Post-Camp Musings Ahead of Final Cuts

The Sabres are about to get down to playing some honest to god, regular season hockey games this week. Before they jump in to games that count for something, they need to make a few decisions on their roster.

Preseason hockey is tough to take too much information from given the irregular rosters on a game-to-game basis. One night you could see an NHL-heavy roster and on another night you might only see three or four NHL regulars in the lineup. With that being the case, it can even be hard to be impressed by individual performances since the level of competition they can come against can vary so much.

There’s also the Preseason Pledge to consider. You can’t get too high or too low on a player or the team given the volatility of the roster during the preseason. But that can go out the window when Vladimir Sobotka skates on the second line and the coach says a lot of really nice things about him.

On the eve of the regular season opening, there seems to be more concern and annoyance than excitement across Sabres nation. Jason Botterill went out and acquired a handful of players who could really help this team turn a corner this year. Only, he forgot to get rid of anyone from last year’s group. This preseason was thought to be the one where we’d finally see some dead weight stripped off the roster. The likes of Sobotka, Zemgus Girgensons and Marco Scandella have been the most popular candidates in that regard. But with the season almost upon us, that’s looking more and more dire.

I, for one, seriously expected Sobotka to spend the final year of his contract in Europe. I’m glad I attached the caveat to my opinion that we couldn’t take solace in it happening until Botterill filed the paperwork. Given the state of the roster, Sobtoka seems to be safe. It’s disappointing for a number of reasons, primarily because Sobotka is bad at hockey. The silver lining here is that it appears that Sobotka is simply keeping Conor Sheary’s seat warm on the second line. He may just be the extra forward, meaning he’ll spend plenty of time in the pressbox this season.

Still, the fact that he’ll be an option to dress on a nightly basis is extremely disappointing.

I suppose there’s still a chance that we get surprised by the noon waiver notifications. But I’m not expecting any fireworks from the Sabres. That’s not to say they shouldn’t make some noise with their roster decisions. While about two-thirds of the roster was set before camp opened, I think there have been a few eye-opening performances the should have affected Botterill and Ralph Krueger’s thinking on the final 23-man roster. Continue reading

The Instigator Podcast 8.3 – Sabres Training Camp Primer

While the additions of Colin Miller, Marcus Johansson, Henri Jokiharju and Jimmy Vesey were welcome, the lack of movement off the Sabres roster has become a point of annoyance. We dig in to the overabundance of bodies on Buffalo’s blueline and bottom six, and try to determine what options face the Sabres as they enter camp. We spitball what the team’s lines may look like while taking a quick look back at last weekend’s prospects challenge.

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The Instigator Podcast 7.6 – (Lack of) Shots Fired

The Sabres have shown their fair share of good traits early on this season but plenty of bad as well. Those bad traits were on full display in a clunker against Vegas and we hit on just what’s plagued the Sabres in their losses (and some of their wins) this season. We run through the hiccups they’ve experience on special teams while also touching on the bright spots on the roster. Other topics include a run through of some of the Amerks’ top performers and who from Rochester is likely to be the first recall this season.

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Two in the Mailbox – Assorted Thoughts a Week from the 2018-19 Season

We’re a week away from the regular season which means it’s time to roll out the mailbag once again. This will be an abbreviated mailbag since there were limited responses (maybe I should take the hint) and because I had a handful of things I wanted to hit on in a quick hitter format which didn’t really make sense as its own post.

  • I mentioned how the Sabres finally appear to have some quality options to choose from when filling out the roster and it would appear that Tage Thompson and Alex Nylander are knocking on the door for a roster spot. Especially after Andrew Oglevie and CJ Smith were sent to Rochester. Justin Bailey, Nick Baptiste and Victor Olofsson remain in camp along with holdovers such as Johan Larsson, Zemgus Girgensons and Scott Wilson. Waiver eligibility seems to be at play here and will likely shape their final decision but Thompson and Nylander have been among the bigger standouts and offer the upside and offensive chops to help push the Sabres out of the basement. They both look to have an inside track to a roster spot even given their waiver exempt status.
  • Some good news on Conor Sheary was counterbalanced by Zach Bogosian being pulled from Tuesday’s game and Phil Housley noting him as day-to-day. The severity of his injury isn’t known at this point but if he’s already banged up it doesn’t bode too well for his long term outlook for this season given his history. Matt Hunwick is already out longterm which puts the defense corps in an interesting spot. If healthy, the Sabres looked primed to carry eight defensemen and while these injuries don’t change much in that regard, their depth may be called on sooner than expected. Casey Nelson was already going to be challenging for playing time but there’s the potential that a debate over recalling Lawrence Pilut or Brendan Guhle could be here before we know it. And right now, Pilut is the more likely of the two to be called up.
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Sabres Improved Depth will Make for Tough Roster Decision

It wasn’t long ago that the conversation centered on Sabres training camp involved more questions about which players could take an unexpected leap to in order to fill a much-needed spot in the lineup.

Thanks to a flurry of summer trades and a bit of lottery luck, the Sabres roster features more locked positions than gaping holes. The acquisitions of Conor Sheary and Jeff Skinner filled out a thin left side while Patrik Berglund and Vladimir Sobotka may not be offensive dynamos, offer much-needed stability deeper down the lineup.

Who Fills Out the Bottom Six

Buffalo top-six is all but settled at this point. Jack Eichel, Casey Mittelstadt Sam Reinhart, Sheary and Skinner are written in pen. Kyle Okposo might as well be too, though I suppose there’s room for him to bump to the third line if Phil Housely feels they can ice a third scoring line. Where the real battles will occur are in the bottom six, where there are probably three spots truly up for grabs.

Berglund is going to be Buffalo’s “third” center. He’ll likely be tasked with handling more difficult matchups, defensive zone draws and some (keyword: some) of the other duties that were previously filled by Ryan O’Reilly. Berglund won’t come close to covering all of those responsibilities, but he’s the one center in Buffalo’s camp best suited to take on a chunk of them. He’s another player whose spot was never going to be in question, though one factor that could be at play is whether or not Housley wants to inject more offense into the lineup.

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The Instigator Podcast 6.34 – Reaction to the O’Reilly and Sheary Deals

It’s been a busy week for Jason Botterill as he’s swung two trades that will have a significant effect on his roster. We lead off with a breakdown of Botterill’s biggest trade to date, in which he sent Ryan O’Reilly to St. Louis for a package of picks and players. We briefly hit on the acquisition of Conor Sheary before transitioning into a discussion of what’s next on the docket for Botterill as he still has a few holes left to fill on his roster.

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Rick Martin Trade Tree Sprouts Another Branch after O’Reilly Trade

The Rick Martin trade tree’s life got a big boost when Evander Kane was dealt for a pair of draft picks at the 2018 NHL Trade Deadline. Little did we know that it would get an even bigger boost this summer as Ryan O’Reilly was dealt for a big package of players and picks.

Tage Thompson and the pair of picks the Sabres acquired give the team a trio of solid assets to build with and all three could one day contribute to future growth of the trade tree below. We’ll probably see a branch or two more from this tree before it finally runs its course.