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

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