Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com
When I talked with longtime Amerks broadcaster Don Stevens very early in the season, "The Voice of the Rochester Americans" expressed cautious optimism as the team started the season 2-0. He had a strong sense of optimism as there was a different feel to the organization. Yet it was too early to tell if that would make it all the way down to the Rochester ice.
An inconsistent season finally came to a close yesterday and it's safe to say what the Sabres started hadn't quite reached Rochester yet. The Amerks finished a three-games-in-three-days weekend dropping a 4-2 decision in Toronto against the Marlies (TOR.) They also lost at Toronto the previous night 3-1 and had started out the weekend getting blown out 5-0 in their home finale against the Albany Devils (NJD.)
As disappointing as that close was, especially the loss vs. Albany in front of a season-high 9,746 fans, Rochester did finish the season with a slightly better record than last year. In 2014-15 the Amerks went 29-41-6 (.421 win percentage) while this year they finished 34-38-4 for a .474 win percentage. That said, they missed the playoffs for the second consecutive season and still have a way to go before they can think of hanging with the big boys of the AHL.
The different feel Stevens alluded to emanated from the Sabres hockey operations, and brandished itself in two bold trades last year by Buffalo GM Tim Murray. Both were made to bolster the forward ranks and when adding in 2015 second-overall pick Jack Eichel, the forward depth improved immensely touching all the way down to Rochester's fourth line.
However, the defense took a pretty good hit as Murray shored up his forwards. Trades and graduation left the blueline thin when added to even more inconsistencies between the pipes, the Amerks were giving up a third worst 3.28 goals per game. Although Murray's moves created depth, Rochester did not have the firepower to make up for that deficiency.
Even with that, there should be no sense of panic as a surge of talent is on the horizon, especially in the forward ranks.
Winger Hudson Fasching (2012, 118th overall, LAK) who just signed his entry-level contract with Buffalo and also scored his first NHL goal in his first NHL game, will probably be headed to Rochester next season. He'll be joining William Carrier (2013, 57th,) who just finished his second pro season, and Justin Bailey (2013, 52nd) who finished 12th in the AHL in rookie scoring with 45 points and was the first rookie to score 20 goals for a Buffalo affiliate since 2010-11 (Luke Adam, Portland Pirates.) Also in the hopper up-front is Nic Baptiste 2013, 69th and Evan Rodrigues (2015, FA) who finished the year strong.
On defense, Anthony Florentino (2013, 143rd overall) will shore up the Amerks blueline should he decide to forgo his senior season at Providence as will Everett Silvertips (WHL) puck-moving d-man, Brycen Martin (2014, 74th.) According to hockeysfuture.com, the Sabres will need to make a decision on Martin as the soon-to-be 20 yr. old can enter the 2016 NHL Draft should they not sign him.
Murray still has plenty of work to do up and down both lineups and he should be a very busy man once again this off season. Although the Amerks went out with a whimper, as opposed to the Sabres finishing on a positive note, as he and Buffalo head coach Dan Bylsma said at the year-end presser, the type of finish a team has is not always indicative of what will happen the following season.
Am of the opinion that both teams went through some serious growing pains and that we'll see more year-over-year progress as the talent amassed the last few drafts will start making their way to the pro ranks.
At least, that's the plan.