We’re a week away from the regular season which means it’s time to roll out the mailbag once again. This will be an abbreviated mailbag since there were limited responses (maybe I should take the hint) and because I had a handful of things I wanted to hit on in a quick hitter format which didn’t really make sense as its own post.
- I mentioned how the Sabres finally appear to have some quality options to choose from when filling out the roster and it would appear that Tage Thompson and Alex Nylander are knocking on the door for a roster spot. Especially after Andrew Oglevie and CJ Smith were sent to Rochester. Justin Bailey, Nick Baptiste and Victor Olofsson remain in camp along with holdovers such as Johan Larsson, Zemgus Girgensons and Scott Wilson. Waiver eligibility seems to be at play here and will likely shape their final decision but Thompson and Nylander have been among the bigger standouts and offer the upside and offensive chops to help push the Sabres out of the basement. They both look to have an inside track to a roster spot even given their waiver exempt status.
- Some good news on Conor Sheary was counterbalanced by Zach Bogosian being pulled from Tuesday’s game and Phil Housley noting him as day-to-day. The severity of his injury isn’t known at this point but if he’s already banged up it doesn’t bode too well for his long term outlook for this season given his history. Matt Hunwick is already out longterm which puts the defense corps in an interesting spot. If healthy, the Sabres looked primed to carry eight defensemen and while these injuries don’t change much in that regard, their depth may be called on sooner than expected. Casey Nelson was already going to be challenging for playing time but there’s the potential that a debate over recalling Lawrence Pilut or Brendan Guhle could be here before we know it. And right now, Pilut is the more likely of the two to be called up.
- Preseason is always tough because the split squad rosters never offer a uniform look in terms of competition. Line mates change as do D partners. Sometimes you run into an ECHL-level goalie and sometimes you get a loaded roster. So trying to pin down exactly who is stealing the show and who needs work can be a challenge. But through five preseason games, a few players have stood out to me in a positive light:
- Will Borgen: He’s probably never going to wow anyone in terms of offensive production but Borgen has done quite well in the two games he’s gotten into, including the Hockeyville game when the Blue Jackets rolled out a decent crop of NHL talent. A year in Rochester will do him a world of good but he shows a good eye for when to step in and engage and when to lay back and his physical game will win all sorts of fans in Buffalo.?
- Lawrence Pilut: You don’t need to look too far to find people fawning over Pilut’s play. If Buffalo’s blueline was thinner I think he would have easily played his way into an opening night spot. But the Sabres have a few more bodies in camp than you might expect and Jason Botterill’s stated preference to develop players on a patient schedule would point to Pilut heading to Rochester for more seasoning. Considering that he looks to be adjusting to the North American ice quickly, he may be poised to be an impact player for the Amerks out of the gate.
- Carter Hutton: No position is at more mercy to the whims of lopsided rosters than goaltenders, which can lead to difficulty in evaluating play. Hutton hasn’t been thrown to the wolves in either of his starts and he’s played quite well in each of them. He’s an active goaltender who will play higher in the paint than larger goalies. Some may describe him as “athletic”. He’s played well though in somewhat limited action which is a good sign for someone most fans probably aren’t too familiar with.
- Skinner-Eichel-Reinhart: This line looks like it’s going to be a ton of fun.
On to the questions!
Kopy/@kopyj – What’s the impact of Zetterberg retiring and do they go with three assistant captains or a new captain? Also – bigger offseason acquisition: Tavares in MTL or Karlsson in San Jose?
I think Zetterberg’s retirement might just help them put the rebuild into top gear. The Canucks dealt with this with the Sedins for a few years. The team was clearly regressing to the point where they needed to rebuild but the Sedins were good enough to prop them up. Now that they’ve gone the Canucks are free to strip out any other aging veterans and do a full and proper rebuild. I suspect the Wings will do the same. Kronwall is on his way out as well and once he’s gone they’ll be able to fully transition to a new core built around the likes of Larkin, Mantha and Zadina. As for wearing the C? I’d put it on the shelf for a year or two until they can determine if anyone distinguishes themselves as a leader as the team exits the rebuild.
Jayson/@jaysoncanfield- Will you be buying NHL 19? Only one day in but it seems much better even without Frostbite.
I’m planning on it. I haven’t bought a new game in some time so I’m overdue. I’m still plugging away on FIFA 16 for Christ’s sake. But that’s because my youth academy players developed into studs and I can’t bear the thought of starting over in manager mode.
The NHL series has been really lackluster for quite a while, so much so that I haven’t given EA Sports money for the game since 2016 (I got 2017 for free). But I didn’t bother with last year’s edition even though the threes mode seemed cool. As I understand it, they finally changed the skating engine so I’m hopeful the game will be enjoyable again.
Bob/@awesomebobNo1 – If some of these young bucks make the team, what’s to be done with the veterans they replace? Does Botterill risk waivers, or would a package deal for a low return be worth it?
I don’t think the Sabres are going to throw too many curveballs when it comes to the roster construction. They have a lot of guys who are waivers exempt and I’m expecting them to take full advantage of that in order to keep Rochester well stocked and to ensure they aren’t rushing any of their prospects. Thompson and Nylander certainly look like they’ve made a case to stick around and if any of the injuries on the blueline linger, we may see Lawrence Pilut to start the year. But overall I think you’ll see them opt to protect their vets so they can maximize the bodies they have in the system. Call it good asset management, call it patience, call it a realistic view of where the team is. Just don’t expect to see every unpopular player on waivers.
I’m sure most of the guys in question have some value and I know fans would love to see some fresh faces in place of Zemgus Girgensons, Johan Larsson, Nathan Beaulieu and maybe even Jason Pominville. However, aside from maybe Larsson, I don’t think any of those guys are in real danger of getting waived or moved. CJ Smith and Andrew Oglevie going down is a good indication of what the organization is thinking.
There is going to be at least one somewhat surprising demotion when this is all said and done. Maybe it winds up being Scott Wilson and there are only minor ripples as opposed to Larsson who would be a far more noteworthy cut. Given that he left the Pens game injured may buy him and the organization some time. I can’t say I blame the Sabres either. As much as they’re hoping to be a playoff team this year, I have to think they see this season as a transitional step to being a regular competitor for a playoff spot. They have the makings of a solid core, they just need everyone to gel and there will probably be a few more growing pains along that way. If that’s the case then by all means, let the kids eat up big minutes in Rochester and ride out the end of these veteran deals before reassessing next summer.
Very Bad Trades
To kick off the 2018-19 season how about a double dose of Bad Trades? From our friends CrazyK04 and Shibbal18 on CapFriendly, I give these four out of five Chiarellis each!
Love to see buffalo persue Panerin