Published by hockeybuzz.com, 5-26-2017
With former KHL defenseman Viktor Antipin finally in the fold, a soon to be revamped Buffalo Sabres defense got it's first new face.
Antipin just finished his fifth full KHL season with Metallurg Magnitogorsk scoring 24 points (6+18) in 59 games. In all the 24 yr. old Antipin played 266 games for Metallurg scoring 36 goals and adding 62 assists. The 5'9" 179 lb. all-situations defensemen just finished a bronze medal run in the IIHF World Hockey Championships with four assists and a plus-5 rating in 10 games.
What will he bring to the Sabres defense?
It looks as Buffalo has a top-four d-man in Antipin, one who is a very capable skater and puck-mover, can play defense and also jump into the play on offense. He saw plenty of time on the penalty kill during the Worlds and if you watch some of his highlights from the KHL, he has a nose for pinching in on offense and has shown the ability to finish.
The addition of Antipin gives the Sabres three certainties on defense, barring a trade of any sort. Rasmus Ristolainen is the workhorse on the back-end while Jake McCabe has solidified his spot in the top-four, ideally on the second pairing.
Buffalo also has three other defensemen under contract any of whom may be exposed to the upcoming expansion draft. Zach Bogosian has three years remaining on his deal while both Josh Gorges and Justin Falk have one year. Bogosian and Gorges have been in the top-four for Buffalo with both looking as if they'd be more suited to a role in the No. 4-6 range. Falk was re-signed by former GM Tim Murray to a one-year extension after proving to be a very reliable reserve defenseman last season.
A wild-card in this whole process is Brendan Guhle. The soon to be 20 yr. old acquitted himself very well at the pro-level which included a three-game stint with Buffalo as an emergency recall from his Canadian Junior team in November. He joined the Rochester Americans after finishing his last two junior seasons and looked right at home. In 12 games with the Amerks he scored two goals, added four assists and was a minus-3. Where his development will take him next year is still unknown but most think he has a great shot at joining the Sabres defense.
If the season started today, this is the possible defense-corps we'd see hit the ice:
New GM Jason Botterill has stated that upgrading the defense is a top priority wants and he may have the opportunity to do so with as the upcoming expansion draft will put a few teams in a bind come when protected lists are submitted. Two of them, the Anaheim Ducks and Minnesota Wild, may be forced to expose a good defenseman and risk losing him for nothing if they don't work something out in a trade prior.
With the signing of Antipin and the possibility of Guhle joining Buffalo's defense next season, barring anything weird happening the Sabres may be looking at one move on the back-end as they attempt to bolster the blueline. Here are a couple of possibilities for Buffalo to upgrade their d-corps:
Because of their depth on defense, the Ducks will more than likely protect eight skaters instead of seven forwards and three defensemen. On defense, despite injuries that will sideline them for months, Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatenen are locks to be protected and with his performance in the playoffs, Cam Fowler will be protected as well. What they do with Kevin Bieksa will shape how they approach the final spot. Because of his no-movement clause, Bieksa is required to be protected leaving young d-man Josh Manson as possibly being exposed.
If the Ducks fail to do anything with Bieksa, the Sabres could be looking at the 6'3" 215 Manson as a possible addition. The right-handed Manson is quite mobile for a player of his size and played well in a third-pairing defensive role for the Ducks. He's steady on the back-end but one shouldn't expect much on offense. A trade for him shouldn't cost too much and one could plug him in alongside the left-handed Guhle on the third pairing in Buffalo.
The Wild is a team that probably would like to go with eight skaters in order to protect four d-men, but three NMC's amongst the forward group coupled with three young players who have plenty of upside has Minnesota looking at the 7/3 model. On defense the Wild will be protecting Ryan Suter and it looks as if Jared Spurgeon and Matt Dumba aren't going anywhere either. That leaves two pretty valuable pieces exposed--23 yr. old Jonas Brodin and 27 yr. old Marco Scandella.
Brodin is an excellent puck-mover who had 25 points (3+22) in 68 games for Minnesota last season and would net them a pretty good return. The left-handed all-situations defenseman would look good in the top-four on the Sabres, especially at a favorable $4.16 million cap-hit.
Landing a player like Brodin, or even Scandella from Minnesota would be a pretty good upgrade for the Sabres. Problem is, there are a ton of other teams looking for he same thing. Would the Sabres be willing to trade the No. 8 overall pick at this year's draft, and possibly more for Brodin? If they're looking at a run to the playoffs this season, I could see them doing a deal like that.