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

Sabres have pieces to offer at the deadline

It has been a long time since the Sabres were in a position to sell off a number of assets in the name of rebuilding the roster. As the saying goes “if Gretzky can be traded, anyone can be traded”, and that rings particularly true for the Sabres.

There is truthfully no safe player at any level of the Sabres organization as the team appears to have a serious identity issue. While the Sabres certainly can come at the deadline with more than just a seller’s mentality, there is likely going to be more heading out the door than coming back in.

When I look at the Sabres I see a team with some impressive top-end talent, and abundance of “middle-six” players and impressive depth along the blueline. Buffalo’s greatest strength is in the goal crease and with talented, young forwards. What they lack is a proper identity amongst their four NHL lines as a relative hodgepodge of players has made up the 23-man roster with no discernible identity on any of the lines.

Robyn Regehr is one of the potential trade targets who could be shipped at the deadline.

There are basically three categories that Darcy Regier is going to group his players into by April 3; For Sale; Available; Untouchable. Players that are “For Sale” typically include your rental players and anyone who may have requested a trade. “Available” players are just that, players who aren’t being shopped but are still available for the right price. Lastly, you have the “Untouchable” category which was previously a well-populated list which has likely dwindled to almost nothing. Sure the Sabres have some assets that they’re not likely to part with, but there probably isn’t any more than one or two names who are considered untouchable.The key to remember here is that the Sabres aren’t in need of a proper rebuild in which they attempt to acquire mounds of draft picks. They’re in need of a retooling that will help forge a new identity and reshape specific portions of the roster. This isn’t a long term effort so much as a project that will probably truly begin bearing fruit in two or three seasons. So anyone worth keeping around will need to be capable of being a consistent contributor over the next 3-5 seasons.But who fits where? 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

Sulzer re-upped for another year in Buffalo

Alexander Sulzer is no longer a rental property. The Buffalo Sabres took him off the market with a one-year $725,000 contract.

Sulzer, who was originally thought of as a toss-in to the Hodgson/Kassian trade was solid for the Sabres in the stretch run and earned himself an extended stay with the club. Sulzer has gone well beyond the pleasant surprise he was in March to a full-blown upgrade for the Buffalo blue line.

Remember, Marc-Andre Gragnani was swapped for Sulzer as each were pending free agents at the end of this season (Gragnani was an RFA). If the Sabres kept him, Gragnani would have likely been tendered on the basis that just about every RFA gets a tender on a yearly basis. That would mean he would have been in the conversation for a roster spot yet again in the fall. Now he is not and most fans are rejoicing over his absence.

Sulzer is now one of eight defensemen who will be vying for playing time next season. If T.J. Brennan is offered – and accepts – his tender, that number will climb to nine. Sulzer fit well as a fifth or sixth defenseman late in the year and showed patience and consistency in the defensive zone. Not to mention, his chemistry with countryman Christian Ehrhoff made for a sound defensive pairing.

I expect to see Sulzer as Buffalo’s sixth defenseman with Mike Weber being bumped to the seventh spot. In fact, I would even go so far as to say Weber is expendable based on this signing. Of course, Weber’s value may not be very high based on what he brings to the table for most teams.

Overall, this signing is very impressive for the Sabres, who received him as little more than a security blanket in their trade for Cody Hodgson.

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