Friday, July 27, 2012

Alexander Semin signed for how much?

Why, the correct answer would be...............$7M.

Seven million, really?

Yup, the one year contract that free agent Alexander Semin signed was actually $300K more than he made last season with the Washington Capitals.

The Caps never had any serious thoughts about re-signing their very talented winger, although word was that they would think about it at a lower salary.

Semin was said to be looking at a longer term, but no one really wanted to commit to a player who's work ethic has been roundly questioned, critiqued and/or criticized. Even Carolina GM Jim Rutherford had questions about it, yet they still dropped $7M on Semin.


It's more of a harmonic convergence than anything.

The 'Canes had been looking for a scoring winger to line up with the Staal brothers and when they dropped out of the Nash sweepstakes, they directed their focus onto Shane Doan and Semin.

With Shane Doan uncommitted to anything, it would seem as if Carolina decided to make the move for the best free agent forward available.

Rutherford knew what he was getting into. He said this after dropping out of the Nash sweepstakes, "We would look at Semin on a short-term basis," he said on July 5th. "We wouldn't want to get locked in to anything because we've heard all the stories about him."

If that's the case, why give him $7M? Wouldn't he sign for less?

Probably not.

Semin was clearly the best forward available on the free agent market behind Doan. After those two, the drop off is significant. All that's left are bottom-six forwards like Thomas Holmstrom and Kristian Huselius or aged vets like Jason Arnott and Brian Rolston. And his agent knew it. And he also knew that the 'Canes were looking for a top-six/top-line winger and that his client was the only one available that fit their needs.

He also knew that Carolina was one of many teams who were under the cap floor, so they needed to spend money anyway.

At the time of the signing the 'Canes were roughly $4M under the cap floor. As of right now there are still six teams teetering around that $54M level--Anaheim, Colorado, Florida, Nashville, St. Louis and Dallas. Ottawa and Winnipeg are a decent chunk under at $51M and $50M, respectively, while the NY Islanders ($47M) and Phoenix ($44M) are significantly below the floor.

The Semin camp may have been able to work something out with those teams, but Carolina was the best match, all things considered.

As for the Hurricane, they needed to add salary. Looking at the free agent market, they could have added two bottom-six players at $2-3M each, but what purpose does that serve? They needed a top-line winger. Semin has top-line skills and they needed to spend money.

Add it all up and Alexander Semin is one lucky dude.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Shea Weber offer sheet--an overview, Sabres-parallels, and Sabres-centric selfishness

This isn't about a pity party for the Nashville Predators

Nor is it about a disdain for the Philadelphia Flyers and their attempted poaching of Preds d-man Shea Weber (although, that sentiment has a tendency to creep into the conversation.)

Nor is it about the defenseman himself as whether or not he wanted to stay with Nashville when he decided to sign that 14 yr. $110M offer sheet.

It's businesss, plain and simple. The Philadelphia Flyers wanted Weber, as would any number of teams, and they're doing everything they can to land him.

Although, it is an striking example a of a big-market predator preying on a struggling small-market team. Something that occured fairly often prior to the 2004/05 lockout.

What was the lockout all about?

The disparity between wealthy franchises and the struggling franchises pre-lockout, had grown to the point where the league cancelled an entire season trying to narrow the gap and bring everything in line.

The lockout in 2004/05 was an attempt at cost certainty for the owners. It was also an attempt at creating a level playing field for small-market, "have-not" franchises which they deemed important to a healthy league. And it was an attempt to keep player salaries in check. All of this had been accomplished for the first year or two, before money started flowing and the cap began to rise and teams started to explore loopholes in the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

In Nashville, GM David Poile had been doing a masterful job of putting a consistent winner on the ice while staying within whatever small market financial mandates ownership laid out for him. The team has drafted very well and was been able to remain consistently competitive through a well-coached team that predicated itself on team defense. That defense was anchored by goalie Pekke Rinne, Weber and defenseman Ryan Suter. Unfortunately, Poile would have the unenviable task of trying to re-sign all three this past year.

In November, 2011 he re-signed Rinne to a long term contract effectively getting the ball rolling, and if there were any doubts about commitment of the franchise, the team dropped a a 7yr./$49M contract on him.

With Rinne in the fold long-term, the question now focused upon whether or not Poile would be able to keep his two cornerstone defensemen. On July 4, part of the question was answered as Suter left for Minnesota and a 13yr/$98M contract.

It wasn't all that shocking to the hockey world. It was assumed that financial mandates predicated a loss of at least one of the three. They had their goalie, but had lost a very important piece in Suter and now they needed focus on re-signing their captain.

Talks about extending Weber had begun last off season without resolution and the two sides wound up in arbitration with the defenseman being rewarded a record $7.5M for one year. Having taken him to arbitration the previous year, Nashville was not able to take Weber to arbitration this year. Which left the offer-sheet opening.

Whether or not it was a calculated move on the part of Weber and his agents (both old and new) going back to 2011 is up for debate. But when you look at the second round exit this year and the subsequent the departure of his d-partner Suter, it wouldn't be too far-fetched to believe that Weber was beginning to lose faith in the team's ability to build a Stanley Cup contender.

The impending uncertainty of the 2012/13 season--due to the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement on Sept. 15--would also play a part. It would add a sense of urgency for the Weber camp as they surely wanted to get a lucrative, long-term deal done now before a new, probably more restrictive, CBA was in place.

Weber is also in his prime years and is considered one of the best d-men in the league. With the dearth of top-notch free agents this off-season, the open market would surely land him a contract on par with, or better than, his former partner Suter. In an effort to maximize the contract, Weber and his agent were said to have visited Philly, Vancouver, Detroit, San Jose' and the NY Rangers--the heaveyweights of the league who have had some pretty successful seasons.

The money being thrown around the last few seasons by wealthy clubs and the loopholes they used to get around the previous agreement left the current CBA in shambles. Small market teams like Nashville are bearing the brunt of the onslaught and the question that's been thrown around by everyone in the hockey community is, "Why, exactly, did we lose an entire season? For this?"

One loophole closed, but another emerges

As the NHL and the NHLPA hit the bargaining table, the NHL fired it's first salvo with a focus upon controlling long term, front-loaded contracts as a means of cap circumvention.

Loopholes in the previous agreement had lead to players like Chris ProngerMarian Hossa and Ilya Kovalchuk signing long term deals that were heavily front loaded with a severe drop-off in the latter years to eventually be bought out. Kovalchuk's 17 yr. contract in particular was so egregious in it's cap circumvention that it was rejected, then amended and the New Jersey Devils were ultimately penalized.

As the league was plugging that loophole, another one was emerging. Teams with the financial wherewithal now started to use up front bonuses to stay within the "letter of the salary cap."

The Sabres, under new owner Terry Pegula, did that with the Christian Ehrhoff contract last off season. He received a 10 year contract worth $40M for a $4m cap-hit. Bonuses for the first two seasons totaled $13M ($8M, $5m.) That figure represents 32% of the total value of the contract.

When the team re-signed Tyler Myers last season, they used the "bonus-plan" as well. Myers received a $10M signing bonus on a seven year, $38.5M contract ($5.5M cap-hit) which represents 26% of the total value of the contract.

Andrej Sekea signed a four year, $11m contract--a $2.75M cap-hit--that was bonus laden as well. He was paid $4.75M in bonuses or 43% of the total value of the contract.

Suter and former NJ Devils forward Zack Parise signed identical contracts that pay them $25M in bonus money over the first three years, or about 27% of the total value of the contract.

The offer sheet to Weber also used bonuses, but like the Hossa and Kovalchuk contracts, the deal is way beyond anything before it.

Weber's offer sheet is off the charts

The Weber offer sheet, like the ones before it, was front loaded with a heavy emphasis upon bonuses.

But Philly dropped a bomb by handing out $68M in bonuses over the first six years of the deal, which represents a whopping 62% of the total value of the $110M contract. And that's not the worst of it, the kicker is that Weber will receive a $13M bonus upon the finalizing of the deal, plus another $13M bonus on July 1, 2013. His salary for the upcoming season (if there is one) is $1M for a grand total of $27M for one season of hockey.

Nashville reportedly has been losing money over the last few years, although it's also been reported that they were willing to match what Minnesota offered Suter, which means they were supposedly ready to dole out a huge chunk to Weber.  But no one foresaw the immediate financial commitment laid out in the offer sheet.

Right now it's safe to assume that Nashville's brass is huddling with their lawyers trying to see if the contract can be fought on either cap circumvention or that the contract is not within "the spirit of the salary cap." The league is presently looking it over as well.

LA Kings blog, McSorley's Stick, brings up some very good points concerning the contract and whether it's "legal" or not. To the letter of the CBA, the contract seems to work all loopholes magnificently but they make this argument:
"One interpretation of Philly’s offer sheet is that they’re trying to make it actually impossible for Nashville to come up with the money. They’re not trying to force Nashville into a cap-crisis (which is a strategy the CBA anticipates). They’re trying (if you believe this interpretation) to force more money into season one of the deal than is allowed by the CBA, for the (arguable) purpose of undermining Nashville’s ability to compete.
The CBA makes specific reference to its intention of striking a balance between the cash-rich and cash-poor teams, making it easier for the poorer teams to compete."

Adam Proteau of The Hockey News pretty much sums it up when he says although the offer sheet is not cap circumvention by the letter, "it is a blatant 'spiritual' circumvention nonetheless and a giant middle finger from [Flyers Chairman Ed] Snider to all small-market teams."

He continues by saying, "Snider must know what will happen if the Predators fail to match their offer sheet for Weber. He has to be aware crestfallen Nashville fans will be justifiably soured on the way the NHL conducts its business and as a consequence will be less likely to invest their time, emotion and money in the league. He can’t be ignorant of the fact small-market teams functioning as de facto feeder systems and farcical versions of parity will be a drag on large markets and the overall profitability of the game. He also has to know if Nashville does match his offer, the financial strain on the franchise will make it next to impossible for the Preds to improve the team around Weber."

Survival of the fittest

For Snider and Holmgren, the plight of other hockey teams doesn't matter. It's about winning. The Flyers have not won a Stanley Cup since 1975, a span of nearly 40 years.

Holmgren did have a great run three years ago with Hall-of-Fame shoo-in Chris Pronger, despite sub-par goaltending. They lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games in the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals.

Pronger has been felled by injury the last two seasons and it looks as if his career is over. He was lost due to injury in Feb. 2011 and the Flyers lost in the second round of the playoffs to the eventual cup-winners, Boston. Pronger lasted 13 games this past season before bowing out for the year due to post-concussion syndrome. The Flyers were bounced in the second round again, this time by Stanley Cup runner up, New Jersey.

Adding Weber to replace Pronger should put them in the Stanley Cup conversation once again. This, of course, at the expense of Nashville.

As for struggling, small-market Predators, they have a number of options, but all of them seem to put them in a losing situation.

Do they bite the bullet and match, thereby retaining their solid, slowly growing fan base? Or do they cut and run presumably receiving four first round picks from the Flyers for the next four years? Picks, by the way, that are expected to be extremely low first round picks.

There are a couple of other options as well, although neither of them very appealing either.

One would have the Preds wait one full year after matching the offer and put Weber on the block. This would presumably allow them to get a much better return on investment than the four low first round picks. But, they'll be eating $27M from the time they match to the time they're allowed to trade him--one full calendar year from the match date.

The variables involved, not to mention the threat of a work stoppage where no revenue would be incoming, would make for a big gamble on the part of Poile should he choose to sign and eventually trade. It makes that scenario unlikely. And the thought of paying a player $27M for one season only to trade him doesn't seem to make a lot of sense on the surface.

The other scenario would be for them not to match, take Philly's four first rounders, then trade a couple of them back for players. This, though, is rather unlikely. First off, the return would be in the hands of the Flyers. In light of their poaching a weaker team, why would they do them any favors by giving up any key parts to their team?

The Predators, representative of small-markets, are now the prey.

An unappealing flashback

The Buffalo Sabres fan-base is surely empathetic to the plight of the Nashville Predators, having been through that movie before. Before Pegula bought the team they were considered a struggling, small-market team.

We all know the debacle of the 2007 off season for the Sabres.

After a highly successful two seasons post-lockout, the Sabres had a trio of their own to re-sign for the upcoming 2007/08 season. And finances played a big part in how the team would look moving forward.

Co-captain Daniel Briere, apparently not part of the Sabres' future plans, signed a very lucrative deal with Philadelphia. Co-captain Chris Drury, who was supposedly a part of the Sabres future, signed a very lucrative deal with the NY Rangers. And the other of their "cornerstone triumvirate," Thomas Vanek, signed a 7yr. $50M offer sheet from Edmonton.

Although there are some basic similarities between the Vanek and Weber scenarios, there's a big difference between the teams that did the offer sheets.

At the time of the Vanek offer sheet, Edmonton, unlike Philadelphia, was reeling from a dismal 2006/07 season. The Cup Finals team that they iced the previous season was turned upside down as Chris Pronger demanded a trade and was moved to Anaheim. Former Sabre Michael Peca was also lost as he fled to Toronto. Defenseman Jaroslav Spacek signed with Buffalo.

And with the season going down hill after a strong start, Edmonton proceeded to trade impending free agent Ryan Smyth to the NY Islanders. They finished the season last in the division, 12th in the conference.

The rebuild for Edmonton began that with three 1st round picks in the 2007 entry draft. But those picks (their own plus first rounders from Anaheim and the Islanders) would still need time to develop.

Having lost out on quality unrestricted free agents July 1st, Oilers GM Kevin Lowe, smelling blood in Buffalo due to the Drury and Briere fiasco, went after Thomas Vanek with the offer sheet.

Unlike the offer sheet to Weber, where the Flyers are attempting to go from conference contender to Stanley Cup contender, Lowe was simply trying to bring in quality talent to anchor his rebuild.

Fearing full alienation from the Sabres faithful because of the Briere/Drury fiasco, Regier and Co. matched the offer sheet without thinking twice and the Sabres managed to salvage one of their big three.

Although the poaching clubs are usually held up as the villains, it's players who ultimately make the decision to sign an offer sheet.

Both Weber and Vanek and their agents could have signed a long term extension with their club throughout the last season of their contract. But they didn't, preferring to hit July 1 and beyond to maximized their earnings.

It's an free market and agents look out for the best interests of their clients.

In the case of both free agents, money was the "best interest."

All was not well beginning in 2007
Having come out of the lockout, the 2005/06 and 2006/07 seasons were pretty stable financially for the league and a majority of its teams. Cost certainty seemed to be working as all teams seemed to be on a pretty level playing field. Revenues were up, players were making a good amount and teams seemed to be financially secure.

Although the cap had gone up from $39M for the 2005/06 season to $44M in 2006/07, it wasn't as if a majority of teams were getting left behind. Strong merchandising and the strong Canadian dollar lead to the jump in revenues and the rise in the cap. As for the Sabres, they were actually at the cap ceiling and had to trade backup goalie Martin Biron (to the Flyers) for a draft pick to become cap-compliant in the 2006/07 season.

For the 2007/08 season, though, it was announced that the cap would increase to $50M. Although it wasn't dramatic year-over-year, the 28% increase from the first to third years post-lockout began to put a strain on some budgets, and in particular, Buffalo's.

Golisano's "just break even" mandate was beginning to emerge. That internal cap, along with other pressures, eventually lead to the trade of soon to be free agent Brian Campbell to San Jose in 2008.

In a report from Forbes via, the team was said to have lost $5M in 2007 and $9M in 2008. This was not the "cost certainty" Golisano had signed up for when he bought/rescued the team in 2003.

In December, 2008 rumors began to swirl that he was selling the team.

WROC out of Rochsester, Golisano's home town, reported that there were "exploratory talks" about selling the team. The report was based upon an upcoming article for WNY Hockey Magazine penned by it's managing editor, the late Jim Kelley, who had been covering the Sabres since 1981.

"Golisano," the report said, "is one of several owners upset about rising costs," and it mentions that Canadian Billionaire Jim Balsillie had offered to buy the team from Golisano in 2007.

Balsillie had tried to purchase the Nashville Predators in May of 2007 only to eventually be rebuffed by then owner Craig Leipold who sold the team to a consortium of local interests. Leipold would then turn around and buy the Minnesota Wild less than a year later. The Wild, be it known, signed the Predators Suter and New Jersey's Zach Parise to matching 13yr./$93M contracts this off season.

The years 2007 and 2008 were turning points in the NHL as the separation between haves and have-nots began to widen. Both Golisano and Leipold sensed that they would be hard pressed to maintain financial stability while icing a competitor without losing money on a yearly basis.

Nashville, a franchise similar to the Golisano-era Sabres, was also able to play with the big boys those first two seasons because of a level financial playing field. But the team began to fall into the red in 2007.

In an April 29, 2012 article from The Tennesseean, author Nate Rau says that the team has been losing money and that, "the leader of the local ownership group said members have been forced to put $60 million of their own money into the operation over the past five years, largely to cover losses. The city has given the Predators $38.6 million in the same period."

This does not look like a franchise that will, or even can, match the Weber offer sheet. Doling out $27M in one year, $68M over the first six years is something that only a handful of teams would be able to absorb.

Barring an annulment of the deal by the NHL (which is unlikely) or an amendment (which is possible) the Predators have until Wednesday to make their decision.

It's not my money

Yeah, sure. It's easy to say that Nashville should match the offer sheet. You could argue that it will keep the franchise legit for their fan base by retaining their best player. You could add in that it was courageous to stand up the the big-market bully. But for a team that's slowly bleeding money, $27M in less than one calendar year is a knife to the artery.

But losing Weber for what could turn out to be middle of the road players is a knife straight to the heart of their fan base. Sabres fans know about that.

The team would be doing the majority of NHL fans, especially in the Eastern Conference, a favor by not letting Weber go to the Flyers. Philly is generally a hated franchise throughout the league on a number of different levels from deals like the Weber offer sheet, to their image and the way they've played a bullying brand of hockey, all the way down to their tough fan base.

Not that they really care.

Sabres-centric selfishness in a Nashville match and trade
There is a scenario where Nashville could slight Philly, save face, keep the team competitive for the upcoming season, minimize their losses and get a good return for Weber (all things considered) should they do a match and trade.

It was mentioned earlier that a match and trade scenario doesn't make a lot of sense since the Preds will be doling out 25% of Weber's deal in less than a year. And it doesn't, unless you trade for players who've been paid their up-front bonuses and are to be had for a salary that's less than their cap-hit.

It was also mentioned earlier that the Sabres have three defensemen who signed bonus heavy contracts--Christian Ehrhoff, Tyler Myers and Andrej Sekera.

Ehrhoff is a #2/3 d-man who's signed for nine more years. He's already received $13M in bonuses and was paid a $2M salary for last season. The payout over the length of the remaining nine years is about $2.75M per season with a cap-hit of $4M. His annual salary is not over $4M for any remaining years.

There is a glitch in that there's a No Movement/modified No Trade Clause in the deal.

Erhoff is no Weber, but Nashville could reduce the affect of the $27M by effectively trading for a player like Ehrhoff who has already received a big chunk of his contract.

Sekera is another one with a bonus-laden contract. Of his 4yr./$11M contract, $4.75M has already been paid out in bonuses. Add in his salary from last season at $1.25M and the mid-pairing defenseman will have been paid $6M already. That leaves only $5M left over the remaining three years with a cap-hit of $2.75M.

He does not have a NTC.

Probably the most intriguing Sabres defenseman for the Preds would be former Calder Winner Tyler Myers.

Whereas Ehrhoff and Sekera represent a decent return, Myers might be the type of player that could develop into a bonafide #1 defenseman. He would not only represent part of a solid return for Weber, but the kid could also help heal, the wounded fan base.

Myers also represents a contract that's bonus laden. He received a $10M signing bonus on July 1. He now has $28.5M remaining on his seven year deal. He'll make $2M this season, then no more than $6M the remainder of the deal. That's an average annual remaining salary of about $4M with a cap hit of $5.5M.

Although he does have a NMC/modified NTC, it does not kick in until the 2016/17 season.

Since Ehrhoff is probably not an option, Myers and Sekera would make for an intriguing option for the struggling Predators.

Total contract worth for both players is $49.5M, but at the end of next season, they will have already been paid nearly $20M combined.

That $20M is off the books and would help counter the $27M payout for Weber.

It's understood that neither are of Weber's calibre, but the 22 yr. old Myers, he of three NHL seasons already, is regarded throughout the league as an up and comer with Norris potential.

Of course the other side of the story is whether or not the Sabres would want to give up Myers in a trade for Weber knowing that Nashville would still be over the barrel.

One would think that they would. But, not only that, were Nashville be willing to match then trade, there would be no shortage of teams willing to give up a substantial return for Weber so a player like Myers would represent a huge trade chip. Add in the financial aspects laid out here and the Sabres would be an intriguing trade partner for the Preds.

As we've learned from last off-season, nothing is outside the realm of possibility with Pegula. He's hell-bent upon building a winner, cost be damned, and it's safe to say that they're looking long and hard at the Nashville quandary.

Unless the league steps in, the Weber offer sheet will be finalized at the end of the day on Wednesday.

And for purely selfish reasons, draped in far-fetched hope, matching the offer sheet would be good for Nashville, the league and, possibly Sabres fans. and a list of 10 offer sheets:

the hockeynews:
scott burnside on offer sheet futility from 2011:

winnipeg matches chicago offer sheet for keith tkachuk:

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Regier and Co. gettin' it done, Grigorenko signs, Sabres have 47 pro contracts

Sabres GM Darcy Regier has been busy the last five days.

Last Friday, on the heels of the Sabres development camp, Regier signed 2012 first-round pick (#14-overall) Zemgus Girgensons to an entry-level deal. Yesterday the GM added some toughness to the forward ranks in Rochsester by signing Nick Tarnasky to a two-way deal and re-signing RFA defenseman TJ Brennan for another year.

This morning they signed their first pick of the 2012 draft (#12-overall,) Mikhail Grigorenko, to his three year entry-level deal.

The Sabres tweeted this picture of Grigorenko putting pen to paper:

Getting an entry-level contract out of the way for the talented center was a good move for the team. One of the big question marks with Grigorenko, as with many "Russians," is how much weight (via money) the KHL has when it comes to their future.

The Russian league throws large chunks of tax-free money at top-notch hockey talent. For example, the Nashville Predators lost 2004 1st round pick (#15-overall,) Alexander Radulov for three season while he played in the KHL. He came back for this season's stretch run and into the playoffs, but was suspended for two games in the second round for conduct detrimental to the team. He's headed back to the KHL having signed a four-year contract.

Signing Grigorenko puts money in the kid's pocket right now and sends him a message that the team isn't fooling around. They know he has the talent and they have potential openings down the middle. It's now up to him whether or not he makes the team or heads back to junior for another year.

Where Grigorenko stands on the depth-chart, like his 2012 draft counterpart Girgensons, depends upon how training camp goes, but the depth chart down the middle seems to be getting stronger, albeit much, much younger.

Cody Hodgson, 22, is in the mix along with the two recently signed 18 year olds--Grigorenko and Girgensons.

The other young center, Tyler Ennis, 22, is an RFA with a qualifying offer to keep poachers away while they work on a supposed longer, more lucrative contract.

With the trade of veteran center Derek Roy, the team has those four youngsters down the middle as well as veteran 4th-liner Cody McCormick.

Regier has said recently that they're still looking at the center position as a place of need and it was assumed that they're still in the hunt for a bonafide #1 center. But, it could also be safe to assume, that the Sabres will be headed into the season with Hodgson and Ennis in the line-up and they will be the two top-six centers.

Whether or not Girgensons or Grigorenko make the team is yet to be determined. The Sabres have traditionally let their players develop their game at the lower level without rushing them. Regier has mentioned that it would not be a reasonable move to hoist the weight of the NHL game on the shoulders of Girgensons and Grigorenko.

But, I wouldn't be surprised if one of those two join the roster next season.

The signing of the four players this week brings the total number of pro contracts in the Sabres organization to 47.

The Collective Bargaining Agreement limits the number of pro contracts to 50 max.

Ennis, as mentioned, has a qualifying offer on the table that has not been signed. The same with Patrick Kaleta.

It's assumed that both will sign with the club, bringing the total number of contracts to 49. That is effectively no wiggle room.

Which, by the way, is probably one of the reasons that the Sabres said "no thanks" to former Sabre great and certain Hall-of-Famer, Dominik Hasek, when he came knocking for an NHL contract.

For a list of their current players and contracts, click here.

Buffalo adds another heavyweight and clogs up the blue line with two signings yesterday

It would seem as if the Milan Lucic/Ryan Miller incident from last November is stuck in the Sabres collective craw.

Terry Pegula saw his $6.25M investment get run over and his team do nothing about it, and it would seem as if he didn't want to see that happen again.

In another move to add toughness to the organization, the Sabres signed Nick Tarnasky to a two-way contract.

Tarnasky is coming back to North America after playing one season in the KHL.

Sabres signee Nick Tarnasky (r) takes on
Aaron Voros of the NY Rangers.

For parts of five season in the NHL before that, the 6'2" 225 lb forward was a willing combatant and abrasive forward with Tampa Bay, Nashville and Florida. He will be joining 6'8" 245 lb. Joe Finley as protector of the youngins in Rochester and should end up on a line with another good-skating, tenacious forward--Maxim Legault.

Amerks coach Ron Rolston thinks he'll be able to fill in up and down the lineup. Tarnasky is coming to Rochester on the heels of a season in Russia where he said he was playing nearly 18 minutes a game and was being used in all situations, something he was never asked to do in the NHL.

This is the third move for the Sabres organization directed at adding toughness. They signed the best heavyweight available in 6'8" pugilist John Scott and traded skill center Derek Roy to Dallas for gritty forward Steve Ott.

Adding more beef and toughness should allow the skill players in the organization a chance to feel more comfortable on the ice.

And maybe allow Terry Pegula to sleep a little better at night.

Defenseman TJ Brennan looks to be either a Buffalo Sabre or playing in another organization this season.

The 6' 215 lb rearguard was re-signed on a one year deal and will be entering his fourth pro season. He will not be able to join the Amerks without clearing waivers.

Brennan is coming off his best pro season in the AHL having scored 16 goals (tops amongst Amerks defensemen) and 30 points in 52 games.

Back when he was drafted with the first pick in the second round (#31, 2007) it was rumored that the Philadelphia Flyers were miffed that the Sabres snatched the New Jersey native with their pick. Brennan ended up being the draft pick that was swapped with Philadelphia for Sabres goaltender Martin Biron at the trade deadline that year.

He had been a lacrosse player up until 2006 when he decided to shift his focus solely on hockey and has been a project that's been progressing at a slow yet definitive pace.

In 192 games for St. John's and Montreal of the QMJHL the offensive-minded defenseman with a strong shot and powerplay acumen scored 37 goals (16 on the pp) and added 79 assists but was a minus-24.

In the last three years for Portland/Rochester he's played in 187 games, had 37 goals (14 on the pp,) added 55 assists and was a plus-14.

TJ Brennan hold the puck from
his first NHL goal on Nov. 23, 2011.

He had an 11 game stint with the Sabres last season which saw him get his first NHL goal in his first NHL game, the first time a Sabres defenseman had done that since Lindy Ruff in 1979. He also acquitted himself well on the back end finishing with an even plus/minus rating in over 14 minutes per game.

It's a been a steady progression for the 23 yr. old who's said that he's been focusing upon the defensive aspects of the game since turning pro. And his re-signing with no waiver option adds to the conundrum on the back-end this summer.

As of right now the Sabres have nine NHL-calibre defensemen presently on their roster. With Christian Ehrhoff, Tyler Myers, Jordan Leopold, Robyn Regehr and Andrej Sekera nailing down five of the top six spots, it leaves Brennan battling with Mike Weber, Alexander Sulzer (acquired from Vancouver in the Cody Hodgson trade) and recently acquired (via the Roy/Ott trade) Adam Pardy for the sixth and seventh spots on the back-end.

Pretty obvious that somethings got to give.

Links used in this piece:

Brennan was one of six Sabres to score their first NHL goal last season.
For a video compliation, click here.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

A matter of "skill and will," Zemgus Girgensons turns pro.

Zemgus Girgensons was signed to an entry-level contract on Friday. The team thought that the kid had shown pro-potential during their development camp, so they sat down with him about turning pro.

Girgensons was in the midst of a choice that was weighing upon him--whether to turn pro or or follow his college commitment and head to the University of Vermont for the season.

Girgensons was selected with the
14th pick in the 2012 NHL Draft
after the Sabres traded up
from the #21 spot with Calgary.
At the draft in Pittsburgh last month, Vermont's hockey coach, Kevin Sneddon, was pretty sure that Girgensons would be a Catamount in September saying, “Zemgus has been committed to the NCAA route for quite some time now; he values college hockey and education as the best pathway to develop."

Couple that with the way Buffalo traditionally takes the slower path to player development prefering not to rush a prospect, and it's pretty easy to see why he would think that way.

But, sometimes there's nothing you really can do.

After Monday's first day of development camp, Girgensons clearly was giving it some hard thought, having been on the ice next to younger pros like Marcus Foligno, Cody Hodgson and Brayden McNabb, all of whom had a good taste of the NHL.

While fellow first-round draft pick Mikhail Grigorenko, taken at #12 two spots before him, clearly stated his desire to be in the NHL this season, Girgensons remained in limbo, “Nothing’s been clarified yet," he said. "We’ll see what happens after camp. That’s something I’ve got to talk through this week. I think it will be my own decision. No one’s pushing me, but it’s something I have to decide. … It’s something in me, what my heart’s going to say.”

Head Coach Lindy Ruff said Girgensons
"already had a man-body. He likes to hit.
He likes to play physical."
Kevin Oklobzija who covers the Rochester Americans, considered Girgensons turning pro a "foregone conclusion" saying, "Once he learned where he stood physically against other young pros, I think he knew this is where he should be. The vibes I sensed in speaking with him on Monday and again on Thursday made it seem pretty clear he wanted to be a professional hockey player now."

After watching him for four days, the Sabres brass certainly thought that he was ready. "We think that he's a prototype NHL player," said GM Darcy Regier, "and will be able to make that transition from the USHL to professional hockey."

For Girgensons, it wasn't that easy, "It was laying on my mind heavy because I was close to Vermont and it was a really tough decision for a kid to make. No one was pushing me anywhere. I was the only one who made this decision. I gave them a call and he understood everything. We're so close that he didn't have problems with me going [pro]. He knew this might happen and he was prepared."

Sneddon didn't "have problems," but the Catamount program sustained an "enormous loss."

The team was coming off a dismal season prior and was looking at Girgensons, as well as the rest of the incoming freshmen class, to help the Catamounts "turn the corner on respectability." One can hear the heaviness in Sneddon's statement, “It is with mixed emotions that I announce that Zemgus Girgensons will not enroll at UVM in September and instead sign an NHL contract with the Buffalo Sabres,”

Obviously they'll miss Girgensons' talent and drive, but there was also a sense of loyalty towards Sneddon and Vermont that was only eclipsed by an NHL team that happened to be the Buffalo Sabres.

“Throughout the recruiting process, Zemgus has been very loyal to UVM, turning down offers to play Major Junior Hockey as well as Russia’s premier professional league, the KHL, in order to maintain his goal of playing for the Catamounts,” Sneddon said.

“We have stated often that if we are going to lose Zemgus, we hope it’s to the NHL team that selects him in the draft."

Jim Montgomery, the Dubuque Fighting Saints (USHL) Head Coach and General Manager who had coached Girgensons the last two years, gleaned at the signing, “I am really happy for Zemgus,” he said. “This is a challenge he’s wanted. This has been his dream probably since he was 12 years old. He deserves and earned this."

After the Sabres drafted him, Montgomery talked about "The Legend of Zemgus" and had an inkling that Girgensons might turn pro, "If Zemgus has the belief that he can accomplish something, and there’s a challenge in front of him, then he’s going to attack it.”

When asked about the Navy SEALS, who
were a part of the Sabres 2012 development
camp, Girgensons replied, "I don't think
it was that hard; the hardest part
is getting up at 4:30am."
And Montgomery thinks Girgensons has the pro make-up, "I think he will be extremely successful. His skill and will have been elite since day one. That’s why he was an NHL first round pick and that’s why he is signing an NHL contract today. Whatever situation he is put in the coach is going to love him and his teammates are going to love him. He is the ultimate team player that helps you win every night.”

He even likened him to Rod Brind'Amour, "It's mostly his work ethic and competitiveness. It's just the intangibles they both bring."

For Girgensons, that decision is out of the way, and he'll either be playing with the Rochester Americans or the Buffalo Sabres. And that decision will be up to the coaching staff.

Oklobzija sees a strong developmental course from Montgomery and now on to Amerks coach Ron Rolston, "He’ll be in perfect hands. Before he became the Sabres development coach in the summer of 2011, Rolston made a living coaching collegians for 13 years and then 17- and 18-year-olds for seven years with the National Team Development Program."

It's confidence, not cockiness,
and it would seem as if
Girgensons has the proper frame of mind
to take on any challenge
thrown at him.
 Girgensons seems ticketed for Rochester this season. Oklobzija thinks that "[he] will not be rushed, and he will not be put in situations where failure is certain. He definitely won’t be coddled, either."

Girgensons got his ticket to training camp in the fall and seems like the type of kid who derives confidence--a "matter-of-fact" type confidence--from simply playing the game of hockey the only way he knows how to play it--"skill and will." And that "skill and will" mentality may take him farther than the AHL this season.

Other links:

Video of Girgensons goal and post-scrimmage interview via Dubuque Fighting Saints

Video press conference via Dubuque Fighting Saints

Video--Coverage of Buffalo selecting Girgensons at the draft

Kris Baker of has complete scrimmage highlights with video of Girgensons goal via NHL Network

USHL background story on "The Latvian Locomotive"  courtesy of the Dubuque Telegraph Herald

HFboards prospect thread via Woodhead, 6-22-12

Friday, July 13, 2012

Other notes from the 2012 Sabres Development Camp scrimmage

Lindy Ruff summed up the 2012 Sabres Development Camp like this after the scrimmage last night, "I think we've got maybe as heavy a load of talent as we've had. Some real good skill, some good size. We've got some good skill on the back end and up front and I think we saw some of that talent there in the scrimmage."

In addition to the obvious, the play of Jamie Wise, and the NHL-look of goalie Linus Ullmark, there were some other players that had an interesting scrimmage.

D Jerome Gauthier-Leduc "of Earl"--a 2010 3rd-round pick (#68-overall) has some speed and quickness on the back-end, almost Maxim Afinogenov-type shiftiness. For 6'4" and 192 lbs. he's a pretty shifty player. He can get that puck up ice and make some moves plus, as his 28 goals in 62 games for Rimouski attests to, he can finish. "JGL" still has a ways to go, but he'll be one to keep an eye on.

G Nathan Leiuwen--The Rochester Americans recently re-signed their starting goalie, David Leggio and they let Drew MacIntyre walk so up for grabs is the back-up position in Rochester. In the duel of the back-ups with Connor Knapp, Leiuwen looks more pro-ready, his movements are much smoother than Knapp's and seems pretty confident. At 6'5" he has the size, and he has plenty of junior experience with the Kelowna Rockets. It will be interesting to see what a little fine-tuning and pro experience does for him.

G Mark Guggenberger--Nothing Dominator-like in the save department, but, after reviewing video, noteworthy because he always seemed to come up with the save. Not bad for an invitee.

F Fredrick Roy--Feisty like his father, Hall-of-Fame goaltender Patrick. He has one gear, "go!" Got himself a couple of assists last night. Although he clocks in at 5'10" and 160 lbs, he definitely has the chutzpah, as well as some definitive skills, to make a strong push for an AHL team. Will it be Rochester? Wouldn't be bad having that bloodline on the roster, especially with a player who doesn't take it for granted.

F Zemgus Girgensons--Everything that's been said about his is that when he latches on to something, he will not let it go. It would seem as if he's latched on to the thought of playing in the NHL this season. That will depend upon training camp, but word on the street is that he will forego the University of Vermont and sign a pro contract with the Sabres. Oh, and he's got some skill too:

And finally, ya gotta hand it to F Jacob Lagace. The 2008 5th-round pick (#134-overall) was planted into the boards by Corey Tropp (I believe) on a boarding penalty that Brendan Shanahan would have reviewed.

Lagace got to his skates, obviously in a lot of pain and took the penalty shot. And he scored. And then wiped-out.

More from WGR:

Girgensons signs:|BUF|home

Ullmark on the mark in net for the Gold

Fredrik Andersson was hired as a European Scout for the Buffalo Sabres in January of this year. His stated task, according to Head Scout Kevin Devine, was to find late round goalies, like Pekke Rinne of the Nashville Predators, for the Sabres to take a flyer on.

Andersson's first Rinne-like suggestion was Swedish goalie Linus Ullmark, whom they invited to the second annual Sabres Draft Combine and selected with their 6th round pick.

The Sabres Combine is an important tool for the Sabres as they get to work out prospects on the ice (unlike the NHL Combine.) Ullmark was one of five players the Sabres selected after working them out.

Although is not 6'5" 210 lbs. like Rinne, Ullmark looked big in net. Not that he's small by any means, he's carrying 198 lbs. on a 6'3" frame. But to look big is a huge plus for the kid.

Ullmark came into the game midway through the second period of the scrimmage last night and held the fort pretty well, but what may have stood out more than anything is his poise and positioning:

and his focus, as with this freight train coming at him:

In addition to his positioning and calm, he also showed some nice leather work. He blatantly robbed 2012 1st-round draft pick Mikhail Grigorenko top-shelf (although Grigorenko would later exact some revenge in the shootout,) and managed to get a glove on this one:

Despite allowing some goals and with the "game" clearly out of reach, Ullmark also showed his "compete" as he didn't hesitate to get out there for an errant puck:

And for good measure, he stonewalled Marcus Foligno in the shootout portion of the program:

Ullmark still has plenty of learning to do, but his fundamentals are sound, and in many ways he looked like an NHL'er.

The Sabres needed to draft a goalie because they had none in junior or the college ranks, and Ullmark looks to be a good choice. It would seem as if goalies Connor Knapp and Nathan Leiuwen will have some stiff competition a couple years down the road.

A Wise guy

Yes, as of today, Sabreland knows the name of Jamie Wise.

The camp invite who stepped on the ice in the middle of the first day--the last camp invite--netted the hattie in the Blue/Gold Sabres Development Camp scrimmage at the F'N Center.

But if you had a roster, like we had at the scrimmage, you wouldn't have found his name on it. It's kinda like he just appeared on the scene.

And appeared, he did, to the point where Lindy Ruff, was somewhat confounded with what he had. Our good friend, Kris Baker, of was in the room after the game, and he started out his 2012 development camp scrimmage piece with Ruff saying this about Wise, "Either he had the game of his life or we just discovered something."

Ruff also mentioned that Wise "had a little of Kaleta to him," referring, of course to Sabres agitator Patrick Kaleta. But Wise, obviously showed some "stick" as well:

and is pretty good in tight quarters:

The 21 yr. old Stouffville, ONT native packs in 206 pounds on a 6'0" frame and scored 31 goals in 59 games for the Mississauga St. Michael Majors as an over-ager. According to Baker, OHL scout Yuri Khmylev caught his attention, and the Sabres brought him to camp.

Sunaya Sapurji of Yahoo Sports did a nice background piece on Wise a few months ago saying that he's "isn’t the most skilled forward in the Majors’ arsenal, but what he brings to the team is tenacity, fearlessness and an energy that has made him a difficult forward for the opposition to handle."

"Difficult to handle" is something that the Sabres are focused upon these days having been known for years as "easy to play against." The Derek Roy for Steve Ott trade is a perfect example of the transition, Roy put up points in his top-six role, but lost the tenacity he once had as a rookie. Ott isn't the most gifted athlete, but he's a bottom-nine forward with an edge. And what you'll get from him night-in, night-out is an honesty to his game.

Ott was a fan favorite in Dallas because of that edge, that honesty. He skated hard for them, took hits and gave them, took punches and threw them. He was the guy in the trenches doing the dirty work. Plus he could net you 10-15 goals--tough goals, at that--and get you 35 points or so.

Here's what Mississauga Major coach and general manager James Boyd had to say about Wise, "He's an unsung hero." Boyd continues, "The game that he plays cannot be pleasant. He plays hard and he does all the things nobody else wants to do and he’s been such a reason for our success. He was voted [in the OHL’s coaches poll] as the best penalty killer, he blocks shots – he’s reckless blocking shots. Most of his goals he scores are from five or 10 feet from around the net and a lot of time he absorbs punishment doing it."

What happens with Wise the rest of the way remains to be seen, but he may have caught himself a break with the Sabres being in this transitionary period. He's the type of player, like Ott, that they're looking for.

They gave him the opportunity, and boy did he take advantage of it.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Regier on WGR and what he really meant

Sabres GM Darcy Regier was on WGR yesterday evening filling some time during the dog days of summer.

It's been a pretty slow off-season, with the Sabres making two moves, signing big John Scott and trading center Derek Roy to Dallas for LW Steve Ott and D Adam Pardy, the latter actually being more of a significant move than one would think.

But the "big" thing going on right now for the team is their development camp. The annual gathering of youngins kicked off at HSBC Arena on Monday and will go through Thursday night.

Of significance in that area was the fact that it was moved from Niagara University and the fact that there will be a $10 admission for the blue and gold scrimmage on Thursday night.

Also of note is that the youngins have been getting an early moring wake up call by a group of Navy SEALS, who were putting them through their own workout designed to train these kids "from the neck up."

All of this subject matter could probably take up the whole 20 minute segment on Mike Schopp and the Bulldog. Maybe if Bulldog was in studio instead of on vacation, the focus of the following interview may have remained upon the specifics of what the team was doing at this moment, and not what seemed to be Schoppsie's thoughts and/or personal agenda(s.)

Although they did spend time on the youngins, there was not enough talk on the other subject because the host needed to talk about certain things, most notably his ill-conceived notion that, because free agent Alexander Semin has similar numbers to Sabres LW Thomas Vanek, Semin should garner serious consideration for the Sabres who are in need of scoring.

Another misguided notion is that because Brad Boyes gave a back-hand to Head Coach Lindy Ruff upon his leaving Buffalo, there is dissension in the locker room with Ruff and his methods being the root problem. Schoppsie has been on this kick for years now and seems to want him out the door.

So Regier is on the phone with Schoppsie, having earlier finished watching the youngins at camp, making and/or taking phone calls from other GM's and doing whatever GM's do at this time of year.

While listening to the interview, I couldn't help but think that there was a lot behind what he was saying while answering questions from the host.

So, this is my interpretation of what Regier really meant:

Schopp--"You've got the rookies in, who stands out?"

Regier--"Oh, I think the "rookies" is a fairly diverse group because it takes into account third-year pros and young guys who were drafted this year so it was a pretty good mix."
***What Regier really meant--Come on, Mike, "rookies?" Sh!t. OK. I'll explain. Sigh!

Schopp--"Thank you for expanding on that 'cause I keep calling it rookies. On [Mikhail] Grigorenko or any of the guys in the second group, right now watching them this week, are you thinking about this NHL season with that in mind? Are there things about Grigorenko, say, that you are looking for to better get a feel for, make a call on whether or not you think he'll be on the team?"

Regier--"You get a little further down the road on the reads on these players with this group. I mentioned [Joel] Armia, a year makes a big difference, they're more comfortable, more mature physically, more mature mentally. And so you kind of trend it. It's impossible not to think about your hockey club this fall.
***What Regier really meant--Ummmm...really? Mike? Of course we're seeing how this all fits in. Ugggh. Let me explain. We have players--youngin's--that we have in the organization. It's a process. We follow their progress and project where they'll fit in the organization. Do I want Grigorenko to come in and start the season with the Sabres? What team wouldn't want that from their first round selection? But, should you stock up on Grigorekno rookie cards? I can't say at this point.

Schopp--"Surely the vast majority of fans listening are wondering just where things stand with the off season be it free agents or trades. I might like to ask you about the Roy trade, it certainly was a big deal, but what does the future look like what can you tell us about how much more work you have to do?"
Regier--"Well I'm still speaking to teams about players. That's a process that's been moving slowly and it's very uncertain. I'll continue to do that as weighed against 'What's the price of making a move?' whether it's a player that might be available. There's very few free agents left out there on the marketplace that we're interested in."
***What Regier really said--I wish you'd ask me about Roy. Medialand has been pining for one of "the core" to be moved. Roy was always at the top of the list. How come you didn't ask me about that trade?

Schopp--"Can you tell us Darcy if Shane Doan is one of those players that you've reached out to?"

Regier--"I have reached out to his agent. That much I'm prepared to say. That's gonna play out with respect to the Phoenix situation, with respect to a lot of interest from a lot of other teams and it will come down to ultimately what Doan wants to do for him and his family."
***What Regier really said--Yeah, we're talking to teams. I appreciate you not wasting my time bringing up Bobby Ryan and/or Rick Nash and/or Paul Stastny. Wouldn't be able to say anything. And, yeah, I talked to Doan's agent. There's a lot of teams interested in him and we're probably way down the list and it'll cost a small fortune to bring him in. But, we're trying. Gee, Mike, bring up the Roy trade, will ya?

Schopp--"Well, there's dollars, of course, and we all know in every sport, any year, dollars are the biggest factor for any free agent. How is it going with trying to represent Buffalo as a destination? Do you feel you're on the right side of that, so to speak"

Regier--"I am. We are. It has changed and it's a lot better. I think especially over the last year, the recognition of our new ownership and what Terry [Pegula] is prepared to do with this hockey club and with the community, there's a much greater awareness in the marketplace. But we also see a lot of other factors coming into play.
***What Regier really meant--(Regier perks up) Awesome question, now i get the chance to do some PR work, which I really like...Uh, oh. What's next? That was a bit too easy. Hmmmm.

Schopp--"I know better than to ask you about Rick Nash, but I'd like to use him for a question. He reportedly had a list of teams and Buffalo's not on it. My attitude is, not that I really want him, but when I hear a list of teams that has all the teams around us, and not us, that's when I get--kinda how I was like with women a long time ago--that's when I get interested. Does that put you off at all, like what's wrong with us?"

Regier--(laughs) "I veiw it in the light that they don't know our community well enough. we have to figure out a way to help them get to know our community and not only our community, but our team, our ownership, our management, our coaching, our players. And once they understand that, Buffalo will be on their list."
***What Regier really meant--Yeah. How come we never get the "hottie?" Or are even noticed by her. I just don't understand. We're good guys, we've got all this stuff, and now as a team, we're rich. I just don't understand why they're not interested in us. We're just as good as anyone else. Wait a second. You really don't want Rick Nash as a hockey player?

Schopp--"Darcy, what about Alexander Semin, I've been talking a lot about him today, could you tell us if you have interest in him?"

Regier--"I have not spoken with his agent and at this time we have not shown interest in him."
***What Regier really meant--Hold it. Hold it. Where in the hell did that come from? Semin? Mike, you're not interested in Nash, but you're talking about Semin? Really? I really can't recall anyone "talking a lot about him." Hell, we talked about Ilya Kovalchuk a while back, but never talked "a lot about him."

Schopp--"OK. I'm working off of this idea that there's a bias against him because of him being Russian. It's something we've talked about a lot this off season. Can you speak at all about just how much credibility there is in the idea that there's an issue with Russian players. What's the real truth right now in the league with Russian players and their reputation?"

Regier--"No. I think to the extent that there is an aversion towards Russian players, it's largely based upon, what I often call 'the flight syndrome.' From the fear that they're going to go back to the KHL and if you're going to lose a great asset. We have a history of having great Russian players. I don't think the Alex Semin situation, with respect to us, isn't about him being Russian."

Schopp--"I must ask you, though, what is the reason against pursuing him?"

Regier--(chuckles) "Well. It's other issues. He obviously has tremendous skill and ability. I'm not going to get into it on this call, but there are reasons we're not interested"
***What Regier really meant--Semin? (snicker, snicker) Really? Haven't you been paying attention? Had you asked me about the Roy for [Steve] Ott trade, or if you'd read about it, you'd have your answer. Semin to Buffalo? In a We're not interested, and it seems as if the entire league is not inerested. Why do you want to push it? Are we shunning Semin because he's Russian?, we've had pretty good success with Russian-born players. Your idea is being shot down not because of the Russian factor, but because he's not a good fit for the type of team we're building. Is this a question the fans want answered? I don't think so. I think most fans would balk at Semin talk. Why you wanna press the issue? We're not interested in him. We just traded Roy so that the team, as a whole, is tougher to play against. It's not just about stats. Get it through your head, Semin in Buffalo is not a good idea no matter how much you, Mike, may think it is.

Schopp--"How 'bout this, Darcy? Two things I've been talking about that I'd like to get your reaction to. One is, the conversation has been a lot about Lindy Ruff since the off season because of comments made by players or implications made by players. Derek Roy and public criticism, Thomas Vanek says, 'Ahhh, I'm used to it,' Brad Boyes wants coaches who will say hello to him as he arrives at work. Are you concerned at all about Ruff's image?

Regier--"We have an expression around here, when things go wrong, or don't go the way you want them to, you have to blame somebody. And I think there are few people more convenient to blame then head coaches. Most recently I saw an article in the Detroit paper about [a] free agent that didn't come to Detroit. And the writer asked Ken Holland who's the General Manager in Detroit if it was because Mike Babcock was too tough on the guys. Ken acknowledged that he had heard that. And I say that because I think there's a lot more of that now. I think the coaches take the brunt of it. I think it's unfair. And in this case I think it's unfair as well. Lindy is an elite coach and continues to get better. I think the expectations put on the club and individuals, the performance of the team and the individuals unfortunately reflects criticism."
***What Regier really meant--From what I've gathered, it's a subject you keep bringing up. It's your conversation, one you force feed to your listeners. Why do you think Ruff is an institution around here? To bring him down? He's a coach. And a damn good one. He's coach I like. A coach the owner likes. He's here, for now. Geezus, at least Bucky had the balls to come out and say that the team should move on from Ruff. If you think Lindy is the problem and think that he's a determent to team chemistry and ultimately a determent to winning, say so. But to answer your question. Some players are big wussies. They don't look at themselves for failures, they're always looking to blame someone else and the easiest guy to blame is the coach. Hell, even in Detroit that happens. Fact is, in Buffalo two of those type players are no longer on the team. Homie ain't playin' that anymore.

Schopp--"I'm just playing that out one step further. I might agree with you to, but at the same time, at a certain point, if that is the direction of the league I would think that at some point you'd have to face it. And I'm assuming you'd have to agree with that, although you might not agree with every trend in the league, but when they happen you gotta think about them."

Regier--"When things go well, I'll give you an example, when you win, there are way fewer bumps and bruises and way fewer players in the medical room then there are when you lose. If you're winning, players are much less likely to complain, coaches are less likely, general managers are less likely than if you lose. So part of it really does come from a season with high expectations and we came up short."
***What Regier really meant--Look, Mike if you want to call it a trend, fine. Whatever floats your boat. Ultimately it's up to the players. If you've noticed over the past few years, and I'll take the blame for it, everything's hunky dory when we're winning and things are easy. When we're losing, some of our players don't seem to take responsibility and start whining, although I'm surprised it took so long with some of them. It's the type of team I built with the types of players that made up our "core." When the going got tough on the ice, they left. Well, we made sure a couple of those players are no longer on the team. I mean, we traded Derek Roy for Steve Ott, two totally different players. For goddsakes, what do you want, Mike? Oh, that's right. You want Ruff gone, in so many words. By the way, I don't know who put that, "Darcy Regier on players being critical of Ruff and more" title for access to this interview, but that smacks of you and your mission.

Schopp--"The second one of these things that I've been talking a lot about, I think, with due respect, the way that the Sabres have changed, and that the image of the Sabres has changed, I like most fans, almost all fans, I'm sure, am appreciative and impressed. But I think, as I've said many times, there is still yet to be a signature move toward having the Stanley Cup as our sole reason for existence here. I think, in sports, when that's your mantra, at some point you trade futures for a guy in the present that can go win for you. Am I wrong with that? Does that hold water?

Regier--"I think it's part of what you need to consider and work on and I can tell you we are considering it and are working on it. But if I look at the most recent Stanley Cup champions, I think in terms of [Anze] Kopitar and Dustin Brown and to your point [Mike] Richards and [Jeff] Carter on the second line and [Drew] Doughty on defense is a draft [pick] point is Kopitar and Brown are draft picks, Doughty's a draft pick, Jonathan Quick's a draft pick. They did add with Carter and Richards, but in large part their go-to guys came to them via the draft. It's still going to be about drafting and developing your players and then adding to them and if it happens to be a signature player that gets you over, great, but it might be a Richards and Carter. I can tell you we're doing the work to do that. To the extent it hasn't happened it isn't due to lack of effort, the efforts will continue."

***What Regier really meant--The NY Yankees, who you are familiar with, have assets that they've drafted and continue to draft. If they cannot get what they need on the open market, they trade assets. But their cupboard is filled with talent. Many of their core is signed long-term so they're bringing in pieces. The Los Angeles Kings spent years near the bottom of the league and built their team through the draft. They acquired enough young talent to able to move a few of them for pieces like Richards and Carter. Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds and Jack Johnson are all real good youngin's. But they were traded because the Kings already had a large, homegrown talent pool that they built with. Sekera, Adam and Ellis are not that attractive, ya dig? And the talent pool isn't as deep, save for our defensemen. You also need to look at the Richards/Carter thing as not so much the trade for a superstar(s) but a trade for players that will fill the void. You also need to find a team with a player that will fill the void and is willing to make a deal. Right now we have assets (but not as much as we'd like) and we have needs. We're looking into strengthening the team, but other things must fall into place. Y'all are fixated upon superstars as saviors, a "damsel in distress" syndrome that permeates the entire Buffalo fan base because of the lack of a championship. We're building and piecing things together and we're not gonna mortgage anything for a player that's not markedly more promising than what we already have. So hold on to your horses. Ummm...Do you want to hear about the Roy for Ott trade?

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Sabres presently have a roster that's positionally feast or famine

If the regular season were to start today, the Buffalo Sabres would have a real hard time figuring out their starting roster.

In an extremely slow off season, GM Darcy Regier has managed to land one legitimate NHL'er in LW Steve Ott, one depth defenseman in Adam Pardy and one part time role player in big-time enforcer John Scott.

Scott has played both wing and defense, has played in 146 NHL games over a four year span and has registered four goals. Add in his 236 penalty minutes and it's pretty obvious that he'll be seeing spot duty in a defined role vs. the Boston's of the NHL.

Leaving the Sabres this season was C Derek Roy, who was dealt to Dallas in exchange for Ott and Pardy.

It also looks as if Buffalo will not be home to Jochen Hecht who spent a lot of time at center when he wasn't injured. And RW Brad Boyes will not be back after signing a 1 yr. deal with the NY Islanders.

Adding Ott to the roster overfills the LW position. He'll join top-liner Thomas Vanek, emerging top-six winger Marcus Foligno and wing-turned-center-turned-wing-turned-center-turned-back to wing Ville Leino. In addition to those four, there's Nathan Gerbe and utility skater Scott (who can also play defense.)

Bringing in Pardy, who has NHL experience and is a depth guy, brings the number of NHL-quality defenseman on the team to nine. He's in line behind Christian Ehrhoff, Tyler Myers, Jordan Leopold, Robyn Regehr, Andrej Sekera, Alexander Sulzer, and Mike Weber. Emerging rearguard Brayden McNabb should be making a strong push to make the top-six out of training camp as well.

And that doesn't include TJ Brennan with three full years of AHL experience under his belt and the possibility of former first-rounder Mark Pysyk making a strong case for himself out of camp.

That's the feast.

On the famine side is the center position.

Whether you were for the trade of Roy (the position here) or against it, fact is they traded a top-nine center and are now left with two 22 yr. old starters, a 22 yr. old wild card and a fourth-liner down the middle.

Tyler Ennis, who played most of his short NHL career at left wing, will be in a top-six role centering Foligno and RW Drew Stafford. That line almost single-handedly propelled the team into the playoffs last season. Individually and collectively, it will be a tall order to reproduce what they did the last month and a half of the season. But Ennis and his line will be expected to produce. In fact they will need to produce.

Brought in at the trade deadline last season was Cody Hodgson. Hodgson was on the third line in Vancouver before coming to Buffalo and he struggled mightily throughout the first dozen games. Even in struggling he was always in position and showed strong two-way center fundamentals as well as top-six potential.

Cody McCormick is presently their only other listed center. He's coming off of an injury plagued season that saw his numbers drop precipitously.

One of the wild cards is 22 yr. old Luke Adam. Adam had an impressive start to last season when he centered Vanek and Jason Pominville for 20 or so games netting 10 goals and adding 10 assists. Then the bottom fell out. He was sent down to Rochester and was so-so at best for the Amerks.

Adam doesn't seem to be able to catch up with the speed of the game yet, and he may top out as a third-liner in the NHL. But, he sure did show some glimpses of being a legitimate top-six center for a while.

And if those three weren't young enough, there are expectations that 2012 first rounder Mikhail Grigorenko and/or fellow first-rounder Zegmus Girgensons could make the team out of camp. But odds are that both will be allowed to continue their development at the lower levels since the Sabres rarely bring a kid straight into the NHL.

If somehow they did make the team, the Sabres would be adding two 18 yr. olds to the mix. It would probably be the youngest group of centers to play in the NHL.

Although the weaknesses are far less dramatic on the right side, the Sabres still have at least one hole to fill on the bottom six.

Captain Pominville is a legitimate top-line/two-way winger. Stafford, as inconsistent as he's been over the last two seasons, is still a top six winger on the team. His production, along with his linemates, will be expected to be prohibitively better for the season.

Patrick Kaleta is a legitimate bottom six winger with limited production while the other right wing slot could be filled by rookie Corey Tropp or recently acquired Kevin Porter.

The Sabres are pretty set in net with Ryan Miller and Jonas Enroth, although they do not have an NHL veteran in the system should either or both go down to injury.

There's still a long off season to go, but there's really not much out there for the team to acquire, especially down the middle.

Phoenix's Shane Doan will make a decision as to his future sometime this week. He's a RW.

Columbus still has not traded RW Rick Nash, but Buffalo is still not on his list.

Even those two would strengthen the right side, their salaries would push the team close to the cap if a significant salary wasn't headed out the door.

Anaheim's Bobby Ryan is a winger who's been playing on the left side virtually his entire career. Could he play right wing? Maybe. Probably. Even so, it's the same predicament as with Doan and Nash wherein they'll be clogging up the right side while bringing the team real close to the cap.

Granted, the Sabres could carry an extra $7M in cap-hits up until the start of the season, but bringing in another winger, as good as those three are, doesn't fill their most glaring position of weakness--center.

Rumors are starting to emerge that Colorado's Paul Stastny is on their radar, and additional rumors had him available in a straight-up deal for Stafford at the deadline. The team needs for Buffalo and Colorado--and the debate as to whether either would be a fit for the other team--is fodder for another blog, but for right now, nothing is concrete concerning any centers either being available or coming in.

As been mentioned here a couple of times, bringing in Jason Arnott would help. He could anchor the bottom-six and jump into a top-six role on occasion. It would seem as though the team would need to overpay a bit to convince him to sign, but it would be an overpayment worth doing. Arnott would add a legitimacy, however minimal, to the organization.

So, as we go full bore into the second week post-"free agent frenzy fizzle," the league is still waiting for Doan to make his decision and still waiting for the Nash and/or Ryan domino(s) to fall.

The Sabres, with an abundance of left wingers and NHL-quality defensemen, are in a positon to deal, but they're still trying to find a dance partner and it's assumed that those potential dance partners are waiting as well.

It could be a while before the Sabres are able to balance out their roster for the upcoming season.

As of right now this is how the roster could be looked at:

Thomas Vanek, Cody Hodgson, Jason Pominville
Marcus Foligno, Tyler Ennis, Drew Stafford
Ville Leino, Luke Adam, Patrick Kaleta
Steve Ott, Cody McCormick, Kevin Porter

Nathan Gerbe, Corey Tropp

Christian Ehrhoff/Tyler Myers
Jordan Leopold/Robyn Regehr
Andrej Sekera/Alexander Sulzer

Mike Weber, Adam Pardy, Brayden McNabb

Ryan Miller, Jonas Enroth