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Tough to find patience with Sabres youth movement

October 11, 2013

The Sabres are a bad hockey team, we get it. What is surprising is that many fans entered the year under some sort of delusion that some form of tire fire wouldn’t unfold on the First Niagara Center ice this season.

With a 0-4-1 record and a looming matchup with the Blackhawks on Saturday, it’s safe to assume that 0-5-1 might not be too far away. However, the Sabres probably aren’t as bad as their record and their current play has indicated. They’ve already received three sterling performances in goal that resulted in exactly zero points for their efforts and a fourth solid outing that at least got the team to overtime.

Additional goal support should materialize eventually – although if their shooting and possession numbers don’t improve that may be wishful thinking. There are talented players on the roster who will eventually find a way to score more than once in a game. Perhaps it will take a little time for things to gel and when they do the Sabres will likely go from abhorrent to below average.

It’s a rebuild. This is what was expected to happen. Perhaps fans just weren’t ready for the worst of it.

As promising of a talent Mikhail Grigorenko, Johan Larsson, Rasmus Ristolainen and Zemgus Girgensons may be, they’re not going to be Crosby, Yzerman, Pronger and Bergeron overnight. There will be growing pains and there will be some really difficult ones to stomach. Thursday night was certainly one of those.

Fans are going to clamor for Rolston to get the gas. They’ll continue to call for Darcy Regier’s head but for little reason. Even if a new coach were to be brought in, there wouldn’t be much hope that his style and attitude would serve this roster any better than Rolston. The same goes for a new general manager. In fact, the results from a new GM being brought in wouldn’t likely start to show up until the trade deadline at the very least. Based on how the Sabres have been built this year, very few changes – including Dominik Hasek in his prime – would serve to create a drastic turnaround.

However, that isn’t to say that calls for Regier to be fired aren’t justified. In fact, I think he is long due for a pink slip at this point.

I’ve never been very bullish on a player to be traded or an individual to be fired. The Sabres have a #blueprint as to what they’re doing and patience is often required before offering an opinion on most decisions in the NHL. That being said, the make-up of Buffalo’s roster is perplexing in some ways and just screams for a fresh set of eyes to do some evaluating.

What’s odd to me is that, despite his actions at the deadline and the draft, Regier’s roster is still built like a team hoping to capitalize on some of their burgeoning talent as opposed to a full-on youth movement. Maybe this is because certain players have grown stale in my eyes, but I feel as if Regier didn’t construct his roster in a way to best capitalize on the young talent he’s brought in.

The youth movement I like to use as a barometer hasn’t even fully blossomed at this point. When I look at the Islanders, I see a team that put their full trust in the hands of an extremely young core and let the group develop.

Picking first obviously helps as having John Tavares as the centerpiece of your organization is a boon known only to a few teams in the league at this point. But the overall efforts of the Isles are beginning to bear fruit. Even though Josh Bailey, Travis Hamonic, Matt Moulson, Tavares and others were all brought along at different points, the Isles thrust their top picks into significant roles and allowed them to grow right off the bat.

While the Sabres don’t have a Tavares to build around, they certainly have enough promising prospects – three ranked in the top ten of their draft class in Grigorenko, Pysyk and Ristolainen – to create a group similar to that of the Islanders. What’s missing in some respects are minutes necessary to grow.

There are still players on Buffalo’s roster who aren’t likely part of their plans for the future playing a significant role for the team. I find it hard to believe that Drew Stafford is part of the plans moving forward and I’d even argue that Tyler Ennis may not be part of the #blueprint, either.

While I’m not a proponent of handing a 19 or 20 year-old rookie a top line role on a silver platter, providing them the proper opportunity to earn it is important as well. Many of the Sabres new faces may not be fully prepared for increased responsibilities – and maybe the first major steps forward won’t occur until next year – but I disagree with limiting those opportunities as well.

For example, Mikhail Grigorenko’s skating may need to be honed a bit more, but isn’t there a chance that his skillset would be better evaluated playing with more offensive talent than he will in a third or fourth line role? The same goes for Larsson and Girgensons. Both excel as two-way forwards and, while they’re both raw, they could certainly benefit from a regular third line role with PK minutes sprinkled in.

I fully understand that the Sabres are embarking on a journey that isn’t completed overnight. I also understand that there are a great many Sabres fans out there who expect the Cup each season and won’t accept anything but what they can pull off on their Xbox.

Yet it just doesn’t feel like they’re willing to give their youth a full look. If that’s because these kids aren’t ready to step into the NHL, then the Sabres have a serious crisis on their hands. If it’s because they’re trying to juggle a rebuild while also trying to stay competitive, than they’re dealing with a different, but equally serious crisis. Either way, it seems like parts of the front office are overdue for a re-evaluation.

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