Depth Charges – How Buffalo’s Struggles in the Draft Have Led Them to the Basement

Despite nearly a dozen offseason acquisitions, the Buffalo Sabres continue to tread water at the bottom of the league, leaving many fans to wonder if there will ever be a way out of the NHL’s basement.

Their protracted struggles have been attributed to just about anything and everything the organization has done over the past half-decade. But the one talking point that’s rarely acknowledged, if at all, has been how Buffalo’s struggles at the draft have led to a lack of contributors throughout the lineup.

When Tim Murray said he wasn’t interested in a five-year rebuild, he meant it. He took steps to speed up the building process, dealing for established NHL players as opposed to waiting on the assets he and Darcy Regier had worked to accumulate. In a way, it was wise. It’s likely that many of the key assets the Sabres dealt would only be making their NHL debut this season, leaving the club with holes to fill over the past two-plus years. Had the Sabres opted to backfill the roster with veteran stop gaps as they waited for those prospects to mature, it stands to reason they’d be in about the same spot they are now with just as much fan discontent about their progress.

The results can’t be ignored though. While Ryan O’Reilly and Evander Kane have been good they haven’t been nearly good enough to put the Sabres over the top. Murray’s gamble on injecting the roster with NHL talent to hasten the rebuild simply didn’t pay off, leaving a disjointed collection of talent without a proper supporting cast.

For the most part, the lackluster results of 2017-18 sit firmly in Murray’s lap. However, he alone doesn’t own all of the Sabres’ problems. His high-profile moves amplified Buffalo’s lack of blue chip prospects, but the pipeline was thinning well before Murray’s tenure began. Continue reading

Strong return for Vanek trade despite surprising timing

Darcy Regier may not do well constructing teams or awarding contracts, but he’s often proven to be adept on the trade market. He did well in selling off a major piece yesterday when he sent Thomas Vanek to the New York Islanders.

Getting a first and a second round pick along with Matt Moulson is a damn fine return of a single player whose been widely rumored to be heading to Minnesota once free agency opens this summer. In fact, I’d say that the return for Vanek surpasses that of what Regier got for Pominville at last year’s trade deadline.

Regier also likely extended his lease on the General Manager position for at least a few more months. There’s a good chance that the fan discontent and media chatter has helped to turn up the heat on Regier’s tenure. Pulling an impressive trade for his team’s best player – particularly for a pair of impressive draft picks – will most certainly give him a stay of execution.

Trading Vanek was beyond inevitable as the Sabres’ dreadful start likely sealed his decision to depart Buffalo. He said as much in his first session with the New York media indicating that the type of rebuild the Sabres have embarked upon is far from an ideal situation for the pending free agent.


Hopefully there aren’t many Sabres fans who read too far into Vanek’s comments from earlier today as disdain for the team or area but simply as the desire to get out of a bad situation professionally. Continue reading

Tough to find patience with Sabres youth movement

The Sabres are a bad hockey team, we get it. What is surprising is that many fans entered the year under some sort of delusion that some form of tire fire wouldn’t unfold on the First Niagara Center ice this season.

With a 0-4-1 record and a looming matchup with the Blackhawks on Saturday, it’s safe to assume that 0-5-1 might not be too far away. However, the Sabres probably aren’t as bad as their record and their current play has indicated. They’ve already received three sterling performances in goal that resulted in exactly zero points for their efforts and a fourth solid outing that at least got the team to overtime.

Additional goal support should materialize eventually – although if their shooting and possession numbers don’t improve that may be wishful thinking. There are talented players on the roster who will eventually find a way to score more than once in a game. Perhaps it will take a little time for things to gel and when they do the Sabres will likely go from abhorrent to below average.

It’s a rebuild. This is what was expected to happen. Perhaps fans just weren’t ready for the worst of it. Continue reading

Sabres taking shape as free agency looms

There wasn’t much noise coming from First Niagara Center for most of June as Darcy Regier, Ron Rolston and company did their work without much outside contact.

Then came Sunday’s draft and the wheels were quickly put in motion as Regier began to shape his vision for Buffalo’s rebuilding process. Shortly thereafter, Joe Sacco was brought on as an assistant for Ron Rolston’s staff and the free agent courting process has officially begun.

Looking at the entire draft, there is very little to be upset about. Regier not only addressed an organizational desire for size and grit, he did so on the blueline. Rasmus Ristolainen is expected to be NHL ready which would make the bounty gained in Newark that much more impressive.

Outside of the two big defensemen, Regier scooped up plenty of offensive talent in rounds two through seven and stocked his cupboards well moving forward. But it’s the change that has come to the main roster that has caught my attention.

Regier is in full rebuild mode these days. By trading out Andrej Sekera for Jamie McBain (and the pick that became JT Compher) he shipped out a valuable commodity who contributed well last season. He also unloaded a player who probably could have used a fresh start on a new team which winds up being a win-win in my book.

Moving Sekera, to me, made sense. He had plenty of market value and should have been able to bring a strong return. Allegedly he was valuable enough to get the Sabres to the fifth overall pick, but Regier opted to bring in the extra pick along with McBain as opposed to just moving up three spots.

Give him credit for finding full value there. It seems as if Ristolainen was on top of Buffalo’s board after the big four prospects and with none of those players falling out of the top four, there was no reason to reach for their Finnish defenseman. In doing so, Regier still came away with Ristolainen while also snagging McBain and Compher. Once again, give him credit for getting full value.

The McBain acquisition was followed today by the buyout of Nathan Gerbe. While the move surprised many, it was a smart choice and will serve as a way to clear some additional space for those prospects who are making their way up the pipeline. Continue reading

The Instigator 2.8 – Cool Draft

Eric and I got together once again for an Instigator Podcast. In this episode we discuss the Sabres decisions at the draft table, the Andrej Sekera trade and whether or not Ryan Miller or Thomas Vanek will be on the team next season. As always, we close things with plus/minus.

Have a listen and feel free to share feedback:

Briere is more of an option than you might think

Eight years, $52 million. That was the deal that lured Danny Briere away from Buffalo on that fateful July day that so many hockey fans in Buffalo continue to circle back to.

Six years after signing his massive deal, Briere is set to be bought out at the age of 35 after injuries limited a few seasons in Philly and a particularly ineffective 2013 campaign made him a prime buyout candidate. As he prepares to hit the free agent market in search of a deal well south of the $6.5 AAV he earned in Philly, does it make sense for Briere to come back to don a Sabres uniform?

It just might. Continue reading

Enroth deal, market, setting stage for Miller

The writing appears to be on the wall. Jhonas Enroth’s two-year, $1.25M extension signifies an investment in the young Swede and with Matt Hackett expected to sign an extension of his own soon enough it would appear that the Sabres are prepared to move on without Ryan Miller.

This should surprise exactly no one as the relationship between Miller and the organization (fans and media too) appeared to be slowly fraying last season as the Sabres spiraled to the bottom of the Conference. As the season came to a close most assumed that Miller’s 500th would be his final game as a Sabre.

If both Enroth and Hackett sign it would represent not only the changing of the guard in the Buffalo goal crease, but a culture shift away from a big-money, number one netminder to a 1A, 1B tandem between Hackett and Enroth.

Assuming Hackett gets somewhere in the neighborhood of $925K, Buffalo will have just over $2M invested in their goal crease. Add in the looming trade of Miller and winds up being a savings in the $4M range. For a team with a decent amount of cap space to begin with, that is a huge amount of wiggle room. Continue reading

Familiarity may cloud judgment on choice of Rolston

Ron Rolston’s return was somewhat expected. He wasn’t a total catastrophe during his stint as Buffalo’s interm bench boss and he was rewarded with the removal of the interim tag at a vote of confidence as Buffalo’s head coach moving forward.

While not too many people were happy about it, I’ve been left wondering one thing: Isn’t this exactly what everyone wanted?

The sluggish start to the regular season eventually led to the axe falling on Lindy Ruff with Rolston stepping in to fill Ruff’s 15-year old shoes. He did so with a carryover coaching staff and what ended up being a significant portion of the Rochester Americans opening day roster in front of him. With the season wrapped, the Sabres let both Kevyn Adams and James Patrick walk away, leaving the door open for Rolston to bring in a coaching staff of his choosing. Therefore, once the 2013-14 season begins, the Sabres will have a brand new coaching staff behind the bench; precisely the type of cast they have clamored for over the past few seasons.

Obviously Ron Rolston isn’t the sexy choice for anyone. He’s a relatively mild mannered guy who won’t make too many press conference highlight films. Some have said he’s a carbon copy of the GM and I can’t say I disagree. This is probably why everyone is so upset at the choice of Rolston as the permanent coach. Not so much because he doesn’t have the potential to be a good coach, but because his name isn’t Patrick Roy and he was likely cherry picked by the browbeaten GM for the role. Continue reading

Sabres have trade chips on the wings

It’s a time of turnover in Hockey Purgatory Heaven with Lindy Ruff getting his walking papers while Jordan Leopold, Jason Pominville and Robyn Regehr each were shipped out of town before the deadline. It appears as if this summer will bring about more change via the trade market for the Sabres as they continue their rebuild.

One key for the Sabres will be finding partners as they search for options to swap out certain players. There have been specific mentions of the need to find more offense from media members in Vancouver, Los Angeles, St. Louis and Nashville. These came from either interviews or game broadcasts on the NHL Network station on XM Radio. Obviously these aren’t confirmed rumors, but the need for more established offensive weapons on certain teams isn’t a difficult conclusion to draw.

Vancouver’s second-straight first round exit have some asking if they need offensive help.

Vancouver’s sweep at the hands of the Sharks has many asking if Alain Vigneault will be back for the 2013-14 season after his team again struggled to score in a first round series defeat. The Canucks aren’t short on elite talent. The Sedins’ production has begun to tail off lately but I’d say their struggles to find talent beyond their top line has been a major issue for them. Identifying more scoring help would immediately improve the overall depth of their forward ranks.

A similar situation has been illustrated with the Kings despite the acquisition of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter last season. The Kings top six is very impressive, yet they were tied to a number of scoring forwards during the year. While the roster is deep, they continue to win close, low-scoring games on the strength of their goaltender and defense. While I don’t see where they would place a top-six forward, I can certainly understand the connection drawn to improve their offensive potency.

The Blues and the Predators immediately spring to mind for me when I think of offensively challenged Western Conference teams. However, the Blues roster would indicate anything but that. Oshie, Schwartz, Berglund, Tarasenko. This list goes on for a while and forms a youthful, talented core which has the potential to be lethal. The Blues just happen to play a measured, defensive style and don’t allow too many shots. Perhaps they need a certain $6m goaltender. But probably not.

The Preds are actually a curious case. They have two big money players (Rinne and Weber) and made moves at the 2012 deadline to find more offense. However the second Kostitsyn and Alex Radulov didn’t do the trick and now they have retooled a bit with the acquisition of Filip Forsberg. Finding another piece to add to their top six would be extremely helpful towards finding more offense for the Preds; especially after missing the playoffs.

There is a market out west for scoring forwards, there is no denying it. Perhaps the e4s and #CONFIRMEDD tweets and blog posts aren’t flying yet, but media members are looking at the teams they cover and are saying they’re in need of offense. Continue reading

Rolston sheds interim tag, named Sabres bench boss

Perhaps you’ve heard. Ron Rolston was officially named as head coach this morning after what I can only assume was a tiresome, no stone unturned coaching search.

Darcy Regier has tabbed Rolston as the man to lead the Sabres for at least the 2013-14 season as they begin to retool and rebuild a roster that carried the organization to the eighth overall pick in this year’s draft. While Rolston isn’t the sexy choice to fill the role as permanent head coach, he isn’t necessarily the wrong choice – which is what many Sabres fans out there likely believe.

Rolston’s skillset is that of a teacher. He led the USNTDP team for a number of years before coming to the Sabres organization to coach and develop young talent in Rochester. Lindy Ruff’s firing put him in a bad spot as his time as interim coach came with muddled success and a roster that did not meet the standards of a competitive NHL team.

That last point is the one that happy, apathetic and angry fans need to focus on. A flawed roster not only helped lead to the firing of Lindy Ruff, but gave Rolston a weak hand to play during his time as the interim head coach. Rolston was kept on as head coach by the man who made the decisions to build this roster and that man is still in charge. Darcy Regier hasn’t lost his Teflon coating just yet and is preparing to lead a rebuild that will kick into high gear at the draft. Whether or not Regier is the right man for the job is the more pressing question and should be of greater concern than who is going to be behind the bench this season.

The debate over Regier’s effectiveness and whether or not he deserves to still have a job at One Seymour H Knox III Plaza is a lengthy one and is slowly but surely filling towards the negative. Realize that Rolston, who was ultimately chosen by Regier, isn’t necessarily the worst person for this job. Continue reading