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

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

Amerks (Sabres) Season Preview: The blueline

The specter of past failures often loom large for NHL franchises. For example, the lack of defensive depth in the spring of 2006 prompted Darcy Regier to go on a drafting and free agent spree that stocked the Sabres cupboards with defensemen. Now the organization is reaping the rewards of that draft strategy.

However, as it pertains to the Americans for the upcoming season, the blueline is going to be awfully crowded. Rochester will enter camp with ten defensemen on their roster. Like with their goaltenders, at least one or two will be destined to spend some time in the Coast during the year.

Easy money on that player will be Corey Fienhage. The former third round pick hasn’t panned out at nearly every level since he was drafted by the Sabres and he even spent some time in Gwinnett last season. Nick Crawford could also be a candidate for the Coast depending on the performance of some of the rookies that are coming in this season. Drew Schiestel will also be in a sticky situation as he comes back to the organization after being loaned to Texas last season – a move that many interpreted as a death sentence for his time with the Sabres.

Get him a normal number.

Schiestel will be back for another year, but is looking up at a deep roster of defensemen who all saw serious time with the Amerks last year. Should Schiestel stay healthy over the season, he could certainly climb back up into the good graces with the coaching staff. After all, he was likely the first player who would have been called up last year had he not suffered additional injuries. The main hurdle Schiestel now needs to deal with will be the young prospects that will be playing in Rochester this season.

Mark Pysyk and Jerome Gauthier-Leduc are each entering their first professional season and will each bring plenty of mobility to a blueline that is already rich with physical defenders. Pysyk is a well-heralded prospect who fell to the Sabres in the first round of 2010. He is mobile, a right handed shot and is responsible at both ends of the ice. While he isn’t a straight ahead offensive dynamo, he certainly isn’t a stay-at-home stalwart, either. Pysyk plays a very balanced game and should get plenty of minutes in Rochester.

As for his fleet-footed 2010 draft mate. JGL is far more Gragnani than he is Campbell. JGL is a scoring machine and proved as much in his final year of junior. His defensive capabilities scare me, especially after seeing how useless Gragnani was in all but one playoff series during his Sabres career. Finding a way to develop a two-way game will likely be a key for JGL’s development.

A few mainstays for the Amerks blueline will be Alex Biega, Joe Finley and Matt MacKenzie. Biega, who wore a letter last season will continue to bring that sound two-way effort he has since his time at Harvard. Meanwhile MacKenzie will continue his development track that is basically one year ahead of Pysyk at this point. Continue reading

Grading the Sabres: Final defensive group

The final group of defensive grades will also be the final portion of the Sabres’ report cards. This group includes the three players called up from Rochester at various points during the season.

Mike Weber – C+

Weber was slightly less consistent that he had been in previous seasons. His best hockey was played with somewhat limited minutes as compared to games when he was given a heavier dose of ice time. While he was a decided upgrade over Marc-Andre Gragnani, he was little more than an adequate sixth defenseman. Overall, his year was little more than average. Considering the role he fills, you can’t complain too much about what he brought to the table. However, there is likely room for improvement that could come in the form of another player.

Alexander Sulzer – B+

Sulzer’s time with the Sabres was somewhat brief, but he was solid in those few games. A mobile defenseman, Sulzer showed he has a nice physical side to his game while not being a pylon. His athleticism might be what is most impressive to me. While he is a UFA this summer, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him re-signed. Considering he was basically a throw in with Cody Hodgson, discovering him could be a major steal for Darcy Regier and the Sabres.

Brayden McNabb – B+

McNabb still needs to stew a little longer in the minors. However, I don’t think that he will need to start the season in Rochester next season. In fact, if he continues to progress over the summer, I have little doubt he will find a spot in the top six.

McNabb is physical and has shown he can contribute offensively. Some of the traits he possesses makes him a very interesting player for the Sabres going forward. He could definitely be a cornerstone for the Sabres defense for a long time. Continue reading