Thursday, June 28, 2012

Hope doesn't seem to float anymore in Sabreland

Would you, in effect, trade a 29 yr. old, top-six/nine center who plays in all situations and averages three points every four games, for a bottom-six grey-beard on the back-end of his career and a mid-round draft pick (s) and/or a mid-level prospect?
Doesn't make a lot of sense, really. At least on the surface.

You could hope that C Derek Roy has a bounce back season, one that would get him back to 0.78 points a game; hope that he plays with the focus that he had in the fall of 2011 before he was injured.

But it doesn't seem as if Owner Terry Pegula relies on hope and it would seem as if the message is getting across to his charges.

They didn't hope that D Robyn Regehr would change his mind and allow a trade to Buffalo, they went out and convinced him that Buffalo would be his new home.

The Sabres didn't hope for D Christian Ehrhoff to sit down with them on July 1 to negotiate a contract, they went out and traded for his rights to talk to him exclusively.

They didn't hope that an opportunity to sit down with C Brad Richards would get them his services, they saw the writing on the wall and moved on, aggressively signing F Ville Leino.

And at the 2012 Draft, they didn't hope C Zemgus Girgensons would fall to them at #21, they went and made sure they got him by moving up to #14 (thanx Flames GM Jay Feaster.)

You could sit there and hope that Roy regains his form to become that top-six, two-way center he had the potential to become, or had become. But, it doesn't seem as if Pegula wants to sit around waiting.

Which puts GM Darcy Regier in a difficult position. He's always had unabashed faith in--read "overvalues"--his homegrown, "core" players, but he may need to eat this one.

Derek Roy is a real good player. He could play in a number of circumstances on a number of teams and make solid, potential Cup-winning, contributions. Just not in Buffalo.

Even though is stock is low right now, it doesn't mean he doesn't have value.

What it means is that one team will probably get a "steal" in a trade with the Sabres simply because there's not a lot of demand right now for a smaller center like Roy.

It's really more of a timing thing. Two years ago, Roy could have been looked at as a viable top-six, possibly top-line center in the NHL. But league-wide circumstances (like the emergence of size up-front) have diminished his value.

And it hasn't helped that the Sabres went all-in during the last four months down the middle.

They traded for Cody Hodgson and put Tyler Ennis back at center while at the draft they spent five of their picks on centers.

If that's not enough, the team is still talking about bolstering the center position.

So with all that writing on the wall, getting a 3rd and/or 4th-round pick and/or a mid-level prospect may be all that Regier could get for Roy at this time. And he may have to swallow hard and take it.

That being said, if they move on from Roy, they'll have a very, very young group down the middle.

They really could use a veteran prescence and as mentioned in another piece, Jason Arnott might be a good player to bring in.

At 37, Arnott's no spring chicken. But the guy can still play. He could anchor the bottom-six, help groom the youngsters, and add leadership to the forward group as well as add Cup-winning leadership to the entire team.

If there's another player out there who could play a bigger, top-six role while providing those intangibles, it would be safe to say that Pegula and Co. are on it. But as a back-up plan Arnott would look to be a real solid choice.

Could they get him to sign on July 1? Show him the money, and the term and I think the Sabres have a decent shot at it.

So, would I, in essence, trade a 29 yr. old, top-six/nine center (Derek Roy) who plays in all situations and averages three points every four games, for a bottom-six grey-beard on the back-end of his career (Jason Arnott) and a mid-round draft pick (s) and/or a mid-level prospect?

In this case, yes.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Sabres should feel pretty good about the 2012 draft

Sabres GM Darcy Regier should feel pretty good about the 2012 draft. The team had organizational needs--forward depth, size down the middle--and they were addressed aggressively.

There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the top two picks--C Mikhail Grigorenko and Zemgus Girgensons--who both, have a shot at making the team. Yet the rest of the draft has some upside as well.

On day two, their five picks were as a result of players who attended the 2nd Sabres Draft Combine. The combine, which started last season thanks to Terry Pegula's financial commitment to the scouting department, gave all parties involved a chance to get acquainted with each other. Unlike the NHL combine in Toronto, the Sabres brought in the prospects and put them through on-ice drills along with more interviews.

Last year they used the combine for two latter picks--D Alex Lepkowsi (6th round) and C Brad Navin (7th round.)

The Sabres went into round two with only one second rounder (#44, acquired from Calgary in the Robyn Regehr deal) and they used it on a defenseman--6'1", 200 lb. Jake McCabe.

Kris Baker of, in his comprehensive review of the 2012 draft, said that McCabe's total package was amongst the best in the draft and has him possibly reaching top-four in the NHL.

The McCabe pick had connections to Rochester Americans Coach Ron Rolston and the US National Team Development Program as he'd played for the Amerks bench boss in the USNTDP. Rolston, according to Devine, called McCabe a warrior.

There were plenty of eyes on McCabe as the Sabres also used their connections--this time with Wisconson Head Coach Mike Eaves, via cheif scout Al MacAdam--for plenty of insight into a player who, as WGR's Paul Hamilton gathered, was really mature for his age and a very sound all-around defensman.

The team continued to add down the middle by using their next two picks on centers.

In the third round (#73) they tapped into the Ontario Hockey League and selected 6'4" 210 lb. C Justin Kea, a player whom Kevin Devine called a "better skating Paul Gaustad."

Devine delved into the pick in his Day-2 draft recap on WGR by saying that Kea's stats weren't all that great, but a coaching change in mid season gave the Sabres some insight. The new coach, Greg Gilbert, according to Devine "thinks the kid will be a good third line center in the NHL." Both Devine and Regier played hockey with Gilbert.

Although Baker had Kea rated around #100, the Sabres had no 4th round pick. They liked enough of what they saw in him at their combine to take a minor reach for Kea.

With no 4th round pick (went to Nashville in the Gaustad trade) they headed to the fifth round and selected 6'2" 188 lb C/W Logan Nelson. Nelson is a USHL product that switched to the WHL and a player who Baker calls a strong, skilled forward who plays with an edge.

In another tip of the hat to Pegula's commitment to increased scouting, the Sabres went overseas to Sweden to select 6'3" 210 lb. MODO goaltender Linus Ullmark. The team had no goalies in the junior ranks with both Connor Knapp and Nathan Leiuwen being signed to their entry-level deals.

One of the things that Pegula mentioned at his press conference in February 2011 when he bought the team was that there's not a salary cap on scouting. Fredrik Andersson was hired by the Sabres this past January and the former goalie/goalie coach/GM had some specifics to his job.

The Sabres wanted him to scour Sweden and Finland, according to Devine, to focus upon finding latter-round goalie nuggets in the draft like Nashville goalie Pekke Rinne.

This is Andersson's first foray into scouting for an NHL organization, and it's an opportunity he's been wanting for a long time.

Using Andersson's intelligence on the Swedish goalie, they brought Ullmark in for the Sabres combine. Amongst those in attendance was new scout Toby O'Brien, another goalie scout who's focus is North America.

O'Brien had served as a Coach/GM in the ECHL and in the Eastern Junior Hockey League who's resume also includes a recent stint with the NY Islanders in the same capacity.

Everyone liked what they saw in Ullmark and it will be interesting to see how the 163rd pick of the 2012 NHL draft develops.

The team had two picks in the seventh round.

With the first pick in the 7th (#193) the team went big on defense with 6'4" 234 lb LHD Brady Austin.

Baker called him a "mammoth rearguard" with enough skills to be a "smart pick late in the draft." He also mentioned that Austin was the third player in a row picked by the Sabres in their second year of eligibility.

Finally, with the 204th pick of the draft, the team ended where they started, at the center position.

The seventh round pick, which was acquired from Chicago for Steve Montador's rights, brought the Sabres 6'0" 190 center Judd Peterson.

Peterson was another product of the Sabres combine and a player who was developing close to one of the teams' scouts up in Minnesota, Keith Hendrickson.

An interesting note from Baker, "Native Minnesotan Brian Burke was also said to be interested, but the Sabres acted before the Leafs final pick to snatch up the 2012 Mr. Hockey Finalist."

The team, although not trading up in the seventh round, went full-circle in drawing the ire of another GM. On the trade-up in the first rouned, Devine who gave props to his staff on the Grigorenko pick, also commended Regier for his trade with Calgary to land Girgensons, "A lot of General Managers came up to [Regier on day two] and they were kind of mad at him," he said, "because they were all ready to take [Girgensons.]"

Devine summed up the theme of his draft preparation saying the emphasis, using the Cup-champion LA Kings as an example, to get "bigger, faster, tougher."

The days of drafting smaller, highly skilled jitter-bugs, "the [Tyler] Ennis' and the [Derek] Roy's and [Nathan] Gerbe's" as Devine put it will be put on hold until "the outlook of [the Sabres] changes a little bit."

The Sabres are not only changing with size, but they're also changing philosophy with their forward ranks.

How many highly-skilled wingers have they drafted over the years as the best player available? Couple that with how they've tried to convert wingers to centers, and their subsequent failure, and you have the approach they took in this year's draft.

"If you look at a lot of the teams in the NHL they draft centers and a lot of them end up on the wings," said Regier as he talked to Hamilton on WGR. "If there's good wingers, you should draft good wingers but, if you can draft a centerman that's high quality, that's a good way to go and they can play the wings."

All-in-all the draft as a whole went as the team would have liked it to, especially in the first round, especially with Grigorenko dropping to them at #12. "We were fortunate in that there was a run on defensemen (a strength in the Sabres organization,)" said Regier, "we were looking for forwards, and it pushed [Grigorenko] down to us and it benefitted us."

Regier continues to show his savvy. He worked wonders last draft day by acquiring Robyn Regehr and an extra second round pick which enabled them to move up to grab Girgensons.

He worked the 2012 trade deadline masterfully by getting an extra first-rounder for Gaustad and trading with Vancouver for immediate center depth in Cody Hodgson while not mortgaging the future.

And he prepared his first round beautifully by having set up the trade with Flames GM Jay Feaster to move from #21 to #14 two days prior in anticipation of a possible player like Girgensons (or forward Teuvo Teravainen) being available with that pick.

"We looked at some teams who didn't have second round picks and Calgary was one of those teams," he said. "They wanted to see if they could stretch their first round pick into two picks."

Although they wouldn't gush over the draft, one would believe that the Sabres organization is brimming with confidence over their selections with the first three picks.

They had a potential top-five pick in Grigorekno drop to them at #12. They had a player they wanted in Girgensons, and aggressively went up from #21 to get him. Both of those players have a decent shot at making the team out of camp, with all parties benefiting if they spend another year in junior. Probably the only year they'll spend there before coming up. And they had a player that they rated as a low first-rounder drop to them at #44 in McCabe.

They eschewed the highly skilled jitterbugs for size and they opted for centers (five of them in all) who they'll switch to the wing if need be.

They used their new scouts overseas and in the US, as well as the second year of the Sabres combine, to increase the odds of the late-round crap-shoots making it to the pros.

And of note also, Head Scout Kevin Devine really seems to be having an impact on the organization. Not only that, his voice is being heard throughout Sabreland. It's a voice that sounds confident and always well-prepared. And he seems to be a rising star.

Plus, our good friend Kris Baker of who has done yeoman's work for years with little notice, is starting to become a more relied upon media voice as he's had multiple apperances on WGR including this morning's draft recap with Jeremy White and Paul Hamilton. He was been featured in the Buffalo News, Sabresedge pre-draft chat. His site has always been a labor of love with little recognition and now he's finally gettin' his "ice-cred" with the major Buffalo media outlets. Even Devine mentioned talking with him at Day-2 of the draft.

Add it all up and every fan in Sabreland should feel pretty good about this draft and how the organization is moving forward.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

"Best player available" suits the Sabres just fine at Day One of the Draft

The Buffalo Sabres, as well as nearly every other team in the NHL, follow the philosophy of choosing the best player available when it comes to their first pick in the draft.

When it happens to coincide with a position of need, especially as far down as the middle section, it makes for a very good start to a draft.

It's no secret that the Sabres organizational strength lies on the blue line with a bevy of defensemen coming in all shapes and sizes. There was a definitive need for them to add to the forward ranks, especially at center, and they were able to do just that with the 12th overall pick last night in Pittsburgh.

In a departure from the previous regime, owner Terry Pegula and his charges landed 6'3" 198lb center Mikhail Grigorenko. The big, highly skilled Russian dominated the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League last year scoring 40 goals and adding 45 assists in an injury-shortened, 59 game campaign.

The Sabres have not drafted a Russian since Marek Zagrapan in 2005.

In pre-draft interviews, Sabres Head Scout Kevin Devine had brought up the "Russian factor" numerous times. The spector of the Kontinental Hockey League in Russia poaching NHL'ers with the lure of big money and a chance to play back home in the Motherland would temper any thoughts of moving up in the draft and might prove to be to risky a move for an organization like the Sabres. Losing a top pick for nothing would hurt any organization.

That thought process was put to the test as both Grigorenko and another top-five prospect, center Filip Forsberg, continued to slide in the draft.

The tandem's fall had little to do with anything other than a run on defenseman after RW Nail Yakupov went #1 to Edmonton and C Alex Galchenyuk went #3 to Montreal.

One after another, defensemen started going off the board as the next seven picks after Galchenyuk were all on the blue line. In all, a record eight were taken with the first ten picks.

Mikhail Grigorenko
is the first Russian
taken by the Sabres since 2005
The Washington Capitals sat at #11, one spot before Buffalo, with the pick they received from Colorado in the Semeyon Varlamov trade. They took Forsberg, a center who was expected to go in the top-five.

Buffalo's entourage wasted no time in heading to the podium for their selection:  Grigorenko.

Unlike Forsberg, who was a consensus top-five to seven pick in the draft, Grigorenko and his place in the draft was somewhat of an enigma and there's no doubt his nationality played a major role in this. He was all over the place:
  • International Scouting Services had him ranked #4 overall
  • Central Scouting had him #3
  • TSN's Bob McKenzie was dead on at #12
  • TSN colleague Craig Button's mock draft had him drop all the way to #17 yet had this to say about Grigorenko, "The strong two-way centre falls to the Sharks, and he might be ready to play in the NHL next season."
  • The Hockey News ranked him the #1 center, ahead of Galchenyuk, yet mocked him going #14 overall to Calgary behind Zegmus Girgensons at #13 (a tie-in we'll get to in a little bit)
  •'s Adam Kimelman mocked him at #8, while Mike Morreales had him go #5 and Steven Hoffner had him go top-three to Montreal

Such was the enigma of Mikhail Grigorenko. Such was the chutzpah of Pegula and the Buffalo Sabres.

Last draft they broke a five year trend and drafted outside of North America when they chose Joel Armia. This draft day they broke a six year trend by drafting a Russian.

Pegula doesn't seem to care and one would believe he instructed his charges to get the best player available. Period. It would seem as if he's saying, "You do that, and I'll take care of the rest."

They showed no fear in drafting Grigorenko.

And it didn't stop there.

Zemgus Girgensons is
the first ever Latvian
to be taken in the
first round.

Bolstered by the Grigorenko pick the Sabres moved up to the 14th slot (giving up the #21 and #42 picks to in the process) to select gritty Latvian center Zemgus Girgensons in a trade with Calgary. Of note is that the Sabres still had a second-rounder (#44) courtesy of Calgary in the Regehr trade from last year.

Many had the Sabres going after Girgensons at #12 to bolster a small, skilled center ranks in the organization.

The Hockey News called him a "tireless worker" and "hard to play against." TSN's Button had him ranked #13 calling him "A hard player. Hard on the puck, hard on the body, hard competitor, hard working."

Girgensons clocks in at 6'2" and 198 lbs and cbssportsline calls him "an honest, physical center who can score and punish the opposition.

Kevin Devine put it this way, “The fans of Buffalo will love this guy; he just will not quit. We talked to his coach, and he said that he’s got the leadership qualities of a Jonathan Toews and Mark Messier,”

The consensus is that the Sabres landed themselves two top-nine centers with Grigorenko as a possible #1.

The Hockey News' Ryan Kennedy tabbed the Sabres as one of his "winners" of the first round saying, "If everything shakes out the right way, the Sabres just nabbed their top two centers for the next decade in Mikhail Grigorenko and Zemgus Girgensons. Grigorenko naturally brings the point-piling playmaking skills, while Girgensons has a Ryan Kesler ceiling to his game."

The caveat to all of this is that NHL teams are drafting 18 year olds so question marks abound. All you can do is take your best shot.

From GM Darcy Regier, “It’s a good night. The center position is very important not just to us, but around the league too. To acquire two centers – two different types of centers – is good,” said Regier. “Kevin had a list of forwards, and we were focused in on getting two of them. Grigorenko was near the top, and Girgensons was near the top as well. We were pretty sure he wouldn’t be there at 21, so we had to pay a little more to get him.”

You really can't ask for more then that.

Other links:|BUF|home|BUF|home (Grigorenko)|BUF|home (Girgensons)

Friday, June 22, 2012

Draft Day 2012, Round 1. What should the Sabres do? Galchenyuk?

With four picks in the top 44 of this year's draft, Buffalo Sabres GM Darcy Regier has plenty of options. But with so much uncertainty swirling around Pittsburgh for the draft, who knows what will happen.
Will the Edmonton Oilers add to their young forward ranks by selecting consensus #1 overall prospect Nail Yakupov? How will the Columbus Blue Jackets be affected by the almost certain trade of franchise forward Rick Nash? The Anaheim Ducks are ready to trade winger Bobby Ryan, where will he end up?

A couple of things we do know:  this year's crop of free agents is very weak, and a potential 2013 free agent, Jordan Staal, seems to be headed to Carolina at some point in time and should be crossed off of the Sabres list as a potential free agent target.

For the most part, throwing money at a free agent isn't going to work this season so any upgrade will need to involve trades. And that seems to be the path Regier is on.

It's no secret that the Sabres organizational strength is on the blue line and that they're looking for more size down the middle. They also could use more scoring on the wings.

The dilemma they face at this year's draft is that it is defenseman-heavy past the first five or six picks. At #12 there's a possibility that a forward could fall, but more than likely they'd be looking at a choice between a potential top-pairing d-man versus a potential top-nine forward. Their M.O. in the past has been to take the best player available which would mean yet another defenseman.

It's a sound philosophy and they've been using it for the last few years. Maybe it's time to use some of their assets on defense to make a move.

In his draft preview, Kris Baker of, believes that the Sabres should go after Alex Galchenyuk via Columbus.

He ranks the 6'2" 205lb center as "A" and starts out his player preview by saying, "I've been waiting two years to say this:  SabresProspects fully endorses Alex Galchenyuk as the Sabres top target in the 2012 draft."

Baker rates him high in all areas adding that he "embraces and initiates the physical side." TSN Scout Craig Button, although ranking Galchenyuk #5, says that he "doesn't take short cuts and values the plays that are important to winning."

Highly touted for his skills and strong skating, Galchenyuk also has attributes like a high hockey IQ and an outstanding understanding of puck play which scouts liken to Hall of Famer Ron Francis. Francis is a player that Baker says Regier "long coveted but could never acquire" and he calls this a "golden opportunity" for the long-time Sabres GM to get "a tenacious competitor that fits right into what [they] are building."

Head Scout Kevin Devine has been downplaying a move up to the top of the draft using the "Russian Factor," the amount of injuries to the top prospects while calling it a good draft. He went on to say recently that there's more of a probability to move up from #21 than there is to move up from #12.

But that could all be a smoke screen. And it should be.

Regier should be on the phone to Jackets GM Scott Howson with a trade in place should the Oilers select Yakupov #1 and Galchenyuk be available at #2.

Moving up from the 12th spot into the #2 will take some pain. The #12 pick, possibly the #21 and/or one of the Sabres second-rounders plus a prospect and probably another player.

The Jackets are said to be leaning towards NHL-ready defensive prospect Ryan Murray at the draft so they would probably want an NHL-ready d-man in return--Brayden McNabb or Mark Pysyk would probably be the names bantered around.

McNabb looks slated for the top-four next season. If not next season then he'll surely be there soon. The 6'5" stay at home d-man with a developing mean-streak seems to be in the mold of Robyn Regehr, the Calgary d-man the Sabres traded for last season.

There are no other d-men like McNabb in the Sabres system right now. Taken the extremes with which they went after Regehr last season, it wouldn't make sense to move a player like him even though it's for a potential #1 center.

Pysyk, on the other hand, brings a different set of assets to the table.

More of an all-around defenseman, Pysyk is very sound in his own end with strong puck moving abilities and plenty of intangibles. The right-hander would fit well next to the Jackets LHD Jack Johnson as the duo would provide some sound leadership to anchor the team.

If the Sabres could start out with the #12, one of their two second-rounders, Pysyk as a base and go from there, Galchenyuk in the blue and gold, would make for an impact in the first round. Plus, for Columbus, they still may be able to add a potential top-pairing d-man in the first round, say Olli Maatta, with the 12th pick.

This looks to be the opportunity for the Sabres to land, as Baker called Galchenyuk on WGR today, a "world class talent with a lot of intangibles."

Maybe the stars will align, with a lot of work and a certain amount of pain.

We know Owner Terry Pegula is not afraid to go all-in. Hopefully Regier can pull it off.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Dissecting words. Devine and Baker talk about the 2012 draft

Sabres Director of Amateur Scouting Kevin Devine and Kris Baker of were both on WGR's Howard Simon Show this past week talking about the Sabres and the upcoming draft.

Devine called this draft "the most challenging" of his tenure as Head Scout saying that "they're having a real tough time coming up with a top-five."

As he breaks it down he mentions a number of factors contributing to that challenge including the "Russian factor." The KHL is always on the minds of NHL GM's and scouting departments because of the possible lure of Russian players to the Russian league.

Of the consensus top-five, three--Nail Yakupov, Alex Galchenyuk and Mikhail Grigorenko--are of Russian descent. Devine in his interview called them "risky" a couple of times and said, "if there's not an [Alex] Ovechink or [Ilya] Kovalchuk in the draft we're very leery of taking a player there and possibly losing that pick to the KHL."

From his perspective, Devine see this year's crop as really balanced and deep but "not great" up-top. He also, like everyone else sees it as a defenseman-heavy, which happens to be an area of strength within the organization.

In breaking down the draft, Yakupov is the clear-cut, consensus #1 pick with a drop-off after that. Baker breaks it down into a top-five or six (including Yakupov) who he calls "clear-cut, top-tier" players before a drop to the next five or six "who could possibly be a top-pair defenseman or scoring line forward, but they might have question marks. That band probably expires at 12 [where the Sabres pick] or 13."

Both Devine and Baker agree that there may not be that much of a difference between #'s 12 and 21, with both leaving the possibility of the Sabres trading up in the draft. But, according to Devine, maybe not at the expense of both picks.

"Well, there's two views of [moving up,]" he said, "first of all what's the price to move up and get that. If it's going to be your pick at 21 and you feel you're going to get a good player at 21, it's going to be hard to do...and, with all the players not distinguishing themselves, is it the year to move up? That's the question we're still asking ourselves."

It would seem as if the Sabres are willing to move one of their first-rounders, but not both, to move up which would probably mean the top-three or four spots in the draft are unattainable. And for an organization with depth on defense and an aversion to drafting Russian players, jumping up into the top four, which, as Baker puts it, is a "risky proposition" to begin with, doesn't make a lot of sense.

Plus there remains plenty of question marks as to what could happen in front of them. Edmonton has the first pick, but are stocked at forward meaning foward Yakupov isn't a lock right now. Columbus has been burned by Russians before, and should Yakupov drop to them, would, they pull the trigger? Is Canadian defenseman Ryan Murray worthy of a top-two pick?

And then there's the Brian Burke factor. The Maple Leafs GM is never afraid to jump into the spotlight. He may be looking to move up, and there's always the possibility that he may be looking to move up twice to grab Yakupov and Galchenyuk, like he did in 1999 with Vancouver to select the Sedin twins at #2 and #3.

Add it all up and it doesn't look as if the Sabres will be jumping into the fray of the top-five due to high risk and questionable reward.

That's not to say that they want to stay put at #12 either.

Nearly every mock draft has Yakupov, Galchenyuk and Murray in the top-five, with no consensus after that. Grigorenko will probably be taken with one of the top-five picks while the other should be a d-man. In looking at the sixth through nine slots, what's left of the top forwards in the draft will probably be taken in this area.

Center Filip Forseberg could be in the top-five and is sure to be taken soon after and center Radek Faksa probably won't drop past seven or eight.

After that you have one forward, winger Teuvo Teravainen, buried in a group of five or six defensemen slated to be picked in the next group.

The only area of the draft that they would seem to be targeting to move up would be picks 6, 7 and 8 with Forsberg and Faksa being the two that combine the skill and upside to strengthen the organization's forward ranks.

Staying at #12 would yield them one possibility at forward--Teravainen and if he's not there, the team would probably invoke the "best player available" principle.

"There are some defenseman in this draft who could turn out to be a #1 or #2 [defenseman,]" Devine said. "If there's a defenseman like that at 12, versus maybe a top-six or third line forward, then we'll definitely take the defenseman."

If Devine thought that this was the most challenging draft in his tenure as Head Scout, this may end up being a defining moment for GM Darcy Regier.

Regier finagled an extra second-round pick last year in the Robyn Regehr trade and somehow got another first-rounder when he sent Paul Gaustad (and a fourth) to Nashville at the trade deadline.

He has the assets to make some noise at the draft whether to trade up for a prospect or go after an NHL'er who will likely be available, like Rick Nash, or those rumored to be available, like Jordan Staal.

Baker went on to say that Regier may need to move up in the draft in a "statement move, not only to improve his team, but also to protect his standing within the organization."

And he continues by saying that Regier doesn't necessarily need to move up to improve the team, he can do it by getting an NHL'er. "They have some, I don't want to say dead weight," he said, "but they certainly have the opportunity to exchange parts of their core.

They could get some 'now' players, maybe swapping some guys out who could use a change of scenery."

Baker seems to think that the Sabres will once again be relevant at the draft this year, "I truly believe something will happen to this roster."

He seems to think that a lot of the questions about Regier and whether he would be a "viable extension of Terry Pegula's free spending business mind" have already been answered with the Regehr trade.

Further evidence can be found in the Christian Ehrhoff trade as well as the Gaustad trade and the signing of Ville Leino.

Even so, Regier could be under the gun at this draft because of his "embarrassment of riches." He obviously had the money to work with and over the past year he's had more scouts at the rink as well plus he has four picks out of the top-44.

It's doubtful that Regier will stand pat with all the resources available to him next week.

He's already been doing things out of character since Pegula took over, like trading for a players' rights (Ehrhoff,) overpaying in the free agent market (Leino,) while also trading away one of his homegrown players (Chris Butler,) one of his top prospects (Zack Kassian) and one of his core players (Gaustad.)

For the next six days information will be coming forth with most of it vague.

But we may be able to glean something from the hours of interviews.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Let's bring in some winners

No, the Sabres will not get the likes of Sidney Crosby, Johnathan Toews, Pavel Datsyuk or Ryan Getzlaf--all of them #1 centers on cup-winning teams.

It's probably safe to say that the likes of Corey Perry, Henrik Zetterberg, and any of the Staal brothers are out of reach as well. Although roomer has it that Pittsburgh may be looking into trading Jordan Staal.

As the team retools with some very capable pieces still intact and some talent coming up from the minors, maybe the best approach would be for the team to add some free agents who have that Cup ring, players who have been there and who have been successful.

Panthers GM Dale Tallon built a team in Florida with loads of veteran leadership and Cup-rings, and for the first time since 1999 the Cats made the playoffs. By no means should it be construed that a team can go deep into the playoffs without top-notch talent, as the Panthers first round exit attested to. But any talented/skill players, of which Florida has a few coming up, will have a much better chance of succeeding if surrounded by real hockey players who've been there.

Los Angeles GM Dean Lombardi's team won the Stanley Cup this week with a group that had three former cup-winners on it--Rob Scuderi (PIT, 2009,) Justin Williams (CAR, 2006) and Colin Fraser (CHI, 2010.) The Kings drafted highly skilled players like Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty then surrounded them with some champions.

In Buffalo, since July 2007 when Cup-winner Chris Drury moved on, the Sabres have had only one player--Rob Niedermayer--with his name on the Stanley Cup.

Is it any wonder that the Sabres missed the playoffs three of five seasons? Is it any wonder that Niedermayer was on one of the playoff teams?

Granted, the Tom Golisano-era featuring it's break-even financial dictate hampered the process as did the team and city which were unappealing to veteran free agents.  Destinations like Anaheim, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Boston and Los Angeles and others like like Philadelphia and NY (Rangers,) among others, offer money and/or history, and/or strong organizations, and/or great weather, and/or bustling metropolitan areas. As for Buffalo?


That being said. Money talks and Terry Pegula's hell-bent upon building a winner.

Although money is a always a factor, most veteran, cup-winning players also want to go to a team that's ready to compete for the cup.

Over the past few off seasons, big name free agents are hitting the open market less frequently. Last season, Conn Smythe Trophy winning forward Brad Richards was the big fish. He went to the Rangers which offered everything a star player could want. After that, it was pretty thin up-front.

Which leads us to this off season. Similar to last year, it's a thin crop of potential free agents up front with only Devils winger Zach Parise clearly standing out.

But, as usual, bottom-six forwards and bottom-pairing d-men are always readily available come July 1 and every year there are a few with their name on the Stanely Cup who could add a solid veteran presence to a team. Snagging one or maybe even two would go a long way in the leadership department. Leadership that's been sparse in Buffalo since Drury left town five years ago.

The following three players are bottom-six role players who should be available on July 1st. The teams that they're with were considered cup-contenders when they signed. Signing one or more would not break the bank, would add leadership and would add credibility to the organization.

Jason Arnott, third line center--$2.5M last season, Stanley Cup-NJD, 2000

Drafted #7 overall (EDM, 1993) the big (6'5, 220 lb,) well-traveled, (EDM, NJD [twice,] DAL, NSH, WSH, STL,) veteran center signed a one-year contract with the Blues last season and added a strong veteran presence to a very young St. Louis team.

His regular season stats last year are on par with his previous three seasons (17g, 17a, plus-13) while his playoff numbers were way off (7 games, 1g, 0a, minus-1) as the Blues were swept in the second round by the eventual Cup-champion Los Angeles Kings.

At 37 years old, Arnott can still put the puck in the net and/or set up his linemates, is responsible in his own end and can play on the second powerplay unit.

Mike Knuble, third line/bottom-six RW--$2M last season, Stanely Cup-DET, 1998

Knuble's getting up there, no doubt about it. The soon to be 40 yr. old (July 4) was drafted by Detroit in 1991.

He's also well travelled with stops in NY (Rangers,) Boston, Philadelphia and Washington. He had a block of seasons with the Bruins, Flyers and Capitals where his power forward attributes, grit and professionalism netted him no less than 20 goals eight years running and was a minus-player only once (-3, 2007-08, PHI) during that span.

He's also on the decline. His production has plummeted from 24g, 16a, plus-10 in 2010-11 to 6g, 12a, minus-15 this past season.

Captials GM George McPhee has already cut ties with Knuble and the former Cap took it all in stride.

Although age has caught up to him, his stats from last season are somewhat skewed as the team had a defensive mind-set for the better part of the season, especially after Dale Hunter took over.

How much does he have left in him?

His playoff line for last month was 11 games, 2g, 1a, plus-3. Obviously nothing spectacular, but he did contribute and was someone comfortable in his role.

Sammy Pahlsson, checking line center--$2.265M last season, Stanely Cup-Anaheim, 2007

The youngest of the three in this group, Pahlsson won't turn 35 until December.

Drafted by Colorado in 1996, he was part of the Ray Borque trade with Boston in 2000. Pahlsson also had stops in Anaheim, Columbus and, most recently, Vancouver. Interestingly enough, the only free agent contract he signed was with the Blue Jackets.

The veteran checking line center is defensively sound, can anchor a penalty kill and is real strong on the faceoff dot.

His production throughout his career is consistent with a fourth-liner so one should not expect anything more offensively, although he does seem to pick it up slightly in the playoffs.

Before the Sabres entertain the thought of landing "the big fish" in free agency, if one does become available, say next off season, they'll need to overcome the obstacles that face them. We know that Pegula's not afraid to pony up for a player, but Team President Ted Black's "Hockey Heaven" needs to take a big step forward as well.

For example, Detroit as a city has been on the decline for years, yet it's hockey team is anchored by a strong organization with a commitment to winning and they still land top free agents, at a discount, no less.

For Buffalo, they'll still need to build step-by-step, take gambles and essentially throw away some money to find the pieces that will mesh.

Pegula and Co. started the process last off-season as they dove into free agency. As for this season, they shouldn't need to, and may not have the proper amount of cap-space for a Ville Leino-type overpayment.

Their roster is filled with "skill" and augmented by some young grit, but what seems to have been lacking the past five seasons is bonafide leadership, especially up-front.

There's still the upcoming draft, and the potential for trades, and there's no doubt that if Pittsburgh's Jordan Staal were truly available, the Sabres would have a keen interest in a player like him. Unfortunately, this off season, the team may need to focus upon bottom-six leadership for now.

And this may be a good off-season to address that.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Let the 2012 off-season begin

The LA Kings won their first ever Stanley Cup as the 8th seed in the Western Conference. Darcy Regier had said around the trade deadline that a low seed has a good chance of winning it, and sure enough he was right. In fact he'd have been right in either case as the runner-up New Jersey Devils were the 6th seed in the Eastern Conference.

Some notes from the Stanley Cup Final:

The Kings started every series on the road and won both games each time, something that was unprecedented. They beat the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd seeds in the conference with only one series going six games (New Jersey.)

Kings goalie Jonathan Quick had a 1.41 gaa and a .946 save percentage.

GM Dean Lombardi built the Kings through the draft (Dustin Brown-2003, Anze Kopitar and Quick-2005, Thomas Hickey-2007, Drew Doughty #2 overall-2008. He augmented the team--Jarret Stoll and Matt Greene-2008, Willie Mitchell-2010.

In 2009 he began bringing in Stanley Cup winners with the trade for winger Justin Williams CAR, 2006.) Lombardi also signed unrestricted free agent Rob Scuderi (PIT, 2009) that same season. He also picked up Colin Fraser (CHI, 2010) in 2011.

Last off-season Lombardi went all-in up-front by trading two talented youngsters to Philadelphia for Mike Richards on June 23. On July 2 he augmented his scoring by signing Philadelphia UFA Simon Gagne. He completed the Flyers triumvirate by acquiring Jeff Carter. Three top-six forwards added to the line-up.

A masterful job by Lombardi.


There are no former Sabres on the Kings roster, but there were three on the Devils--defenseman Henrik Tallinder, winger Dainius Zubrus and Steve Bernier.

Tallinder was out of the line up until Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final. He played well on the second-pairing but was vicimtimized by a strong forecheck throughout Game 6.

Zubrus was a non-factor in the last two rounds of the playoffs with no goals and three assists in 12 games to go along with a minus-four plus/minus rating.

As for Bernier, former Boston Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner's name is being frequently used with Bernier's.

Bernier was a part of the Brian Campbell trade at the deadline back in 2008. He came from San Jose' along with a 1st round pick (Tyler Ennis, #26 overall) for Campbell and a 7th rounder. After a ruckus first game with the Sabres he disappeared and eventually was traded to Vancouver in the 2008 off season for a 3rd rounder in 2009 (Brayden McNabb #66 overall) and a 2nd-rounder in 2010 (traded along with Nathan Paetsch to Columbus for Raffi Torres.)

Known more as an energy player than anything else, Bernier had a severe brain-cramp when he leveled Kings d-man Rob Scuderi from behind. He got a five minute major and a game misconduct.

“From my point of view, I don’t,” Bernier said when asked if the hit deserved a five-minute penalty. “I know he stayed down. It’s a fast game. There are hard hits all over the ice. You want to help your team win.”

The quote came from, in an article written to defend the player and direct the fans attention from rage to sympathy.

Rage may be a little strong. It's not like Boston in 1986 World Series when an 83 year Championship drought was on the line. The Devils having won three Cups in the last 18 years, took it all in stride as the champions they are.

No matter what anyone might say, though, it was a bone-headed move that cost the Devils the game and the ultimately the series. The Kings scored three goals on the power play which meant that the Devils needed four goals vs. Quick to win the game. They had scored seven goals total through the first five games.

And so it goes.


The Sabres are heading into the off season with four of the first 44 picks in the draft next weekend.

Director of Amateur Scouting, Kevin Devine, was on WGR yesterday saying that this is the most challenging draft he's had since becoming director.

Among the things he mentioned:  injuries to the top prospects, the "Russian factor," and no player breaking from the pack.

Devine considers it a deep, balanced draft going as far to say that there's not much of a difference between their #12 and #21 picks. He also labeled the top five picks as "risky" and used that "risky" when describing the Russian players in the top-five.

The draft is deep with defensemen, an area of strength for the organization, but Devine goes on to say that the team should get two really good players with their first round picks. He mentions that there are some centers up their that look good to the team.

There will be a ton of mock drafts coming out in the next ten days, but Kris Baker of had his draft preview up last week. Among the players he has the Sabres looking at with the 12th pick are LW Teuvo Teravainen, D Cody Ceci and LW Pontus Aberg.

It's a good Sabres-centric read and some outstanding work by Baker.


The Sabres shook up the broadcast booth yesterday as well.

Rob Ray will be paired with play-by-play man Rick Jeanneret this season.

Make that Hall of Fame broadcaster, Rick Jeanneret . The long-time Sabres play-by-play man was awarded the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award for Broadcasting and will be recognized at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto this November.

Ray will be Jeanneret's partner on the road from the booth and at home from his customary spot between the benches for home games.

He'll be replacing Harry Neale who moves to the studio to join Mike Robitaille for pregame and intermission reports.

Brian Duff will join the Sabres full-time as host for Sabres broadcasts and Kevin Sylvester heads to the WGR studios for a two-hour segment from 10AM to 12 noon called Sabres Hockey Hotline.

Ted Black on the Howard Simon Show this morning discussed the moves also saying that Jeanneret mentioning that he may have taken a little too much time off last season. So it would seem as if there will be more "RJ" this season. Which is good for Sabres fans.

Black also touched upon the needs for the organization mentioning that "they want to be a tougher team to play against," that they want to find "a top forward or top defenseman either through a trade, free agency, development within [the] system or perhaps some of the guys that didn't have the years that they had last year."

No mention of the draft in that statement, specifically no mention of landing a top-three/five impact player to help immediately. Couple that with Devine's "risk" aversion with the top prospects in the draft and it may be safe to say the the Sabres won't be trading into the top-five next week.

On other thing worth mentioning, Black had high praise for what GM Darcy Regier did in the trade with Nashville. He mentioned (without verification, he says) that in the past 30 years there were only 20 trade deadline deals that netted a team a first round pick and Regier got a first-rounder for Paul Gaustad, a "third/fourth line center."

The principals of the Sabres organization, according to Devine, will be meeting at Terry Pegula's place on Wednesday to discuss their plan of attack for this off-season which officially began with the Kings win last night.

Should be an interesting off-season.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Flashback: "The Core" as prospects in 2005

Hockey'sfuture is a good read for info on prospects, and it's a site worth visiting for those interested in delving into NHL organizations and their talent pools.

I happened across and interesting read that goes back to October 12, 2005--The Buffalo Sabres Top-20 prospects ranking from Ken McKenna of Hockey'sfuture.

The NHL, as we all should know, was coming out of the lockout and the "new-NHL" emerging.

The Sabres had all of their top prospects playing in Rochester in the 2004/05 season with the Amerks falling short of the Calder Cup. But the Sabres came out of the lockout with a group of players that had a full year playing together in the AHL.

Out of this group emerged "the core," or as Sabres President Ted Black called them recently, "the Rochester Guys." It included present members Thomas Vanek, Derek Roy, Jason Pominville, and Drew Stafford as well as Paul Gaustad who was traded to the Nashville Predators at the 2012 trade deadline.

Also included in the top-20 were former Sabres forwards Daniel Paille and Clarke MacArthur, among others.

As we head towards the draft, free agency and the upcoming season, I found it interesting to look back at what was being said about "the core" at that time. (For the entire page and player analyses, click on the link above.)

(#1 prospect) Thomas Vanek--"Vanek has displayed the scoring touch that most expect from him, but he has also shown excellent passing skills that have come as a surprise to some observers. The bottom line is that Vanek is the package of offensive skill that the Sabres have lacked for many a year, a fact that should cheer Sabres fans that have suffered through some mediocre hockey since their last appearance in the playoffs in 2001."

#3 Derek Roy--"...his performance in camp was not quite good enough to help him secure that roster spot. Roy’s mediocre preseason performance, combined with his sometimes lackadaisical play in Rochester during the 2004-05 season no doubt has the Sabres concerned that the talented center is resting on past laurels."

#5 Drew Stafford--"While possessing some offensive ability, Stafford’s main attributes are his skating and consistent effort from game to game."

#6 Jason Pominville--"It would seem that Pominville has NHL ability, but it remains to be seen if his road to the NHL will run through Buffalo. There may simply be too much quality in front of him, as well as a few up-and-comers behind him, for Pominville to make his mark in this organization."

#8 Paul Gaustad--"Gaustad also has improved his skating to the point where he is now a bona fide NHL player who could eventually be a solid checking-line center. The Fargo, North Dakota native will never be an offensive star, but he could develop into one of the better role players in the NHL."

The others:

#4 Daniel Paille--" Paille did manage to impress some observers with his speed and effort, but his overall game is not yet to a point where he could push for a NHL job."

#7 Clarke MacArthur--"The Lloydminster, Alberta native is a good skater with a deft scoring touch, but his overall game needs refining before he is ready for the next level."

And finally:

#2 Marek Zagrapan--"Although the Sabres had an obvious need for a top flight defenseman going into the 2005 NHL Draft, they instead chose to select skilled center Marek Zagrapan with their first pick...Zagrapan showed flashes of his ability during his time in camp, but he clearly requires more time to develop in the junior ranks."

For more info on the "Rochester Guys" and their careers with the Amerks, click here.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

There's more than one Devil worth pursuing this off-season

He stood 6'4", weighed in at  225 lbs.

He was the 20th overall selection in the 1971 NHL draft and was passed over three times by the team that drafted him--Montreal.

Larry "Big Bird" Robinson
was a force on the blueline
for the 70's Canadians dynasty.
Larry Robinson patrolled the blueline for the Canadians for 17 seasons. He was a part of six Stanley Cup Championships for Montreal, has a Conn Smythe Trophy to his resume', and won the Norris Trophy twice.

The big, strong blueliner was surprisingly mobile and could put up points. In Game 2 of the 1973 playoffs, the rookie defenseman with all of 36 games under his belt launched a slapshot from the blueline in OT to beat Philadelphia and even the second round series at one game apiece. The Canadians beat the Flyers and then Chicago to take home the Stanley Cup that season.

According to habseyesontheprize, it was after that OT game-winner that Robinson got his nickname, "Big Bird." Unaccustomed to scoring big goals, Robinson's flapping-arms celebration made him look like the Sesame Street character.

Robinson had said he was not thrilled with the nickname, maybe that's why he went after legendary Flyers' tough-guy, Dave Schultz in a donnybrook between the teams. Not really, he was merely defending a teammate who was an unwilling partner for Schultz.

Yeah, hockey fans know of the Hall of Famer, so why would one put this Habs legend on a Sabres blog?

The New Jersey Devils, being down 3-0 in the Stanley Cup Finals, look to be toast and the off-season is drawing near.

All eyes are on Devils unrestricted free agent Zach Parise who will be highly coveted come July 1, if New Jersey can't re-sign him.

That's fine, but when you look at the Sabres and what they have on the back-end, namely 6'8" Tyler Myers and upcoming 6'5" Brayden McNabb, it might not be a bad idea to entertain the idea of courting Robinson, who is presently an assistant coach with the Devils, for a position on the Sabres coaching staff.

In addition to his six Stanley Cups as a player, Robinson has three more as a coach for the Devils--two as an assistant (1995, 2003) and one as their head coach in 2000.

So where would he fit in with the Sabres coaching staff presently locked in?

Assistant coach James Patrick has been doing a fine job working with the defense. But a case could be made that certain defenseman have had their growth stunted, or they've leveled off before they've reached their potential.

Tyler Myers joined the Sabres one year after he was drafted and proceeded to win the Calder Trophy in the 2009-10 season. Since then his numbers have dropped and he struggled for half-seasons the following two years.

A fluid skater with a nice set of hands, Myers also had an edge to him as shown in the 2011 playoff series versus the Flyers. But that edge seems to have evaporated. His confidence level fluctuates as well leaving him looking like a rookie during many games--too many games for a defenseman who has the potential to be in the Norris Trophy mix.

Methinks that Larry Robinson, a player with similar attributes could help his game immensely.

Robinson could also have a positive effect upon rookie Brayden McNabb, as well as every other defenseman in the system.

Where talking nine Stanley Cup Championships. Nine rings that range from the "Flying Frenchman" of the mid-late 70's Canadians to the Devils trap teams of the mid-90's/early 2000's.

Logistics would dictate a difficult path to landing the Hall of Famer, and it is more of a dream scenario for the Sabres than anything else. But with Terry Pegula in place as owner, nothing is outside the realm of possibility.

Back in 2009 after being out of coaching for a couple of years, there was speculation that Robinson was in line to take over the Canadians head coaching spot, a rumor he dismissed.

When asked if he was interested in a coaching position, the Devils special assignment coach said, "I wouldn't say I'm itching, but you know what? When you're in hockey this long, I don't think you ever lose the itch. But I don't know if I'd want to get back into head coaching or not. Maybe assistant coaching. Who knows?"

Sure enough, he was back as an assistant with the Devils.

With the future of the Devils somewhat murky
in New Jersey, what will be in Robinson's
gaze for next season?
With the Devils on the verge of being swept in the Finals, an aging Martin Brodeur ever so close to retirement, the organization struggling financially and a big, expensive decision to be made with one of their best players in Parise, there's probably some uneasiness in New Jersey.

Maybe the Sabres can get lucky and catch Robinson in a position where he feels a change might be good for him.

Who knows, but it's certainly something that could and should be looked into as this present coaching staff seems to on shaky ground after missing the playoffs last season, the third time in five seasons.