Off Beat- Ryan Brennan and Rob Berger, SabreNoise.com

SabreNoise.com is the Buffalo branch of the Fansided network. I reached out to Ryan Brennan and Rob Berger in hopes to have a conversation about this off-season. They were kind enough to accept my proposal, and here we are! We plan to stay in touch throughout the season and continue to evaluate the big swap of personnel between these two clubs.

We’re all aware of the blockbuster trade that brought St. Louis the highly coveted center-man, Ryan O’Reilly. The Sabres recieved Tage Thompson, Vladimir Sobotka, Patrik Berglund, a 1st round pick in 2019, and a 2nd round pick in 2021.

That’s not all that happened. Carter Hutton signed with Buffalo, and Chad Johnson signed with the Blues. It will be very interesting to touch base on both of these netminders as they’ve swapped sweaters. Let’s also not forget that Jordan Nolan signed a 1 year deal with the Blues after playing a season with Buffalo in 2017-18.

Let’s dive in…

Ray: “First off, thank you guys for doing this! All of us here at Blues Rants are very excited to have a connection with you throughout the season, and what better way to kick it off than a Q and A for our readers? I hope this provides you some insight as well as I’ll do my best to share some opinions coming from St. Louis’ end. My first question is in regards to Ryan O’Reilly.

How do you two feel about this trade as a whole? The Sabres parted ways with one fantastic center-man but received quite a few pieces in return. Ryan, could you touch base on what you’re expecting from Tage Thompson, Patrik Berglund, and Vladimir Sobotka? Also, what are your expectations for Ryan O’Reilly in St. Louis?”

Ryan: “Thank you, Ray, for having us. We, too, are excited to swap opinions throughout the 2019 season. Ryan O’Reilly is going to be heavily missed by the Buffalo Sabres’ organization and fan base. Not only was he a fan-favorite, but his production was one-of-a-kind. With that being said, seeing him go is a tragedy, but as you said, the Sabres received quite the haul. Because of that, I feel this trade is something that needed to happen. I think Berglund and Sobotka will add some much-needed veteran presence to a team that is mostly young.

I have a feeling they will play on the same line, possibly the third line with Kyle Okposo, so their familiarity with each other will help give the Sabres depth. I have high expectations for Tage Thompson. I highly believe he is a rising star and I think he will get a chance to prove that this season. There’s a chance we see him on the second line with Evan Rodrigues and Casey Mittelstadt. The other part of the trade that I think will benefit the Sabres is the first round draft pick in 2019. That gives Buffalo three first-rounders next season, and the Sabres have done a great job selecting difference makers in the past few drafts.

As for O’Reilly in St. Louis, I think you guys will find out soon enough that giving us a massive haul for him was well worth it. He’s a guy that will give you 125% with every second he receives on the ice. In his three years with Buffalo — his best three-year stint in his career — he recorded 65 goals, 111 assists for a total of 176 points. He was reliable, rarely missing a game, and was as clutch as they come. Here’s a stat I will leave you with: Of O’Reilly’s 65 goals in Buffalo, 31 came on the power play, two were short-handed and eight were game-winners. He also added 38 power play assists and five short-handed assists. Yeah, you’ll love him.”

Ray: “Thanks, Ryan. Blues fans are obviously very excited to have O’Reilly. St. Louis has lacked depth up the middle for some time, especially after sending Stastny away at the trade deadline. The additions of O’Reilly and Tyler Bozak should play a huge part in making the Blues’ wingers jobs much easier. My personal expectations are that the O’Reilly acquisition may justify breaking up the very popular top line of Jaden Schwartz, Brayden Schenn, and Vladimir Tarasenko (who play so well together).

There are options for balance within the top six now in STL. That being said, I’m assuming Tarasenko and O’Reilly may click, chemistry-wise, and become a pair. I think David Perron and Patrick Maroon are the top candidates for their left wing for obvious and different reasons (Perron, a puck hound and space creator. Maroon, a net-front presence and physical force).

Schwartz and Schenn are simply a duo that will not be broken up. Patrik Berglund and Vladimir Sobotka were in need of a change in scenery. To be honest, the fans in St. Louis were quite upset that Sobotka returned from the KHL with a night and day difference in playing style. Patrik Berglund had proven to be inconsistent for quite some time, but surely showed flashes of brilliance.

Rob, there’s one skater that we haven’t touched base on, and that’s Jordan Nolan. After having him for a season in Buffalo, tell us what to expect from this guy. Not just how he plays, but tell us more. Whatever insight you have on Nolan, I’m sure Blues fans are ready to sponge it up. Through what lens did the city of Buffalo see Jordan Nolan?”

Rob: “Jordan Nolan’s career has been spent in that gray area between tough guy and enforcer, not that we really have many enforcers in the NHL anymore. Nolan was a big penalty minute guy for Sault Ste. Marie and then for Manchester in the AHL but that slowed down when he joined the Kings. Nolan was a rising star with the Kings that slowly regressed during his years in Los Angeles. He played in every playoff game during the Kings first Cup win and his rookie year in 2012 but only 3 playoff games in 2014 and zero playoff games in 2016. He also faced supplemental discipline twice from the NHL and was in Darryl Sutter’s doghouse by the end of the 2017 season. Once suspended 2 games for boarding, and one game for a sucker punch.

Rob: Nolan came to Buffalo as a waiver pickup at the end of camp last season. He also has strong ties to the organization as the son of former coach Ted Nolan. He never really found a role with the team though. Due to the lack of offensive depth, Nolan played on every line even racking about more than 15 minutes of ice time, a few times when he has no business playing with the top 6 forwards. He led the team in penalty minutes but he only had 3 fighting majors. Unfortunately for Nolan, he took the brunt of a lot the fans’ ire for the Sabres poor campaign and there weren’t too many tears shed when he signed with the Blues.

At his best, Nolan is the epitome of a fourth line grinder. Nolan’s speed can sneak up on you and he is capable of being a high energy forward. The question remains whether or not Jordan Nolan can bring that energy coming into his 8th season. It also has yet to be seen how many roster spots a successful team can use with guys with his type of skill set. With all of their youth and additions that the Sabres made this offseason, there wasn’t any room for Nolan on the Sabres, especially at center and right wing where he has played for most of his career. I guess it is up to you to tell us if there is room on the Blues for Jordan Nolan.”

Ray: “Obviously, We don’t see a regular roster spot for Jordan Nolan here in St. Louis. Potential 4th liners, Dmitrij Jaskin, Nikita Soshnikov, Ivan Barbashev, Chris Thorburn, and Oskar Sundqvist should all be in the mix with Nolan. Also, many believe that the 4C position is Robert Thomas’ to lose. Zach Sanford and Sammy Blais are others on the depth list that are likely to see some NHL ice if stars align.

I do stand by the decision to sign a guy like Nolan to a one-year two-way contract. He’ll be a key depth piece if certain injuries occur. He’ll certainly spend time in San Antonio, and stay active. It’s good to have him down there to provide the grit and protection for the Blues’ prospects.

Let’s talk about this goalie swap. There’s a ton of respect thrown at Carter Hutton around here, as it should be. What he was able to do last season for the Blues was extremely impressive. I think I speak for most Blues fans when I say that everyone wants him to continue to succeed. Fill us in on how the Buffalo fan base is perceiving the Carter Hutton signing. What are your expectations?”

Ryan: “The Buffalo Sabres’ goaltending was among the league’s worst last season and it was apparent that change was necessary following the end of the season. Robin Lehner was the Sabres’ No. 1 goalie, playing 55 games last season, and every fan would agree that his play was disappointing. With that being said, there wasn’t much relief as Chad Johnson, the backup, was even worse in the 36 games he started.

So, when free agency started and both of our goalies were on their way out, Sabres’ fans were hoping and praying for an answer. With Carter Hutton pegged as the most-wanted goalie this offseason, it’s definitely nice to see him move to Buffalo. Needless to say, given the disappointment at goaltender last season and the addition of Carter Hutton, Sabres’ fans are going to welcome him in with open arms — as they already have. At the same time, Hutton will still have to prove himself. He played spectacular in the limited time he was given, so it will be interesting to see what he can do with a majority of the starts.

The Sabres already have their goaltender of the future, Linus Ullmark, but he’s currently not ready to take on a starting role. This will give Hutton the opportunity to prove himself early and possibly lock up the spot for a year or two. All in all, I think he will definitely be an upgrade from what we had last year and it will likely help keep the team a little more balanced, with the addition of Rasmus Dahlin on defense and the rising young forwards of the Buffalo Sabres.”

Ray: “Carter Hutton is loved here in St. Louis. There’s just a plan in place with Jake Allen and the organization is sticking to it. Many Blues fans have lost trust in Jake, but there are many behind him as well. In James Barry’s article, “Let’s Face It, Jake Allen Wasn’t To Blame for 2017“, fans can get a perspective from one who believes Jake Allen was often hung out to dry. The team had consistently played better in front of Hutton, so take that into consideration.

I think I speak for all Blues fans when I say, We’re happy for Hutts. He’s getting what he deserves after putting on a show last season. We hope for success on his part, but Blues fans aren’t sure if he can handle a ton of games. We’re all certainly pulling for the guy.

Young Ville Husso is the Blues’ netminder of the future. He’ll spend some time in San Antonio this season, as Chad Johnson has been acquired to back up Allen. You’ve seen Chad first hand. I think we can expect Jake Allen to play 60 games this season. Rob, If Chad is to get the other 22, what would your win-loss prediction be? Blues fans feel that the defense, Edmundson/Pietrangelo, Dunn/Parayko, Bouwmeester, Bortuzzo, or Gunnarsson should make Chad Johnson feel pretty comfortable back there. Also, is Johnson the right backup for Jake? Why?”

Rob: “Chad Johnson… Well, it depends on which year in Buffalo you are talking about as 2015-16 was a lot different than 2017-18. The Blues are replacing by far the best backup in the NHL last season with a goalie who was at or near the bottom of every traditional and advanced statistical category. Johnson won only 10 of his 29 starts and posted an abysmal .891 save percentage and 3.55 goals against average.

It doesn’t help that while he had positive things to say about the team when he signed last off-season, he essentially put the blame for his performance on the team saying in his exit interview with the press that even Pekka Rinne and Andrei Vasilevskiy wouldn’t have been able to succeed in Buffalo.

The good news, like you said, is that Blues do not need to rely on Johnson unless Jake Allen can’t stay healthy or under-performs. That forces Johnson to play more than 25 games. Additionally, even though the Sabres defense will be improved this year, the Blues defense is a substantial improvement to what he played behind last season.

The Blues defense is one of the favorites of the analytics community and we know how well Johnson can perform with a good defense (see 2015-16 Buffalo and 2013-14 Boston). There is no reason to believe that Johnson can’t (or won’t) win more games in St. Louis. Johnson was definitely a great value signing, especially compared with what Lehner, Halak, and Ward were signed for.

The only other goaltender that may have been a good fit is Michael Hutchinson but Johnson provides a lot more experience. It looks like the Blues might be a year behind the Sabres in terms of the goalie of the future being ready to go. Chad Johnson’s one year contract is probably a good indicator the Husso will be in St. Louis sooner than later. Unfortunately for Blues fans, Chad Johnson is a step backward in net.”

To be continued…

It was my pleasure to have Ryan Brennan & Rob Berger from SabreNoise.com.

We’ll be keeping in touch with SabreNoise to keep you updated on the big swap.

Thanks for reading, Blues fans.

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