Grading the Sabres: 2013 report card, Part II

The defensemen and goaltenders get to share the spotlight in the second portion of my Sabres season grades. As always, your thoughts are welcome in the comments section.

Tyler Myers: Oh, where to begin? Myers was downright bad to begin the year before leveling out at midseason. He looked out of shape and lost most of the time and his play suffered for it. Considering the salary he is being paid, his contributions are especially frightening. Before his injury he was only okay and you could certainly say the defensive play was better without him. Yikes. Grade: C-

Christian Ehrhoff: Ehrhoff finished off another strong year in which he remained Buffalo’s best defenseman. He hasn’t blown up the scoresheet like some expected, but his powerplay time has changed from the Sedins to any number of players in blue and gold. Still, there’s a lot to like about Ehrhoff and he will be around for a long time. Grade: A-

Andrej Sekera: Everyone’s favorite whipping boy, Sekera actually wasn’t bad at all this season. He quietly goes about his business and plays steady hockey. I’m not a huge fan of his but I can’t deny that he has been a solid contributor in his own end all year. Grade: B

Mike Weber: Steve Ott’s arrival may just be the best thing for Weber’s career you could ask for. Weber is beginning to evolve into a leader, plays a gritty nasty game that is almost entirely absent on this roster. His puck skills aren’t very good, but as a defender there is a lot to like. He may still be on the rise for this squad. Grade: B- Continue reading

Sabres trades net quality return, though full value is still pending

While most of the return that Darcy Regier received at this year’s deadlines came in the form of draft picks, there were still a trio of trades made that will affect the Sabres moving forward.

The lone disappointment of the deadline might just be that more moves didn’t go down. Simply expecting a complete overhaul of the roster is rather unrealistic, but with players like Drew Stafford, Thomas Vanek and Ryan Miller rumored to be on the block many expected today to end with more than just one player (not counting Regehr and Leopold) sent on to a new team.

Grading the moves isn’t appropriate in many ways because these are moves that have set up for the future. Unlike recent deadlines in which players were brought in to bolster the lineup, 2013 was a year in which the opposite was true. There was no Cody Hodgson acquisition to base an opinion off of, which does make things slightly difficult when considering that a majority of what was acquired may not pay off until this summer at the earliest. Continue reading

Regier manuvers for the future with deadline deals

Darcy Regier wouldn’t say it outright in his press conference, but he maneuvered the trade deadline like a general manager leading a rebuild.

Regier’s moves netted the Sabres eleven total picks over the first two rounds of the next three drafts. Eleven picks. That includes two first round and two second round picks this year, a first and three seconds next year and a first and two seconds in 2015. In addition, Regier acquired a pair of prospects in his haul from the Jason Pominville trade.

Jordan Leopold and Robyn Regehr probably weren’t going to be part of the team’s plans for 2013-14 as the season began to spiral out of control. Regier got the maximum return that he could for each player and pulled the trigger. Given that second round picks are valuable commodities, he did a good job in netting a trio of the picks for his two pending free agents.

While the Pominville trade was somewhat expected, the magnitude of the deal may not have been. Two picks (first in 2013, second in 2014) and two NHL-ready prospects for the former captain is a solid haul and specifically the type of trade that is relatively foreign when you look at the moves typically made by Regier.

While the Sabres haven’t been in full sell mode for some time, Regier has also never had to deal with shipping out such a valuable commodity. The closest you could come would be getting Steve Bernier and a first for Brian Campbell, but even that pales in comparison.

Regier had to go into sell mode, there is no denying the position that he was in. There is a good chance that a majority of Sabres fans want Regier gone and they aren’t off base in that desire. He probably isn’t the man to complete the process of the rebuild but that doesn’t mean he didn’t take the right step forward with the moves he made.  Of course, there is no guarantee that he will survive long enough to take the next step in this process. Continue reading

Waiting on a surprise from Regier at the deadline

If history is to serve as a guide you can assume that Darcy Regier will make at least one fairly significant move at this year’s deadline. Perhaps a move will come in the days leading to the deadline, but Regier has made at least one move around the deadline in each of his years with the Sabres.

This year is different than most in recent memory due to the struggles on the ice and the calls for change from the fans and media. A great many are rightfully worried that Regier is not the man who should be guiding any sort of rebuilding process as he is the very architect who assembled the flawed roster that has hovered near the bottom of the league this season.

Buffalo will play a trio of games prior to the deadline and a string of losses would all but cement Regier as a seller. Granted many reports have indicated that the Sabres are willing to hear offers on the entire roster, three more losses would leave little doubt that the team will miss the playoffs yet again.

Whether or not you think Regier is the right choice to even begin retooling the Sabres roster is immaterial at this point. Fans have been calling for his head even before Lindy Ruff was fired but it is obvious that management isn’t willing to cut the cord on Regier at this point and the axe certainly won’t fall prior to Wednesday’s deadline.

Regier will indeed be the guy making and taking the calls for the Sabres on deadline day. However, he’s typically been an adept trade negotiator and has shown that his measured patience often yields the best results (see Gaustad, Paul).

I previously opined that the Sabres don’t need to enter this deadline as just sellers and I stand by that argument. This isn’t a team in the middle of a rebuild in which additional picks and prospects are the ideal return. The Sabres are a team with a flawed construction that could use a facelift. That means that hockey trades and some recycling would likely be in the best interest for the roster.

Moves like last year’s Cody Hodgson trade will allow for the Sabres to introduce pieces that can not only help in the future, but impact the roster today. 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

Sabres could be both buyers and sellers at the deadline

As the NHL Trade Deadline looms near, rumors will certainly heat up and talk around all teams will center on the players that are set to be moved an acquired.

Things are different for the Sabres than they have been in recent years. After three-straight seasons of lurking in contention near the deadline, Darcy Regier was often in a position to deal for assets that would potentially put his team over the top and help power a late playoff push. This year, the Sabres have languished at the bottom of the league and appear to be in the position to sell rather than buying.

One terrifying thought, however, is that the lockout-shortened season has left the standings in a tangled mess with most teams no more than a few points from jumping into contention. The Sabres enter tonight’s contest with the Rangers in such a position. A seven-point gap separates the Sabres from the final playoff spot in the East; that is a gap that could arguably be covered with a four or five-game run.

Knowing that Darcy Regier has been slow to sell off assets while being “in contention” makes me wonder if he will be slow to pull the trigger on potential deals. He is also going to be trading to save his job, so he may not have the luxury of the ultra-calculated approach that has allowed him to “win” numerous trades over the course of his career.

The first half of the season for the Sabres has been ugly, to say the least. The roster is flawed and it is clear that some players need a change of scenery while others will likely be walking as free agents come season’s end. The firing of Lindy Ruff signals that Regier’s days are likely numbered unless he can lead a quick turnaround by overhauling portions of the roster.

The Sabres, however, don’t just need to be sellers at the deadline. This won’t just be a firesale of every potential UFA in hopes of stockpiling draft picks to restock the prospect cupboards. While the Sabres will certainly be selling off many parts, they can still deal from a buyers position in some ways.

Obviously Robyn Regehr and Jordan Leopold will be on the radar of many teams as short-term rentals. Drew Stafford’s rumored proclamation of “welcoming a trade” certainly puts him at the front of the parade out of Buffalo as well. Other names will likely crop up as Regier is basically faced with a decision of overhauling this flawed roster or packing up his office at the end of the year. Still, it doesn’t mean that Regier is selling off parts without considering NHL-ready return. Continue reading

Grading the Sabres: Defensemen part one

My report card for the Sabres defensemen will be split into two five-man groups. Alexander Sulzer and Mike Weber will be in the second group with a trio of prospects. The first group will be the top five, if you will.

Tyler Myers – B

Overall, it was a decent season for the big man. There were times that he still looked lost defensively, but it was fairly obvious that he is a big part of Buffalo’s transition game. His absence often crippled Buffalo’s ability to move the puck and enter the zone.

I actually think there were some stretches that Myers was especially effective in his own zone, showing that two-way game that so many people are waiting to see develop. A healthy Tyler Myers is important for the Sabres. However, based on the last two years, a proper offseason program is what is important for Myers.

Christian Ehrhoff – A

When the Sabres signed Ehrhoff, I was ecstatic. Even though he didn’t go out and score goals like Bobby Orr, Ehrhoff was a very effective member of the Sabres blueline. In fact, he was their most consistent defenseman for the entire year.

While his goal scoring was down, he led all Buffalo defensemen in points, which is what he was brought here to do. What was unexpected was how great he was defensively. If the coaching staff would build their powerplay to better suit Ehrhoff, I think you would see his numbers increase. Continue reading

Mike Weber inserted into lineup, will skate with Regehr

In addition to Ville Leino’s shift to center on Buffalo’s top line, the Sabres will have another lineup change this evening against Philadelphia.

Mike Weber will indeed be inserted in the Sabres’ lineup and will skate with Robyn Regehr, this according to Bill Hoppe. Tyler Myers will skate with Andrej Sekera, reuniting a pair that saw quite a bit of time with one another last season. Marc-Andre Gragnani will be the defenseman who is scratched this evening.

Inserting Weber was likely an easy choice. Not only was Marc-Andre Gragnani not getting results on the power play – the main reason for which he was dressed – but he was also just terrible in his own zone. While Weber won’t man a power play point he will bring plenty of stability to the Buffalo blueline. That stability will hopefully cut down the massive number of shots the Sabres have been allowing lately.

While the issue of allowing countless shots on goal has plagued the Sabres, the only potential solution to the problem – establishing a more responsible in-zone presence – hadn’t been addressed. Dressing Weber addresses the problem. Having Weber skate with the veteran keeps Regehr on a true lockdown pair but adds even more toughness with the addition of Weber.

Moving Myers from the top pairing is somewhat perplexing only because he has been good in his zone with Regehr. While he has had some errant outlet passes, his overall defensive game has been sound. Perhaps Ruff saw too much defense and not enough offense from Myers. Ruff has mentioned he wants to see more offense out of Myers, perhaps in a role where he is “carrying” the pairing Myers will be more apt to lug the puck. That isn’t to say Sekera is chopped liver – he has actually been Buffalo’s best defenseman for most of the year – but based on Myers style of play and their chemistry last year, Sekera may serve as the best partner for Myers for the time being.

How long these pairs last is anyone’s guess. They could remain the same for much of the season, or be changed after one period, that is just how Lindy Ruff operates. Regardless, by limiting the number of offense-first players on the blueline, the Sabres should see positive results from the move.

Buffalo Sabres season preview: The Blueline

This is part two of a series previewing the Buffalo Sabres 2011-12 season. Part two focuses on the defense. Read part one here.

A handful of factors aided Ryan Miller in his Vezina winning season. Tyler Myers’ emergence as a force and his chemistry with Henrik Tallinder created a true lockdown pairing. In addition, Toni Lydman and Steve Montador offered a sound veteran presence to the bottom four that included Chris Butler, Craig Rivet and Andrej Sekera. Add Miller’s exceptional play over the course of the season and it is fairly obvious why he and the Sabres were so successful.

The 2010-11 season was a down season for the Sabres blueline as a whole. The departure of Tallinder and Lydman were filled by Jordan Leopold, Shaone Morrisonn and Mike Weber. An overall average season was capped with the departure of Butler (trade), Montador (trade/UFA) and Rivet (waived). Due, in part, to Terry Pegula’s deep pockets, the Sabres blueline underwent a major overhaul as they enter the 2011-12 season. Continue reading

Breaking down the Sabres’ signings

For the first time in my 25 years on Earth, the Buffalo Sabres were major players in the NHL free agent market. In fact, the Blue & Gold had the highest payroll in the NHL when the dust had settled.

The week prior to July 1 saw Darcy Regier poach Robyn Regehr, a second-round pick and Ales Kotalik (a charity pick-up) from the Calgary Flames for Chris Butler and Paul Byron. Point Regier. What is more impressive is that Buffalo was attractive enough for Regehr to waive his no movement clause for.

Regier then snagged Christian Ehrhoff’s negotiating rights and managed to ink him to a massive deal prior to the UFA market opening up. Ehrhoff, has put up incredible numbers in Vancouver. He is a career minus in the playoffs. However, I blame his -13 this year – which put him deep into the minus numbers – on the shoulder injury that limited him in the later rounds.

Regehr looks a hell of a lot like Shrek, he also tosses people around like an angry orge. Sort of a fitting nickname, no? I don’t know if he will be reunited with Jordan Leopold, or if he will be paired with Tyler Myers to create a monstrous shut-down pairing. Ehrhoff could certainly compliment Myers well, and it may be a better fit considering both he and Leopold are quite offensively minded. Nevertheless, they make the blue line significantly stronger.

Regier went out and made two major additions to his blue line before the clock struck noon on Friday. It was expected that the Sabres would make a major push for Brad Richards. They never did, partially because the New York Rangers were given the final right to match an offer for Richards and because they may have lost out on Ville Leino.

Buffalo’s only UFA signing, thus far, has been Leino. Despite only signing one guy, Regier went out and got a big fish. Leino is a very talented forward, capable of playing all three forward positions who is a major playoff performer. He put a dagger in Buffalo’s series lead on Philly and has been on my personal radar since his first year with Detroit in 2008-09. They may have overpaid, but if he flourishes at pivot there is no reason to say they overpaid.

There is plenty of time left in free agency, despite the current financial restraints I don’t think Regier is done signing players. Especially if they are to make a trade or two, as I suspect.

Looking at the signings Buffalo has made thus far, including re-signing Nathan Gerbe, Cody McCormick and Mike Weber, they have made major improvements to the roster.

Between Shrek and The Hoff the Sabres’ top four is about six times better than they were last year. Just on paper, think about it. Tyler Myers, Jordan Leopold, Steve Montador and Shaone Morrison/Andrej Sekera versus Myers, Leopold, The Hoff and Shrek. It is sort of like buying a Chrysler 300 because it looks like a Phantom.

The Sabres’ back end will be better, no doubt. By association Ryan Miller should be better. It is the forwards, particularly the top six who will be interesting to watch.

Leino and Derek Roy are not exactly a deadly one-two punch at center. I still think Darcy has a trade up his sleeve. If Leino clicks and Roy continues that point-per-game clip from 2010-11 then there may be hope. The wingers are obviously set, Jochen Hecht or Brad Boyes will likely settle on to the third line. Tyler Ennis, Drew Stafford, Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek all have homes with Buffalo’s top two centers. Now they just need to produce.

Surely there will be some shuffling amongst the bottom six forwards. I think their help, or reinforcements, are still on the to-do list for Darcy. I have a few thoughts on who may fit well in that role, even as a number one center depending on a potential trade.

Until Regier knows his cap number moving forward, not much else will be done by the Sabres.