Published by hockeybuzz.com, 10-05-2016
The Buffalo Sabres top-six on defense is set in stone barring injury or a continued impasse in the Rasmus Ristolainen contract negotiations. On the former we know anything can happen and with the latter, Ristolainen asked for permission to skate with the team during the negotiations and GM Tim Murray obliged. Although it has nothing to do with the talks, it was a good-faith show by Risto.
For the Sabres heading into the season, the pickins are mighty slim when it comes to the 7th and, probably, 8th defenseman on the team. The hope for a depth d-man in most cases is for them simply to hold their own at the NHL-level and Buffalo does have at least one, Justin Falk, with ample NHL experience.
Falk came over after a year in the Columbus Blue Jackets organization where he helped their AHL affiliate, the Lake Erie Monsters, capture the Calder Cup. A left-handed, defensive-defenseman, Falk was drafted 110th-overall in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft by the Minnesota Wild and prior to his time in Columbus Falk spent all but one season in the Wild organization. He played in 228 games for their AHL affiliates while appearing in 121 games for Minnesota. In June 2013 he was traded to the NY Rangers.
After his stint with the Rangers, Falk signed with Minnesota as a free agent. He failed to make the big club and after a partial season with the Wild his trade request was granted and he was shipped to Columbus at the 2015 traded deadline. Falk got 24 games with the Blue Jackets last season before clearing waivers then anchoring the Monsters defense on their road to the Calder Cup.
The soon to be 28 yr. old Falk is fully aware as to how his career is and probably will be. In an interview with Kevin Oklobzija of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, Falk, who's on a two-way contract with the Sabres simply stated, "I tend to go back and forth a lot (between the NHL and AHL.)"
As of now it doesn't look as if that will be the case. With 171 NHL games Falk has the most experience outside of Tyson Strachan who was signed to an AHL contract. Other players like 19 yr. old Brendan Guhle may be too wet behind the ears to earn a roster spot this year while 24 yr. old rookie Casey Nelson might need a year of seasoning in Rochester before being able handle the rigors of the NHL. Either of those two would need to make the team in a top-six role for Falk to be pushed down to the minors and as of now, it doesn't look like that will happen.
Many thought Murray would be going outside the organization to add depth to the blueline but it hasn't happened yet. He may have a free agent like Carlo Colaiacovo, who was with the club as a reserve last season, in mind or he might just be waiting to jump on a cap-casualty after NHL teams cut their rosters to 23. In either case the 8th defenseman, if they choose to carry one like they did last season, is still up in the air.
Building the 2016-17 Buffalo Sabres roster:
LW, Evander Kane / C, Ryan O'Reilly / RW, Kyle Okposo
LW, Tyler Ennis / C, Jack Eichel / RW, Sam Reinhart
LW, Matt Moulson / C, Zemgus Girgensons/ RW, Justin Bailey
LW, Marcus Foligno / C, Johan Larsson / RW, Brian Gionta
Nicolas Deslauriers, Derek Grant
D, Rasmus Ristolainen/ D, Dmitry Kulikov
D, Zach Bogosian/ D, Jake McCabe
D, Cody Franson / D, Josh Gorges
G, Robin Lehner
G, Anders Nilsson