the third period tied at 1.

“It was pretty embarrassing,” Sabres winger Marcus Foligno said.

Against a lineup more suited to …

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Robin Lehner hits Montreal's Michael McCarron on Wednesday. ©2016, Dan Hickling, Olean Times Herald
By Bill Hoppe     Olean Times Herald
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BUFFALO – Thirty minutes before the Sabres’ feisty 3-2 overtime loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday, goalies Robin Lehner and Ben Scrivens chatted amicably at center ice during pregame warm-ups.

But by about 9 p.m., as chaos enveloped his crease at the end of a penalty-filled second period, the fiery Sabres goalie wanted to see Scrivens, someone he called “a good guy off the ice,” again.

Seconds after Montreal’s Michael McCarron punched Lehner after he grabbed him, he shot Scrivens a …

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