Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com
On the heels of the Sabres two-goal outburst last night in a shutout win over the Carolina Hurricanes, we'll add three fourth-line players to fill out the starting group of forwards.
The running joke with the Buffalo Sabres over the last few years is that they had too many third and fourth-liners on the team and this year is no different. The top seven players on the team--Matt Moulson, Tyler Ennis, Drew Stafford, Brian Gionta, Zemgus Girgensons, Cody Hodgson, and Chris Stewart--are legitimate top-nine players in the least with all but Girgensons being considered legit top-six.
Barring the inclusion of Sam Reinhart, the rest of the Buffalo Sabres forward roster this season will be populated by bottom-six players, fourth-line players and borderline NHL'ers. The dozen or so players battling it out for bottom-six/reserve roles offer an array of sizes, shapes and styles and two of them--Marcus Foligno and Brian Flynn have already been included.
The determining factor for this group as to who's in and who's out may not be so much talent as it is contract. More specifically, which of this group will require waivers to be sent down to Rochester and who does not.
Centering the fourth-line, we start with forward, Cody McCormick.
McCormick did something this offseason that Moulson did, resigned with the team that traded him at the deadline. He told his agent, Pat Morris, to contact the Buffalo Sabres first. If they could come together on a contract, it's where he would sign.
"He was here before, got traded away, felt that he was treated fairly here in the past and his agent told me he knew that they had other choices with him," Sabres general manager Tim Murray said. "He made the one call here and we got it done. He didn’t shop around is what he told me."
Why such an eagerness to sign with the Sabres?
It was home.
McCormick spent 4 1/2 seasons in Buffalo and had established some pretty strong roots in the area with his wife and two daughters. Being in the final year of his contract when he was traded to Minnesota at the March 5 trade deadline, he had the option to go back home at the end of the season. And he took it.
Sabres fans began to grow fond of McCormick during the 2009-10 playoff series with the hated Boston Bruins. He was called up to replace the injured Thomas Vanek in the third game of that series and proceeded to add a lunch-bucket mentality to a flimsy team that lacked backbone. He would get an assist in that game and, unfortunately a goalie interference penalty for charging hard to the net and getting tripped up by a Bruins player.
From then on he would strap on his work boots and do whatever was necessary--hit, fight, kill penalties, play center or either wing--for the Sabres. And he'll be doing it again this year for the team.
On McCormick's left wing should be Nicolas Deslauriers.
Murray acquired Deslauriers from Los Angeles at the trade deadline. It was a surprise deal that kicked off the Sabres wheeling and dealing that day. Deslauriers, along with big RW, Hudson Fasching came from the Kings in exchange for D, Brayden McNabb, F, Jonathan Parker and the two second round picks Los Angeles gave Buffalo in the Robyn Regehr deal (April 1, 2013.)
The Sabres got a good look at Deslauriers last season as he played 17 games for the team. He plays a heavy, hard-working game with limited offensive upside.
Deslauriers is on the last year of his entry-level contract and requires waivers to be sent to Rochester.
Although the Ryan Miller trade was Murray's first deal, much of that was in the works already as former GM Darcy Regier was said to have been talking to St. Louis for over a year.
The deal with Los Angeles, on the other hand should be considered Murray's first full-fledged trade on his own. Deslauriers is Murray's "guy" and there's no reason to believe that he won't get a long, hard look in a depth role.
Opposite Deslauriers on the right side is the much maligned Patrick Kaleta.
Either hated or loved by the NHL in general or amongst Sabres fans in particular, Kaleta enters his seventh season with the Sabres at the crossroads of his career.
Last season he was sent down to Rochester by Regier after yet another run-in with the NHL's Player Safety Departement. On October 15, 2013 he was handed a 10-game "Shanaban" for an illegal hit to the head of Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson. “It’s important to note that no matter who delivered this hit, it would have resulted in supplemental discipline,” said player safety head man, Brendan Shanahan in the suspension video. "However, the fact that it was delivered by a player that has been fined or suspended six times in the last four seasons – the last time just 21 games ago – factors heavily into this decision.”
Regier apparently had seen enough and when Kaleta was finally ready to return to the team he was waived and ended up in Rochester. "This was a move we thought was necessary to help Pat change his game and preserve his career,” former GM Darcy Regier said at the time. “We believe in Pat as a person and we hope he will continue his career, if the circumstances are right, with the Buffalo Sabres.”
Kaleta is one of those fourth-line players who can do the dirty work, but can also play the game. Although he'll never be a Claude Lemieux when it comes to offensive production, he did manage score 10 goals in 55 games for Buffalo in 2009-10 and he has contributed two goals in 12 playoff games.
Although Kaleta was sent to Rochester to "relearn" and NHL game that he was a part of for seven seasons, he took it all in stride and used the time down there to impart his knowledge on the youngins.
Forward Tim Schaller was a linemate of Kaleta for a brief stint before the injury and had high praise for him. "He was great for me," said Schaller of Kaleta. "He was very approachable, which is something most people wouldn't expect. When he would come off of the bench he would be like, 'Hey, mind if I tell you something?' And he would just give me little hints here and there that would help me a ton. He was awesome. I remember everything he said to this day."
Murray and Sabres coach Ted Nolan were ready to give Kaleta another shot at the NHL before injury hit and he was done for he season. But the opportunity is there for him this season. He watched Kaleta rehabbing this off season, "He's been in here every day since [the knee operation]," said Murray. "He's been in here everyday rehabbing. He was in yesterday. I saw him again. He doesn't miss a morning here. He's in the gym working hard."
"I know," stated Murray matter-of-factly, "that whatever happened last year, happened. I expect him to come in here and act like a pro. Once we hit the ice I'll start evaluating him."
Kaleta got his first action of the preseason last night and finished with 11:39 of ice-time with :49 on the PK. He got himself a shot on goal and registered two hits but probably most important is that he stayed out of the box.
If the Buffalo native wants to stick with the team, it's a stat line that he'll need to continue with. And if he wants to stick in the lineup, he'll need to produce some points as well. He's got it in him, he just needs to ditch the stupid, dangerous stuff.
Building the 2014-15 Buffalo Sabres roster:
LW, Matt Moulson/C, Tyler Ennis/RW, Drew Stafford
Cody Hodgson/Zemgus Girgensons/Brian Gionta
Brian Flynn/Marcus Foligno/Chris Stewart
Nicolas Deslauriers/Cody McCormick/Patrick Kaleta
LHD, Josh Gorges/RHD, Tyler Myers
Andre Benoit/Rasmus Ristolainen
Andrej Meszaros/Mark Pysyk