Decisions in the crease could be looming for Sabres

A number of moves made by Darcy Regier and Tim Murray were done to prepare the Sabres for life after Ryan Miller. One player that was acquired (Matt Hackett) may find himself pushed out of the Buffalo goaltending situation.

Regier’s drafting of LinusUllmark and Cal Petersen in consecutive seasons along with the acquisitions of Hackett and MichalNeuvirth has bolstered Buffalo’s depth in the crease with an eye on the future. The Sabres have drafted a goaltender in each of the last three drafts and have eight goaltenders in various levels of the pipeline.

Could Andrey Makarov’s arrival push Matt Hackett out of the organization?

While Jhonas Enroth and Neuvirth are expected to carry the load into the 2014-15 season, the landscape behind them could be in for a change depending on the direction Murray wants to go. Both Enroth and Neuvirth have one more year left on their respective deals before reaching unrestricted free agency. Nathan Lieuwen has one more year until his entry level deal expires while both Matt Hackett and Connor Knapp hit restricted free agency this summer.

Andrey Makarov is the only signed goaltender with significant time on his deal; he doesn’t become a restricted until after the 2015-16 season. Cal Petersen and Linus Ullmark are both unsigned with Petersen a few years away as he prepares to head to Notre Dame and Ullmark creeping towards a contract with superb play in the SHL.

The situation for the big club is all but set. Enroth and Neuvirth will be Buffalo’s starters entering next season and it’s conceivable that they both receive extensions next summer as the rebuilding process continues. It’s the depth chart below them that could be due for a shake up. Continue reading

Amerks (Sabres) Season Preview: Betweeen the pipes

Buffalo Sabres training camp was supposed to have opened last Friday. Instead, Tyler Ennis agreed to hop over the pond to Switzerland, Christian Ehrhoff was beginning his stint back in Germany and other Sabres were pondering European deals as well.

While it doesn’t seem as if the Sabres will be starting up any time soon, the Amerks have been injected with some extra talent (from their parent club) and have a deep, overpopulated roster to sort through before the puck drops on the AHL season.

The most difficult decisions for Ron Rolston and his staff will be at forward and defense, where the surplus of players is significant. However, the most delicate situation that Rolston and the organization as a whole will need to deal with is in net.

David Leggio is back for another season with the club but will have some interesting company this season. Rookies Nathan Lieuwen and Connor Knapp will each be entering their initial professional seasons but in a situation where two’s company and three is typically a crowd.

Leggio is the unquestioned starter after finding his way into Rolston’s good graces with consistently solid play last year. This was a pleasant surprise for the WNYer because of the contract given to AHL journeyman Drew MacIntyre who was signed to provide more stability as Buffalo’s third goaltender. However, one year removed from outperforming Jhonas Enroth in Portland, Leggio did it again to another goaltender who was tabbed as the superior talent.

The big step here is that Leggio is just one injury away from stepping in as the Sabres backup. This is likely something that the Sabres are at least somewhat concerned with because of the massive question mark that is Leggio’s ability at the NHL level. While he is a very good AHL goalkeeper, there is nothing that indicates how strong he would be filling time in the show.

Leggio’s presence will stabilize the Amerks crease and give the team a reliable starter for a majority of their regular season contests. He should also serve as a tutor of sorts for Lieuwen and Knapp. Where the situation gets sticky is the way in which the two rookies will be rotated. Continue reading

Sabres Development Camp: Day two recap

Even though there has only been two days worth of practice, it is probably safe to say the blue squad is a deeper and more talented bunch than those in gold at Sabres Development Camp.

With an opportunity to watch the gold group’s practice today I noticed that there is a little less flash as compared to the blue team anchored by Mikhail Grigorenko and Zemgus Girgensons. The gold team’s top set of players – Luke Adam, Cody Hodgson and Corey Tropp – certainly has the most fluidity in terms of chemistry, but the rest of the squad lacks the polish of the blue team.

Day two of camp was a little more focused on game scenarios and playing in traffic as compared to day one. There was still a fair amount of flow drills done in the early going, but the latter half of the ice time was primarily centered in a scrimmage setting.

The Adam, Hodgson, Tropp trio was heads and shoulders above the rest of the group during most of the drills. They were particularly dangerous in odd-man situations, shredding the defense on a few occasions during three-on-two drills. They also had success during the final four-on-four scrimmage to close the session.

On the whole, the gold team looked a little disjointed at times during the day and there was certainly an obvious lack of chemistry from top to bottom. I’d venture a guess that two days of 4:30 wakeup calls and SEAL training coupled with a full on-ice practice with conditioning to follow would kick anyone’s ass. So perhaps that, plus the fact that a vast majority of these players have never played together has something to do with the sloppy play. Continue reading

Sabres crease grows crowded with Lieuwen contract

The Buffalo Sabres are slowly growing an impressive stable of talented goaltenders at the NHL and minor league level. Their most recent addition was signing Nathan Lieuwen to an entry level contract, one year after he was drafted.

Lieuwen was an overage junior last year and there was even a chance that he could have been signed to a pro deal over last summer. However, he was sent back to the WHL to play big minutes and continue to develop. Now the 6’5” 20 year old will battle for playing time in Rochester with David Leggio and Connor Knapp.

The addition of Lieuwen gives the Sabres five goaltenders under contract and even more talented keepers who sit in limbo entering the offseason. Brad Eidsness was once a promising prospect through two seasons with North Dakota, but he was unseated by Aaron Dell and will likely not receive a contract from the Sabres. Buffalo also signed Jeff Jakaitis to a minor league deal in order to provide Gwinnett with some additional talent. Jakaitis seemed to show some real promise before getting shelved with a season ending injury. There is also the looming status of Drew MacIntyre, who will be a UFA this summer after a very underwhelming season in Rochester.

There is no reason for the Sabres to re-sign MacIntrye this season, but that doesn’t mean the goaltending pipeline won’t be clogged heading into 2012-13. With Ryan Miller the obvious leader of the pack and backed up by Jhonas Enroth, the Sabres also have impending UFA David Leggio along with Knapp and Lieuwen as AHL goaltenders. Continue reading

More depth added as Sabres ink Knapp and Catenacci

Two more Sabres prospects were signed to entry-level contracts today, further stocking the rich cupboards they already boast. Dan Catenacci and Connor Knapp were signed to three and two-year enrty-level deals, respectively. According to the Sabres, they will each report to Rochester under amateur tryout offers.

They join Brian Flynn, Kevin Sundher and Phil Varone as newly inked prospects this season. Sundher was signed earlier in the year while Flynn signed a one-year ELC last week and is also with the Amerks on an ATO. By having these players join Rochester on an amateur basis, they save a year of their contract from burning up, an especially important detail regarding Knapp and Flynn.

Knapp probably won’t do much more than practice with the team and possibly sit as a backup to David Leggio for the remainder of the season. Catenacci will see some playing time down the line – along with Flynn – for an Amerks squad who could use some additional depth down the middle.

Catenacci, however, will only provide temporary relief for the Amerks. His age only permits him to play in the NHL or junior for next season. With the assumed lineup the Sabres will be looking at in 2012-13, Catenacci’s ELC won’t start working for him until his first professional season in the fall of 2013. That being said, getting Catenacci under contract is a step in the right direction for the Sabres. Joining Flynn, Sundher and Varone; Catenacci is another skilled center capable of producing at a point-per-game clip. His size is somewhat prohibitive and I wonder where he fits in the big picture, especially with Tyler Ennis establishing himself as a formidable talent as a center. With Ennis already on the roster and Sundher in the pipeline, there won’t be much room for too many undersized forwards – especially at center.

Looking at this year’s roster, the trio of mini-mites (Ennis, Gerbe and Roy) may be a little bit of two’s company and three’s a crowd in terms of assembling a complete roster. If that is indeed the case, I wonder where Catenacci ultimately will fit in the grand scheme. Of course, if Lindy Ruff is still coaching he will probably just end up playing wing. Truthfully, that may not necessarily be the worst case scenario for his skillset, either. Continue reading