It’s been a long time coming for the Buffalo Sabres, but their first game after a COVID-19 pause is nearing. That brings us another edition of News and Rumors that includes lineup updates and rumblings of a possible Jeff Skinner trade.
The team will resume play in a familiar spot — on the outside looking in the National Hockey League’s Super 16 rankings. With last season ending on a publicly frustrating note for captain Jack Eichel, the Sabres find themselves in the midst of a very important season when they return to play on Feb. 15 against the New York Islanders.
Sabres Shopping Skinner?
There’s no question that Skinner is struggling to produce offensively, making the Sabres gag on his $9 million average annual value. Through 10 games this year, he has zero goals and one assist. Two seasons ago, he was a 40-goal scorer. Last season, he only found the back of the net 14 times.
Head coach Ralph Krueger’s use of the player on the fourth line is something Skinner said publicly he didn’t actually mind. And the line of Skinner, Curtis Lazar and Riley Sheahan were creating lots of chances before the pause. They just weren’t burying them.
According to one unidentified NHL executive quoted by NHL Trade Rumors reporter Shug McSween, the team may be shopping the forward. But, given the uncertainty surrounding the source, this report should probably be taken with a grain of salt.
Still, whether or not the team is shopping Skinner around the league to see what help they can bring in is something that Sabres fans should be keeping an eye on.
Taylor Hall Returns
Taylor Hall tested positive with an asymptomatic case of COVID-19, the forward confirmed to media on Feb.13. This lifts the curtain a bit that concealed some of what was happening behind the scenes. Because the NHL’s protocols are strict, being on the COVID-19 protocol list doesn’t necessarily mean that a player has contracted the virus.
Hall and defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen were the first to be placed on the protocol list in the early days of the COVID-19 chaos that led to the pause following the team’s back-to-back games against the New Jersey Devils in the last weekend of January.
Hall is the first to return to the team. Sabres players remaining on “the list” include: Jack McCabe, Dylan Cozens, Rasmus Dahlin, Lazar, Casey Mittelstadt, Brandon Montour, Tobias Rieder and Ristolainen. Krueger also remains in isolation with a confirmed symptomatic case.
In total, the star forward was quarantined for 10 days. After a short rehab skate on Feb. 12, he joined the team for practice the next day.
“I think at this point, whether you play a game or not, your first game back is always going to feel maybe a little bit rusty after time off,” Hall said. “But there’s no better way to get back into it than to throw yourself in and just play. I think with doctors and the medical staff we still need to chat a little bit and review some things and all that. But I plan on trying to play on Monday.”
Hall has nine points through the first 10 games of the season.
“I still believe in myself and what I can do and how I can help the team and the weapons that you can play with on this team, and that’s why I wanted to come play here,” he said.
Lineup Changes in Preparation for Return
Sabres players that were not placed on the COVID-19 list have been practicing with assistant coach Steve Smith since Feb. 9. After three shorthanded sessions earlier this week, the Sabres have utilized Rochester Americans players to fill in lines in the bottom six.
Americans forwards C.J. Smith and Steven Fogarty, along with defenseman Jacob Bryson were added to the taxi squad on Feb. 13. These additions, along with the return of Hall gave the team a full roster.
Following Saturday’s practice, here is how they lined up:
- Jeff Skinner – Jack Eichel – Victor Olofsson
- Taylor Hall – Eric Staal – Sam Reinhart
- C.J. Smith – Cody Eakin – Kyle Okposo
- Tage Thompson – Riley Sheahan – Steven Fogarty
- Brandon Davidson – Colin Miller
- Matt Irwin – Henri Jokiharju
- Jacob Bryson – William Borgen
- Linus Ullmark
- Carter Hutton
- Jonas Johansson
Player Milestones Approaching
There are some player milestones approaching that are worth noting.
- Cody Eakin is four games away from playing his 600th of his career.
- Curtis Lazar is six games away from playing his 300th career game.
- Six more wins this season for Carter Hutton, and he will have reached the 100-win mark for his career.
- With seven more points, defenseman Brandon Montour will have 100 career points.
- One more assist for Riley Sheahan and he will have reached 100 career assists.
- Four more goals for Kyle Okposo and he will have reached the 200-goal mark in his career.
Mike Carter is a freelance writer and contributor for the Buffalo Sabres with The Hockey Writers and NHLTradeRumors.Me He is @mikecarterlives on Twitter. Mike has been writing professionally since 2012, with stints as a reporter in northern British Columbia and Edmonton, Alberta. He now calls Salmon Arm, B.C. home.