Might the Sabres be in line for their own prospect tournament?

News broke yesterday that Buffalo won’t be returning to the Traverse City Prospects Tournament after three previous appearances.

The news is slightly disappointing as the Traverse City Tournament is a terrific showcase for a team’s prospects and allows management to see their youngsters in more game situations than they’d typically get during camp and free agency. However, the tournament isn’t exactly close and there isn’t any enormous overarching benefit of shipping a busload of prospects up to the upper reaches of Michigan.

Ideally, the Sabres would take the opportunity to remove themselves from the annual event and host a similar tournament in Buffalo, utilizing HarborCenter as ground zero for the games. As John Vogl added today, it would appear that is already in the works.

With Vogl noting that the Sabres already have eyes on using HabrorCenter and First Niagara Center as the hub for such a tournament tells me that this is probably closer to fruition than we may already know. It makes too much sense for the Sabres not to do it. Continue reading

The Deck is Stacked in Murray’s Favor

Nearly a full month removed from their last victory, plenty is being said of the Sabres express trip to the NHL’s basement. The ethics and direction of Buffalo’s season bring about accusations and arguments over tanking, the skillset of the head coach and the ability of Tim Murray to move the Sabres from cellar dweller to contender.

At this point of the season the Sabres are nothing short of a roaring dumpster fire. The scalding hot play of Jhonas Enroth, Tyler Ennis, Zemgus Girgensons and Matt Moulson – the quartet that helped power their late November surge – has all but disappeared while the rest of the roster has been battered by injuries. With the roster limping around, the tactically feeble head coach has been unable to find a way to turn around Buffalo’s month-long slump and the team’s slow starts and weak finishes should bring about question surrounding his famous motivational skills.

The result of Buffalo’s 11-straight regulation losses is a spot in 30th place and an increasing probability that they’ll be the proud owners of the highest or second highest chance of drafting first overall. As is widely known, finishing 30th guarantees the Sabres the opportunity to draft Jack Eichel as a consolation if their 20% chance at winning the lottery doesn’t pan out.

While a grand debate has raged all year over the ethics and logic surrounding the push or hope for the first overall selection, it would seem that far too many individuals who follow the Sabres have ignored the arsenal that Tim Murray has at his disposal. While getting McDavid or Eichel remains up in the air, there is little doubt that the 2015 Draft will represent the point in which Murray puts the pedal to the floor on this rebuild. Continue reading

Between the Pipes: Sabres shutout Canes in preseason home debut

It seems safe to assume that Sam Reinhart will be seeing significant minutes in each of the Sabres’ preseason contests. The second overall selection saw action in a second-straight game and had the opportunity to skate in a second line role for the third period.

After opening the game on the “third” line with Chris Stewart and Nicolas Deslauriers, Reinhart was moved between Zac Dalpe and Brian Gionta for the final stanza. He didn’t produce any points but was adept with the puck and played a sound game. While he may not necessarily be ready for the NHL, Reinhart has been displaying the skills that set him apart in the eyes of Tim Murray and the Sabres scouts.

His most impressive play came in the third period when he warded off a forechecker and exhibited enough patience to create time and space and make an outlet pass to Andrej Meszaros behind the Sabres goal. It was a small play that may have gone unnoticed but it was an impressive one. Continue reading

Who I’m watching at Sabres development camp

Development Camp is an interesting event for a few reasons. It offers onlookers their first look at many of a team’s recent draft picks mixed in with other organizational prospects. With so many players scattered across the world, it’s often the only time that all of these players are in the same location at once.

The camp also presents an interesting mix of players. Each year there’s at least one or two professionals who have seen considerable time in the NHL but their entry level contract keeps them in the group of players expected at camp. The camp is also comprised of junior and collegiate-aged players, for the most part. So it can be hard to gauge where some players are developmentally since they aren’t playing against men. Some reactions to the week’s highlights may need to be tempered due to that last point.

Even if it’s just a mid-July gathering of kids who might be as far away as four years from an NHL game, it’s still representative of the direction the organization is heading. Seven first round picks are in attendance and eight more second round selections from the last three drafts. That group includes players like Zemgus Girgensons and Rasmus Ristolainen, a pair of players who are likely penciled into the Sabres’ opening night roster at this point. While they’ll certainly stand out due to where they are on the development curve, my interest in them is much lower than other individuals and groups.

Today’s scrimmage is obviously the best opportunity for fans and coaches to see the players in a game setting, but Friday’s three-on-three tournament will likely yield some interesting results as well. The two game settings are mixed in with a week’s worth of practice that will see the players running through a host of drills. It’s an event that allows the organization to show their prospects how they’ll be expected to operate as professionals while also getting them on the ice for a week. Given the glut of talent that is present at camp, I’ll be keeping my eye on a handful of players this evening and Friday morning (should I make it downtown): Continue reading

Sabres have an arsenal of first and second round assets

If you read Paul Hamilton’s post on WGR 550 today you may have noticed the bevvy of players he referenced. A great many of those were selected in the first two rounds of the draft (as he mentions). After reading his post I wanted to find a way to illustrate exactly what the Sabres hold from the actions they’ve taken over the last few years.

The Sabres hold nine picks in the first and second round of the next two drafts. After the trade deadline the Sabres had sixplayers selected in the first two rounds of last year’s draft. Should the Sabres hold onto all of their picks and not make any trades involving players selected since 2008, the Sabres will close the 2015 draft with 25 players in the system who were selected in the first two rounds of the draft between 2008 and 2015.

That’s a long look at the organization as anyone selected since 2008 are beyond prospect status at this point and there’s no way to tell what Tim Murray’s strategy will be with the pick he possesses between this year and next. It’s a safe bet to say that he won’t sacrifice any of the three firsts he holds next year with his only course of action regarding the 2015 first round being to obtain more selections.

A pair of picks that I’m very interested in are the two at the top of this year’s second round. Buffalo holds the first pick of the second round (31) and Winnipeg’s selection (39)thanks to the deadline day trade of Matt Moulson. They’re high second round picks in what is considered a weak draft, so they may not carry all that much weight. I also think that targeting Thatcher Demko with the 31st pick could be a direction the Sabres go. I’d also be interested to see if either, or both, of those picks could be used to sweeten the pot on a draft day hockey trade if Murray is able to find a dance partner.

What I think is important to keep in mind about this – Hamilton touches on this when he refers to how envious other organizations are of the Sabres – is that the doom and gloom surrounding the state of the organization is somewhat misplaced. The Sabres have a ton of assets and while those selected prior to 2010 may by closer to veteran than prospect status, the organization’s roots run deep. This is not a team that has been spread thin by buying rentals and temporarily patching weak spots. While the holes in the current roster run rampant, the framework to fix them are in hand and will start to be acquired as soon as June 28.

As I said, I wanted to illustrate the arsenal of high picks and assets Hamilton mentioned in his post. The fun starts at the draft in Philly and will continue through to next season. If used properly, the assets listed below could significantly speed up the rebuild. 1st two round

NHL talent will soon trump picks, prospects on Sabres shopping list

At some point in the near future the Sabres will reach a critical mass when it comes to their rebuild. Eventually Tim Murray and the front office will be at a point where picks and prospects are trumped for the need of talent with NHL experience.

That point won’t likely come this summer nor is it likely to occur immediately after the 2014-15 regular season. But with the way Buffalo’s pipeline is expected to balloon in the coming months, Murray and company will soon need to find a different type of asset to add to the puzzle that is the Buffalo Sabres roster.

It was something that had come to mind somewhat recently with the hubbub surrounding Ryan Miller, Matt Moulson and Steve Ott along with the reported return each player will bring. Add to that the comments from an unnamed Western Conference GM in Pierre LeBrun’s article on Murray and it’s clear that the next step of Buffalo’s rebuild will need to come soon.

… I have always believed that you need some good veteran players to help [the young] ones along. You don’t need tons more draft picks when you have as many as they already do. There comes a point when you could have too many young players [and] picks… I would personally not just get more picks and prospects back since they have lot of those already. I would look for players that can play so you don’t rely on rookies so much.

It’s a take I agree with wholeheartedly. At some point your roster can’t just be comprised of 18-22 year old rookies. There will need to be a veteran presence on the roster and it needs to come from various directions. Continue reading

Weekend yields roster moves for Sabres

It would appear that two games behind the bench is all that Ted Nolan needed to make some concrete decisions on the Sabres roster. A number of changes in the forward lines accompanied Nolan tipping his hand regarding the goaltenders after last weekend’s home-and-home with Toronto.

After Ryan Miller turned aside 33 shots in a 3-1 victory, Jhonas Enroth was victimized by screens and deflections in a 4-2 loss that saw the young Swede only make 22 saves. The decision to run with Miller was likely made not only due to his strong performance on Friday, but the play he has exhibited over his last five starts. Continue reading