With the Buffalo Sabres re-signing Matt Ellis, Jhonas Enroth, Dennis Persson Andrej Sekera and Travis Turnbull this week, the opening day roster is all but set. While there will be tweaks as training camp comes and goes, the main body of the roster is pretty easy to piece together right now.
The Sabres have a boatload of depth at this point and a look in the prospect cupboard reveals even more. I was linked in a post about the Sabres depth being mistaken for a logjam. While I certainly see portions of the roster that are clogged I did not mean to portray the point of view that bodies need to go and go fast. Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff need to capitalize on the depth at their disposal. In two seasons this could be a very different team and that depth will be the reason why.
I divided the team up by position in a relative depth chart. Anyone under a professional contract for this season was accounted for (ex. Shawn Szydlowski). I also included Marc-Andre Gragnani even though he hasn’t officially signed. Of note; the defense isn’t in pairs, it is just split into a relative depth setting to account for who I expect to be on the opening night roster, and the order of call ups. Additionally, the forwards are offset because there are more right wingers than left wingers or centers at this point.
This week’s signings said quite a bit about where the Sabres think they are headed. Enroth is locked up for two years, he expires in the summer before Ryan Miller’s contract year. Matt Ellis gets two seasons as well, a two-way deal this year and a one-way deal next season. Andrej Sekera is locked up for four years, he will be under contract when notable players expire including; Jordan Leopold, Robyn Regehr, Mike Weber and Tyler Myers (Myers will of course get a monster deal in the next 8-10 months).
While no true number one center has been added at this point, the Sabres certainly upgraded over Tim Connolly by inking Ville Leino. Jochen Hecht is not an ideal number three center, but he will suffice for one last year. The depth beyond he and Gaustad is quite thin. Luke Adam and Matt Ellis will likely spend time in Rochester and both are capable of playing center or wing. Obviously this is one position that will need to be addressed moving forward.
I expect Cody McCormick to float to the left wing on Buffalo’s fourth line with Paul Gaustad and Pat Kaleta, for the sake of my depth chart I kept him on the right. The remaining right wingers are all interchangeable. Boyes, Pominville and Stafford could end up with any mix of center and left wing. It won’t be much of a gamble to say that Pominville will skate with Hecht. They have good chemistry and are responsible defensively. They would make a strong third line.
The elephant in the room is the Sabres current cap situation. After signing Enroth, the Sabres sit nearly $4 million over the cap and Marc-Andre Gragnani has yet to sign. Ales Kotalik and Shaone Morrisonn with account for $5 million, but when Gragnani signs, the Sabres will be very close to being $5 million over the cap. I estimate that they will have just shy of $1 million in wiggle room, probably in the $800,000 range, once the season starts. That almost ensures that at least one trade made in order to clear space for call ups and injuries. I don’t know who will go, but the best candidates are Pominville and Boyes because of their salary and value to another team. Do I one of them to be moved? No, they’re simply the best candidates to solve a problem that has been created over the past few weeks.
Regardless of the salary situation, the overall depth of this team is rather impressive. I believe that Kotalik would be more than capable of performing for Lindy Ruff. His best hockey was played in Buffalo and I think Ruff has a lot to do with that. The depth on the blue line is even more impressive. The top seven will likely include Gragnani and waiting in the wings are T.J. Brennan, Brayden McNabb and Drew Schiestel.
If there is one strength on the roster that will put the Sabres over the edge this season, it is the depth. In 2006 the Sabres would have won the cup if they had one or two more defensemen. Unfortunately they didn’t. But having those three youngsters, even Shaone Morrisonn 90 minutes away is a major boost. Same goes for Zack Kassian, Corey Tropp and the other black aces. In a season or two there will be a bushel basket full of prospects coming to Rochester, I am more than intrigued to see who ends up where once some of these prospects are playing professionally.