Dan Bylsma is gearing up to coach his second season with the Sabres, and he visited Buffalo’s WGR 550 studios on Monday with his month-long summer vacation winding down.
The biggest hockey-related story in the city these days is Jimmy Vesey Watch, with the forward set to become an unrestricted free agent at midnight tonight.
Bylsma is the bench boss – not the general manager- but is there any information he can provide on the situation?
“I think we’re getting close to free agency for Jimmy,” Bylsma offered coyly. “That’s all I got for you. We’re not going to delve into where we’re at. You guys were tracking us out to Boston about four weeks ago, so you know as much as I know.”
Zemgus Girgensons and Rasmus Ristolainen are two restricted free agents the Sabres have yet to lock up to new contracts, with training camp around one month away from opening.
“First of all, I have been off for three, four weeks,” reminded Bylsma, who noted at the beginning of the interview that his time off has basically run from July 15 through August 15.
“I stopped in the office this morning and talked to (assistant general manager) Mark Jakubowski ,” he continued. “Certainly I’ve read social media. I’ve read the things about Risto and Zemgus and their contract situation. I think it’s a normal talking right now between the two groups, between both Rasmus and Zemgus. Those are things that I don’t get too much involved in. But I know they’re progressing. I know we’re talking. They do take time.”
When it comes to Ristolainen, Bylsma was quick to defend poor Corsi-based perceptions of his 21-year-old defender.
“I think Corsi and some of the shot-based analytics, the possession numbers – you have to be a little careful about how you read them and where you read them,” began Bylsma. “There’s players in the league that have a high Corsi that are protected players, so to speak; that where they start and who they play against lead into the Corsi number they have. The quality of competition they play against goes into that as well.
“So you can pick off a Corsi number and say, ‘Well, that player’s got a positive Corsi number and he should play more.’ And the deeper numbers lie sometimes in where they start, who they play against, who they’re playing with and who they’re playing against.
“So we ask a lot of Rasmus. We put him in a lot of situations. We put him in a lot of tough situations. I think that is largely some of the numbers that do roll out on him, in terms of Corsi and possession numbers, (they) are a result of that.
“And I think, frankly, we played him too much at times throughout the year. He shouldn’t be getting – he’s probably not going to like to hear this, but he’s not a guy we think should get 28 and 30 minutes a night. Although we did it to him, and we put him in those situations.
“I think you’re going to see – once we’ve got Zach Bogosian back and his number fell more to the 24, 25 minutes a night is where I think you’ll see him be at this next year, and his numbers will improve, I think, as a result of it.”
Jack Eichel had a really impressive rookie campaign for the Sabres, and Bylsma sees reason to look at this summer – including Eichel’s decision to skip the world championships in the spring to recharge – as an even more positive sign moving forward.
“I think Jack had a lot of expectations on him last year,” reflected Bylsma. “To think about his year last year, it really started in the spring. He went to the world championships. He went into the draft. He was on that circuit. As a Top 5 pick, you’re all over the place. You’re at the Stanley Cup Final. You get drafted. You go into development camp. You get drafted.
“He didn’t have a great summer and off-season last year because of that whirlwind he was in and because of all the cameras on him and all of the media attention. I think, as you mentioned, this year he took the opportunity to take a step back and have a good summer. Have a good working summer. I think you’re going to see that in his play.
“You look back to last year. You talk about how he finished last season. In the last 40 games, you’re talking about a guy who had the puck on his stick more than anybody else in the league – more than Patrick Kane. And that’s a pretty impressive thing for an 18, 19 year old guy to have. I think you’re going to see that even more as he goes into his second year.”
Source: WGR 550/ Transcript: Nichols