Questions linger with crowded house on blueline

Ever since Doug Janik and Rory Fitzpatrick took the ice for game seven of the 2006 Eastern Conference Finals, defensive depth has been a focal point of how the Buffalo Sabres have been built.

The 2013-14 season will be no exception as the Sabres are heading to training camp with ten (TEN!) defensemen who will be battling for a spot on Buffalo’s NHL roster. For a team who struggled to find consistency on the back end last season, the plethora of rear guards on the roster isn’t a bad thing.

Of the ten defensemen I count as NHL ready, a few have all but sealed their spot on the roster entering the season. Christian Ehrhoff, Tyler Myers and Mike Weber are all a sure thing to have an NHL job this season and newly acquired Henrik Tallinder should join them.

Where things get interesting is filling out the remaining three or four spots for the team. It’s particularly fascinating when you consider Rasmus Ristolainen as one of the players jockeying for a spot. Continue reading

Grading the Sabres: 2013 report card, Part II

The defensemen and goaltenders get to share the spotlight in the second portion of my Sabres season grades. As always, your thoughts are welcome in the comments section.

Tyler Myers: Oh, where to begin? Myers was downright bad to begin the year before leveling out at midseason. He looked out of shape and lost most of the time and his play suffered for it. Considering the salary he is being paid, his contributions are especially frightening. Before his injury he was only okay and you could certainly say the defensive play was better without him. Yikes. Grade: C-

Christian Ehrhoff: Ehrhoff finished off another strong year in which he remained Buffalo’s best defenseman. He hasn’t blown up the scoresheet like some expected, but his powerplay time has changed from the Sedins to any number of players in blue and gold. Still, there’s a lot to like about Ehrhoff and he will be around for a long time. Grade: A-

Andrej Sekera: Everyone’s favorite whipping boy, Sekera actually wasn’t bad at all this season. He quietly goes about his business and plays steady hockey. I’m not a huge fan of his but I can’t deny that he has been a solid contributor in his own end all year. Grade: B

Mike Weber: Steve Ott’s arrival may just be the best thing for Weber’s career you could ask for. Weber is beginning to evolve into a leader, plays a gritty nasty game that is almost entirely absent on this roster. His puck skills aren’t very good, but as a defender there is a lot to like. He may still be on the rise for this squad. Grade: B- Continue reading

Could defensive depth provide trade leverage?

This originally appeared on Buffalo Wins

With 10 blueliners who played NHL minutes last season, the Sabres have basically become the Costco for NHL defensemen this offseason.

When Adam Pardy came over from Dallas via trade, he gave the Sabres eight NHL defensemen with two more prospects prepared to jump to the NHL this season. Based on the ridiculous level of depth the Sabres have, it isn’t out the realm of possibility to think one or two may be leveraged in a trade that would help the Sabres fill their need at center.

Potential trade partners, the asking price for whoever the Sabres are looking to acquire and the market for the players Buffalo has to offer will have a major effect on what kind of action Darcy Regier can take in shopping these players. In addition, the value of Buffalo’s defensemen varies widely.

Players like Adam Pardy, Alex Sulzer and Mike Weber have such limited upside that they would offer little to a trade than just an extra piece. Given that his cap hit is over $2M and that the Sabres just acquired him, makes Pardy that much more unlikely to be moved.

Robyn Regehr falls into a similar position as Pardy, Sulzer and Weber, but his age and cap hit are two main factors that his departure would be extremely unlikely. Tyler Myers and Christian Ehrhoff are as close to untouchable as you could get. Although, they would each be capable of returning a significant amount of talent. Continue reading

Grading the Sabres: Final defensive group

The final group of defensive grades will also be the final portion of the Sabres’ report cards. This group includes the three players called up from Rochester at various points during the season.

Mike Weber – C+

Weber was slightly less consistent that he had been in previous seasons. His best hockey was played with somewhat limited minutes as compared to games when he was given a heavier dose of ice time. While he was a decided upgrade over Marc-Andre Gragnani, he was little more than an adequate sixth defenseman. Overall, his year was little more than average. Considering the role he fills, you can’t complain too much about what he brought to the table. However, there is likely room for improvement that could come in the form of another player.

Alexander Sulzer – B+

Sulzer’s time with the Sabres was somewhat brief, but he was solid in those few games. A mobile defenseman, Sulzer showed he has a nice physical side to his game while not being a pylon. His athleticism might be what is most impressive to me. While he is a UFA this summer, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him re-signed. Considering he was basically a throw in with Cody Hodgson, discovering him could be a major steal for Darcy Regier and the Sabres.

Brayden McNabb – B+

McNabb still needs to stew a little longer in the minors. However, I don’t think that he will need to start the season in Rochester next season. In fact, if he continues to progress over the summer, I have little doubt he will find a spot in the top six.

McNabb is physical and has shown he can contribute offensively. Some of the traits he possesses makes him a very interesting player for the Sabres going forward. He could definitely be a cornerstone for the Sabres defense for a long time. Continue reading

Weber out, Brennan recalled, other injured Sabres close to a return

After watching from the press box for 15 games, Mike Weber looked as if he had finally worked his way back to a regular spot in the lineup.

Weber played key minutes against Montreal and was one of Buffalo’s most effective defensemen in that game. However, Weber experienced somewhat of a backslide yesterday against New Jersey; it appears as if an injury may be responsible for that. According to The Buffalo News, Weber is going to miss some time with an injury. Lindy Ruff said the injury “will take some time”. Weber joins Ryan Miller and Cody McCormick on the shelf with extended injuries.

It seems as if the Sabres will call up T.J. Brennan to fill the void left by Weber. Now, this could be a simple insurance policy to provide a seventh defenseman while Marc-Andre Gragnani is reinserted into the line up. However, it would seem silly not to give Brennan at least one game on the weekend to see how he responds in his first NHL call-up.

Brennan is, at best a two-way defenseman. However, he seems like much more of a puck mover than anything else. Just what Buffalo needed, to put another puck mover on the ice.

Still, Brennan was a high selection (picked with the 2nd round selection received from Philly in the Biron trade) and has shown that he is on the cusp of breaking into the show. Corey Tropp got his first NHL action this season and has responded well. There is no reason to think that Brennan won’t play to his absolute best in his NHL debut. Continue reading

Mike Weber inserted into lineup, will skate with Regehr

In addition to Ville Leino’s shift to center on Buffalo’s top line, the Sabres will have another lineup change this evening against Philadelphia.

Mike Weber will indeed be inserted in the Sabres’ lineup and will skate with Robyn Regehr, this according to Bill Hoppe. Tyler Myers will skate with Andrej Sekera, reuniting a pair that saw quite a bit of time with one another last season. Marc-Andre Gragnani will be the defenseman who is scratched this evening.

Inserting Weber was likely an easy choice. Not only was Marc-Andre Gragnani not getting results on the power play – the main reason for which he was dressed – but he was also just terrible in his own zone. While Weber won’t man a power play point he will bring plenty of stability to the Buffalo blueline. That stability will hopefully cut down the massive number of shots the Sabres have been allowing lately.

While the issue of allowing countless shots on goal has plagued the Sabres, the only potential solution to the problem – establishing a more responsible in-zone presence – hadn’t been addressed. Dressing Weber addresses the problem. Having Weber skate with the veteran keeps Regehr on a true lockdown pair but adds even more toughness with the addition of Weber.

Moving Myers from the top pairing is somewhat perplexing only because he has been good in his zone with Regehr. While he has had some errant outlet passes, his overall defensive game has been sound. Perhaps Ruff saw too much defense and not enough offense from Myers. Ruff has mentioned he wants to see more offense out of Myers, perhaps in a role where he is “carrying” the pairing Myers will be more apt to lug the puck. That isn’t to say Sekera is chopped liver – he has actually been Buffalo’s best defenseman for most of the year – but based on Myers style of play and their chemistry last year, Sekera may serve as the best partner for Myers for the time being.

How long these pairs last is anyone’s guess. They could remain the same for much of the season, or be changed after one period, that is just how Lindy Ruff operates. Regardless, by limiting the number of offense-first players on the blueline, the Sabres should see positive results from the move.

The odd men out

Mike Weber was particularly good for the Buffalo Sabres last season. So good, in fact, he earned a two-year contract extension in the offseason.

Yet, he is stuck in the press box as the season begins for the second year in a row. Lindy Ruff has opted to dress Marc-Andre Gragnani and Andrej Sekera as his fifth and sixth defensemen over the stay-at-home defenseman. In previous seasons all three players would be seeing regular shifts. In fact, Drew Schiestel would probably be seeing some time as well. That was all in the past, life with Terry is much better.

Now the deep-pocketed Sabres are stuffing salary in the minors and stockpiling blue-chip prospects as they strive for a Cup with veteran additions. Mike Weber just happens to be a casualty in this particular scenario. Continue reading