There were plenty of positives and negatives for the Buffalo Sabres last season.  Injuries were a big reason why they stayed at the bottom of the Atlantic Division.  Their defense was as bad as anyone's in the league.  Sam Reinhart failed to take a step forward.  On the other hand, they had the best power play in the league, Jack Eichel was outstanding and their goaltending, notably Robin Lehner, was excellent.  Out went Dan Bylsma and Tim Murray, in comes Phil Housley and Jason Botterill.  It's time for a return to the playoffs for the Sabres and they have the talent to make it back.  How the team improves tactically under Housley and how much the defense improves will be the major factors.  Let's see what my hometown team are working with:
As talked about repeatedly for the last couple weeks in this internet space, this week is the dream for Blues players. Getting three games against Arizona and Colorado is what you hope for. The top line for St. Louis ravished the Coyotes on Monday with all three of them getting at least three points. My focus is going to be on Jaden Schwartz. Schwartz scored two goals and an assist with three shots finishing +4 in the 4-1 win. That gives him 50 points (18+32) in 71 games. Two seasons ago, Schwartz finished with 28+35 in 75 games before last season was ruined with injuries. So which player is he going forward, the one on the verge of 30+40 or this season's 20+35? I would bet on him being closer to 2014-15 than 2016-17. He's still only 24 years old and should continue to play with one of the best players in the game. The shot rate is average and the penalty minutes aren't there but on the assumption he's back in the 60-65 point range, I'll have Schwartz right around the 100 overall mark. My guess it's just outside that number but he's a great target in the middle rounds because we've already seen the upside. Here's what else happened around the league on Monday night:
If you've watched the Jets play this year, you don't need me to tell you how talented Patrik Laine is. His shot is among the best that I've ever seen and his skating is explosive in its own right. The Jets top six was in a slump so Paul Maurice shuffled the lines on Tuesday. Granted, they play against the Stars, but the early returns were outstanding. Laine led the way scoring another hat trick on six shots while adding two penalty minutes. This puts him at 26 goals and 21 assists in 51 games, the second best goal rate in the league behind Sidney Crosby. I had him ranked in my top 100 going into the season but the days of getting him in that area of drafts is over. Hell, his days of going outside the first two rounds are over. The Jets are loaded with talent around him and Laine will only get better being 18 years old. Is he a first rounder next year? Right now, I'd lean towards no but he's firmly in the second round and it could certainly change over the next six months when I put my rankings out for next season. Regardless, watch this kid when you get the chance because it's remarkable. Here's what else I saw around the league the last two nights:
In NHL history, two teams with a 12+ game winning streak have never played each other. That will change on Saturday as the Blue Jackets, winners of 14 straight, go to Minnesota to take on the Wild and their 12 game win streak. Both teams extended their streaks on Thursday in a different manner than usual. Their goalies have been the top 2 goalies to this point and it's not even close but last night, they scored 5 and 6 goals respectively. Their captains led the way with Nick Foligno scoring a goal and two assists with five shots while Mikko Koivu had two assists with a shot finishing +3. Foligno has been a top 10 forward this season bouncing back from a dreadful 2015-16 while Koivu has a solid 23 points and is +18. They're in different tiers at the moment but regardless they both need to be in your lineups night in and night out. I can't wait to watch these teams battle it out on Saturday. Here's what else happened around the league the last two nights:
I certainly didn't think I'd be writing about Peter Budaj at any point this year. After all, he played in a whopping one game over the past two seasons combined. Alas, we're here in December with Budaj being a major talking point of the NHL season. After Jonathan Quick went down, the expectation was that offseason signing Jeff Zatkoff would get the majority of the starts but when he went down as well, Budaj stepped in and has kept the job. He had arguably his best two performances over the weekend. Budaj posted a 39 save shutout in the 1-0 OT win over the Penguins before making 29 saves on 30 shots in the 1-0 loss in Boston. Budaj is currently #12 in the ESPN player rater among goalies making him a bottom end #1 or elite #2. With the news that Quick is going to be out until at least March, it's Budaj's job going forward. Despite that, Budaj is still available in over 40% of leagues. Can I explain it? No, not one bit. If you don't already own him and he's available in your league, grab Budaj. Let's take a look at everything that happened around the league the last three nights:
On a Thursday night that lacked in big performances in comparison to recent weeks, Tyler Toffoli's night was probably the best. In the dominating 4-1 win over the Red Wings, Toffoli found the back of the net twice on three shots and added an assist with two penalty minutes. That brings Toffoli's totals to 7 goals and 12 assists in 29 games with almost three shots per game and an elite +14. It's a significant decrease in goals for a 23 year old who buried 31 last year. Toffoli was one of the most polarizing players in preseason, at least to me because I had him ranked much lower than other experts (97th overall, highest rank was 29th, nobody else lower than 69th). It's nice to see the assist rate and shot rate up and apparently he'll be able to post a +20 or better every season of his career but Toffoli will need more games like this where he finds the back of the net to come anywhere near his 59th overall ADP. Can it happen? With the minutes his line is getting and with how much the Kings depend on his line for offense, definitely. I'd be a bit surprised if it happened though because the goals will probably come at the expense of assists and the penalty minutes are non-existent. Toffoli is a great example of a player who is better in real life than fantasy. That's not to say he's a dud in fantasy, he's a top 100 player, but Toffoli should be mentioned among the best young snipers in the game more frequently than he is. Let's take a look at what else happened around the NHL on Wednesday and Thursday night:
Kyle Okposo is a player that tends to get overlooked despite becoming an elite scorer in the NHL. In his last 3 seasons with the Islanders, Okposo played well over a 60 point pace per 82 games including 2013-14 when he had 69 points in 71 games. Even now that he's in Buffalo, Okposo is still looked at as a complimentary piece even though he's a bonafide first liner. In Tuesday night's 6-3 win over the Kings, Okposo moved onto Jack Eichel's wing and immediately delivered with three assists and a shot. That gives Okposo 21 points in 27 games with elite power play points and strong shots. Yes, the penalty minutes have dried up for now, but with how well he possesses the puck plus his scoring prowess, Okposo is on his way to another 60+ point season. Even if the penalty minutes don't come back, he's looking at another top 100 overall fantasy season. Pretty, pretty good . Here's what else happened around the league the last two nights:
Hey everyone! Reid joins me once again to do a thorough breakdown of the games on Tuesday, October 25th. We look at every single game focusing on the emergence of a new first line threat in New Jersey, the Sabres implosion in Philly, the domination of the Wild, Tampa's big offensive breakout and much more. Now that we're starting to build up a decent sample, there is more to take away from each game giving us a bigger fantasy hockey impact on a daily basis. Once we get through all of the games around the 50 minute mark, we introduce the Three Point Challenge. To copy what our partners at the basketball side of things has done, every night that the podcast comes out, we will attempt to pick a player outside of the top 10 in points in the NHL that will score 3+ points that night. I know it's difficult but I'd rather it be tough! Listen to our picks on the podcast and please put your picks in the comments section of this post. All of that and more in the newest edition of the Razzball Hockey Podcast:
Devan Dubnyk was a big focus of discussion for me in the preseason. I was the highest on him on FantasyPros by 20+ spots over everybody and 80 spots higher than ESPN's staff rankings. That's just insane for a player that I have ranked 41st to ESPN's 122. Anyways, I argued that he was a no-brainer bottom end #1 goalie with the upside for more. Dubs showed what he can do on Tuesday night with a 27 save shutout on the road in Boston. It's only been 5 starts for Dubnyk so far but after that game, he has a 2.01 GAA, .929 sv% and 3 wins. The Wild are playing excellent hockey in front of him right now and considering that he's a workhorse, I wouldn't be shocked if he pushes the top 5 for goaltending at the end of the season. I certainly hope so since I have him on literally every one of my teams! Here's a look at what else happened on Monday and Tuesday night around the NHL:
In my season preview for the Chicago Blackhawks, I projected that Richard Panik would be the new player that slides into the Blackhawks' top 6. "Panik should get a chance in the top 6 because quite frankly, the Blackhawks don’t have anybody else. He could be a decent streamer but I can’t expect anything more from the 25 year old." And that's me quoting me doing what Grey does! In the long term for the season, I still think that'll be the case, but for now, Panik is must-own. After scoring in the season opener, Panik had an assist on Friday and came back with a hat trick on four shots on Saturday, both against the Predators. He's getting power play time right now and with 5 points in 3 games, Panik should be held for the time being as he rides the hot streak. Here's what else I saw this weekend around the NHL: