As official word on a lockout gets ever closer, the Buffalo Sabres made a few final roster decisions before the inevitable becomes official.
The biggest news is Tyler Ennis’ new two-year contract. Ennis will make just over $2 million this season and just over $3 million next year on the deal. This will lead to another summer of negotiations for the Sabres and Ennis in 2014, but it comes off a moderate contract that should work well for both sides.
The only true loss here is that the deal isn’t any longer. However, with some of the jury on Ennis still out, it doesn’t shackle the Sabres to the player for a ridiculous term. Otherwise there isn’t much else to say about the Ennis contract. It was an agreeable deal between both sides that will let each party reconvene under the new CBA and what will hopefully be two productive seasons from the center.
In the end, Ennis probably comes out as the winner. He receives a raise and will be back at the bargaining table in two summers for what should be a sizeable new contract. On the bright side, the Sabres didn’t need to sacrifice dollars to buy up UFA years with this deal. So it is a win-win.
The Sabres took Friday to assign 20 players to Rochester along with returning three additional players to their junior clubs. Well, Joel Armia is playing professional hockey with Assat. In addition, the Sabres made a somewhat surprise signing by inking Andrey Makarov to an entry-level contract.
The decision to loan players to Rochester was an expected move for teams across the NHL. A number of the players were going to be playing in Rochester next season, but there are a few names which should draw the interest of Sabres fans for the 2012-13 AHL season.
The full list, from the Sabres:
Forwards Luke Adam, Riley Boychuk, Brian Flynn, Marcus Foligno, Zemgus Girgensons, Cody Hodgson, Jacob Lagace, Jonathan Parker, Kevin Sundher, Shawn Szydlowski, Corey Tropp, Phil Varone; defensemen Alex Biega, Nick Crawford, Jerome Gauthier-Leduc, Matt MacKenzie, Brayden McNabb, Mark Pysyk; goaltenders Connor Knapp and Nathan Lieuwen.
Nick Tarnsasky and Kevin Porter were also loaned to the Amerks, but they need to clear waivers before heading up the 90. I’m assuming that there is a gentleman’s agreement across the league that any players placed on waivers and destined for the AHL won’t be claimed with pending CBA expiration.
Now, Boychuk, Flynn, Lagace, Parker, Sundher, Szydlowski, Varone, Biega, Crawford, MacKenzie, Knapp and Lieuwen weren’t going to be challenging for a spot on the Sabres roster. These are players that would have likely been sent to the AHL as training camp progressed. Girgensons, JGL, Pysyk and McNabb were all likely looking at Rochester this season as well, but they would have had more of a chance to challenge for an NHL roster spot in camp. Adam, Hodgson and Foligno are the three biggest names destined to play for the Amerks.
No matter how long this lockout lasts, there should be some mighty exciting hockey played in Rochester this season. Just think back to the 2004-05 lockout and what it did for players like Ryan Miller, Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek. Buffalo’s top prospects enjoyed a full season in the minors and had that extra year of seasoning as they entered their first full seasons in the NHL. The following two seasons represent some of the best hockey the Sabres have played in recent memory.
The obvious hope is that players like Hodgson, Foligno and McNabb are kept in the minors for a short period of time and the labor situation is solved in a timely manner. However, giving these players the opportunity to keep skating at game speed and in your system is a major bonus for the Sabres.
The other move made by the Sabres was slightly more surprising. However, in many ways it was a wise decision based on the organizational depth chart.
Signing Makarov gives the Sabres an additional goaltending prospect who still has at least one more full season of junior to play. Makarov was undrafted in June (thanks to Kevin Snow for that tidbit) but was stellar for Russia during last year’s World Junior Championships.
Makarov is also already in North America, which should eliminate some of the fear associated with getting Russian prospects to North America when their professional careers are set to begin. He will play this season with Saskatoon (WHL) and will be following up a 29-21-1-1 season in which his .913 SV% helped earn him MVP honors with the Blades.
This reads as a move to shore up the shallow goaltending pool the Sabres currently have. Entering the draft, the Sabres had zero goaltenders left in college or the junior ranks. Four months later they have two set to play at least one more season for their respective junior teams, if not more.
Makarov showed significant talent with his play at the WJC and represents a relatively low-risk addition considering the Sabres goaltending depth chart now stands at six (seven counting David Leggio), as opposed to the four the team had in June.
What Makarov means for the organization is what is interesting. He and Linus Ullmark will follow a similar trajectory to the North American professional ranks. What is unknown is where Buffalo’s two AHL goaltenders (Knapp and Lieuwen) will be at by then and the obvious mystery of Makarov and Ullmark’s progression during that time.
Drafting Ullmark and signing Makarov injects new youth and additional competition in behind Knapp and Lieuwen. Their first professional seasons will be that much more important now that there is more behind them in the system. Luckily the start of the season will be behind a very talented roster.