Sabres load up for another Traverse City run

You can’t say the Sabres haven’t won anything. They enter this year’s Traverse City Prospect Tournament as the defending champions after their triumph in 2011.

Buffalo’s title defense was delayed after last season’s lockout and they may benefit from the delay as they are prepared to ice a scary talented roster for the 2013 tourney. Mikhail Grigorenko will lead Buffalo’s other top prospects including; Joel Armia, Zemgus Girgensons, Johan Larsson, Rasmus Ristolainen, Nikita Zadorov and others in search of another tournament championship.

Mark Pysyk is one of the “vets” on Buffalo’s Traverse City roster.

Sending stacked rosters isn’t necessarily something that only the Sabres participate in. Each team manages to send a combination of pro ready prospects, new draft picks and players who have seen pro ice time to the tourney. It just so happens that Buffalo makes sure to construct a roster of their best prospects.

In 2011 the top line of Luke Adam, Marcus Foligno and Zack Kassian bullied their way through the rest of the tournament and claimed the first championship the franchise has ever seen.* Considering that Armia, Girgensons, Grigorenko and Larsson are amongst those participating, I think the Sabres are betting on bringing back another championship.

In addition to Girgensons, Grigorenko and Larsson – all who played professionally last year – Buffalo has a pair of NHL defensemen (Chad Ruhwedel and Mark Pysyk) to skate along with another NHL-ready player in Ristolainen. Continue reading

Grading the Sabres: 2013 report card

A fired coach, traded captain, booing fans and missing the playoffs typically doesn’t not make for a very successful season. That was certainly the case for the 2013 Buffalo Sabres.

While there were a few bright spots amongst the doom and gloom, the lockout shortened season is certainly one to forget for the Sabres. Before shutting the door completely I wanted to grade out the team and players on how the year played out.

Team

Coaching: It had been rumored that Lindy Ruff’s message had grown stale some time ago. Finally, after a number of listless losses, Ruff was fired after nearly two decades coaching the Sabres. Frankly, it just looked like the team had tuned him out and needed a change. While Ron Rolston arrived and helped to energize the roster, his presence wasn’t enough to lift the Sabres back into playoff contention. Entering the offseason, many are wondering if Rolston will have the “interim” tag removed from his title and command the bench for a full season. Grade: C

Powerplay: It is almost as if the Sabres don’t consider the possibility of an odd-man rush against while on the power play. It also seems likely that trying the same thing over and over again (zone entry) is not the definition of insanity. The power play simply wasn’t good this season and endured a massive dry spell in the thick of Buffalo’s ugliest stretch of losing. They would get an F but they managed to score every now and then. Grade: D+

Penalty Kill: Buffalo decided to run a unique, if not peculiar penalty kill which basically turns into a 1-1-2 in the zone and rotates with the puck. After Ruff’s departure it appeared as if things began to change, but the base of the kill still worked off the 1-1-2 set up seen earlier in the year. I personally didn’t like it as the second forward was rarely in the right position to deny passes across the zone. Grade: C-

Management: A lot was made over the end of the season press conference and other silliness. My focus is on what Darcy Regier did for the hockey team and if he made them better or worse. He traded away two veteran defensemen and his captain and came away with a first round pick, five second round picks, Johan Larsson and Matt Hackett. Overall it was a solid haul for what was given up (Leopold and Regehr) but the pieces acquired really won’t have much impact for at least two more seasons. Add in the firing of Ruff and it was a pretty tough four months for Regier. While he handled himself well I find it hard to see how he still has the reigns for this rebuild. Grade: C Continue reading

Grigorenko to stay, key will be finding ice time

In probably what was the most obvious decision of the season, the Sabres decided to keep Mikhail Girgorenko on the active roster for a while longer. Darcy Regier broke the news to the assembled media at today’s morning skate.

Now that the drama surrounding the decision so many already assumed the outcome of has gone, the time has come to make sure he is firmly in the plans moving forward for the rest of the season. Even in the spirit of matchups, Lindy Ruff cannot sacrifice his ice time and stash him on the fourth line – or the bench – with John Scott and others. From this point forward, Grigorenko should be a vital cog in how the team operates. If that isn’t the plan, then he should have been sent back to Quebec.

Grigorenko’s play has been widely viewed as strong. Outside of two questionable passes on separate powerplays (once vs. Carolina, once vs. Washington), he has been careful with the puck while showing strong vision. His scoring chances have been limited thus far but he has managed to show a nose for the puck and has found himself in better situations to score over the past couple of games. What has really been impressive, however, is his play in the defensive zone.

In fact, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Grigorenko has been Buffalo’s best two-way center through the first five games (somewhat by default). Of course, that isn’t why the Sabres drafted him. Continue reading

Instigator Podcast 2.5 featuring WGR’s Pat Malacaro

Eric and I were joined by Pat Malacaro of WGR for this edition of The Instigator Podcast where we discussed Mikhail Grigorenko, Tyler Myers and many other Sabres-related items. As always we mixed in plus/minus.

Thanks again to Pat for joining us and be sure to check out Eric and I on Twitter if you haven’t already.

Sabres centers to serve a pivotal role

One thing that Darcy Regier has managed well for the past few years has been his draft strategy. Glaring organizational weaknesses have been addressed in recent seasons via the draft and this approach has led to an impressive stockpile of talent in Buffalo’s prospect cupboards.

June’s draft was certainly no exception as the Sabres took what may have been considered to be a calculated gamble on Mikhail Girgorenko followed quickly by Zemgus Girgensons in the first round. The two selections immediately added two big, talented centers who each possess a unique skillset. In fact, each forward drafted by the Sabres in June had spent time at center entering the draft.

The addition of Grigorenko was perceived as the solution to the lack of a true number one center on the Buffalo roster. Only three days into training camp and Grigorenko has drawn plenty of attention for his play with many thinking that he will have staying power on the roster. It might be wise to ignore Jerry Sullivan’s rambling, contradictory column and instead focus on the other two posts done by Chris Ryndak and Kevin Pritchard on Girgorenko’s chances to make the final roster for the Sabres. Both Ryndak and Pritchard hit a home run with their analysis.

Looking at the makeup of the Sabres roster and assuming that Grigorenko will be a major part of it this season shows quite a different depth chart than what the team had as late as April of last season. Between the trade deadline and draft the Sabres transformed from a team with questionable center depth to one with the capability of having an effective set of nine scoring forwards.

Moving Tyler Ennis to center and the continued evolution of Cody Hodgson has primed the Sabres with three blue chip talents down the middle of the ice. So long as Grigorenko sticks around and the trio arte put in a position to succeed, the Sabres attack should be quite impressive. Continue reading

Burning questions as season looms

With training camps across the NHL set to open by this Saturday, at the earliest, the Sabres will be bringing in plenty of familiar faces to be evaluated for the 48 games that will be played in 2013.

Unlike a traditional training camp and preseason, this abbreviated version will keep the position battles to a minimum and many roster spots will go to the usual suspects. This is particularly good news for some veterans who may have otherwise had to claw for a spot on the 23-man roster and this also eliminates the ability for youngsters to make a statement as to if they belong in Buffalo for the duration of the season.

With every team in a similar situation, there is bound to be a league-wide struggle with chemistry. The teams that will be successful will be those who adapt and overcome any issues they have once the season gets going. The biggest struggle, outside of chemistry and fitness, will be those teams that hit any sort of losing streak. With a shortened schedule against conference foes, wins and losses will be magnified and any streak will be magnified that much more.

As the Sabres look to take advantage of the shortened season and build on an interesting offseason, here are a few questions that will likely have an impact on the season. Continue reading

The future looks bright with Armia and Grigorenko

Development Camp isn’t a device that is designed to fill out an NHL roster. The majority of the players invited to these camps are preparing to return to school or junior, not the NHL. However, there are always a few prospects that stand out above the rest.

The Sabres 2012 Development Camp provided the opportunity to see a trio of players that will likely be directly tied to the franchise’s future. Joel Armia, Zemgus Girgensons and Mikhail Grigorenko all participated in their first development camp with the Sabres after being picked in the first round of the last two NHL Drafts.

Joel Armia will be NHL ready once he comes over from Finland.

Armia missed out on the 2011 Camp due to complications getting to North America so soon after the Draft. Armia had an improved season with Assat of Sm Liiga and a point per game pace (5+2) at the World Juniors. He was dynamic at many times during development camp. His size set him apart and it was clear that two full seasons of professional hockey has aided his development.

While he is bound to Finland for another season, I doubt that Armia will have much trouble adapting to the NHL game when he arrives next year. What was most impressive, to me, was his ability to create in tight spaces. On a number of occasions he found ice for an open shot despite being in close quarters. The fact that he was able to do so on a daily basis was truly what stood out over the course of last week.

In tandem with Grigorenko at center, the line has the makings for a talented, dynamic and explosive offensive unit. Whether or not Girgensons is part of the line is up for debate. Having him ride shotgun for the two big guns would be an interesting development, but he would likely be better served on a separate line from Armia and Grigorenko.

Grigorenko was one of the players entering camp with the opportunity to build a resume that would eventually lead to a contract and a chance to truly make an impression at training camp. Outside of those who saw NHL action last year, Grigorenko and Girgensons were the only two at camp who really had the opportunity to jump directly into the professional ranks.

Girgensons contract all but ensures he will see plenty of time playing against men in Rochester for the 2012-13 season. Signing him and getting him into the professional game will be the best step for his development. Continue reading