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

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

Sabres need to center their focus

Jochen Hecht is not the answer to Buffalo's need for a number one center.

Buffalo’s injuries have finally caught up to them. Plenty of people say this is no excuse for their recent play, but at some point the plethora of injuries will affect the team.

Look no further than Buffalo’s top line. Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville centered by Paul Szczechura. It is a crime to think that the team’s top-two scorers are being centered by a call up from Rochester. Of course, they were being centered by Jochen Hecht, a black hole of offense in his own right.

The failure to obtain a proper center in free agency is no more apparent than in recent weeks. Luke Adam, when he was allowed to skate with the top line, was more than adequate between Buffalo’s top snipers. When he struggled, Lindy Ruff shuffled the lines and moved Adam away from the other 2/3 of The Subway Line. Adam has played well with Zack Kassian and Ville Leino, so there is no need to move him away from that duo at this time. Eventually the Sabres will need to find a proper cog for their top two scoring wingers.

Derek Roy filled the role for a bit before sinking back to the second line with Drew Stafford and Tyler Ennis. Of course, all three of these players have been particularly stagnant this season. Most of the blame for their lack of production could be centered on their desire to play games as if they are a non-contact skate-and-shoot, rather than a physically engaging NHL contest.  For the droves wondering where the secondary scoring has gone, look no further than that line.

The time has come for Darcy Regier to make a bold move. He has long been a wait-and-see GM. He keeps his cards close to the vest and always deals from a position of power. That is how he has won so many trades in his day. However, pulling a capable center from another team wouldn’t leave Regier high-and-dry. In fact, it could serve as a cap clearing method to improve his team.

One fact any Sabres fan needs to grasp is the cap numbers being tossed around in any trade talk. It is silly to think Buffalo could trade one player and one pick for Jarome Iginla. That won’t happen. The Sabres need to move out as much, or more than they will bring in with any trade. Drew Stafford and Andrej Sekera are certainly two of the most tradable assets on the team and they would clear just over six million from the cap. Hypothetically speaking, those two players could be moved for a center. However, the likelihood of that happening is quite slim. Consider those two only regarding how much salary would need to come out in any sort of swap in which Buffalo were to receive a center.

It is painfully clear the Sabres are in desperate need of a center who can run with Vanek and Pominville on a nightly basis. They also need to find someone to help with the power play. Paul Stastny’s name is back in the rumor mill, yet it is doubtful the Sabres could form a package (both players and money) in order to get Stastny to “Hockey Heaven”.

What may be a more realistic choice is to find a 1B. Of course, that theory is dependent on the belief that Derek Roy would also qualify as a 1B. In this case, assume he does. Acquiring another 1B centerman (similar to Mike Fisher) would give the Sabres two strong players at pivot for their top two lines. Said scenario should offer a pair of somewhat consistent scoring threats on the top lines. If moving a winger is how Buffalo could clear up their overabundance of wingers, it would be a win-win.

It is unlikely that the solution to the Sabres center problem will be available during the season. They will likely need to use the summer to make the proper adjustments to the roster. Perhaps by then the team will have been formed into the winner people have been clamoring for.