The Instigator Podcast 8.8 – #SabresAfterDark Foreplay

Sabres. After. Dark. One of the greatest parts of the season has arrived. We jump in on identifying the impressive results the team’s “fourth” line has produced while also digging into the lack of success from Buffalo’s “third” line. We also look ahead to the upcoming West Coast road trip and how it might affect the club’s 5-0-1 record.

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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

What’s Left from the Sabres at the Deadline

After Jason Botterill’s comments on Wednesday it seemed fair to assume he’d have a relatively quiet trade deadline. The holes in his team’s roster were showing and the playoffs were looking bleak as other Eastern Conference contenders added help while Botterill stayed patient.

It was hard to stomach for some, watching the Sabres slide from the literal league lead to a six-point deficit from the final wild card spot. For others it was just fine. Botterill was going to build through the draft and stockpile prospects. That got turned on its ear on Sunday when Botterill sent a first round pick and Brendan Guhle to Anaheim for Brandon Montour.

The deal was exactly what Botterill had said he was attempting to make all year. A deal for a young player who would offer help to the team now and in the future. I don’t expect him to take another big swing by Monday’s deadline, but I don’t think the Sabres are done. Continue reading

Double Minors: 2014 Sabres Development Camp scrimmage

The Sabres annual prospect’s scrimmage came and went last night with a sloppy 5-1 win for Team White.

In a slight change from recent years the scrimmage was held early in the week and the results on the ice reflected that change. With only two ice sessions as a group, the majority of the prospects struggled to find chemistry in a game setting. While the players with more developmental and professional experience stood out for obvious reasons, there were very few true standouts simply based on the disjointed nature of the game that took over at times.

There were some obvious bright spots as one might expect in a six-goal game although a majority of the scoring happened to be done by undrafted camp invites while the organization’s prospects contributed in other ways.

Two of the most obvious standouts were Nikita Zadorov and Rasmus Ristolainen. The two towering defensemen were split between the two squads but they were certainly noticeable when they were on the ice. Zadorov was very active joining the rush and even chipped in with an assist as his booming slapshot caught the end boards and wound up on Jerome Leduc’s tape for a tap in to open the scoring.

Zadorov’s game appeared measured to me as he was picking his spots and recovering well when he joined the rush. He might need to practice a bit more discretion at times but he continued to display the active style that has made him such an attractive prospect. Furthermore, his physical game wasn’t lacking throughout the scrimmage.

Ristolainen was as steady as you might expect a player who split the year between Buffalo and Rochester despite being fresh out of the draft. Since both teams had only five defensemen on their roster the minutes piled up for each and Ristolainen was certainly a beneficiary of that. I think he is a safe bet to pencil into a top-six spot entering training camp as his second professional season is set to begin.

The biggest star of last night’s scrimmage didn’t even see the ice after the halfway mark of the second period. Linus Ullmark was far and away the most impressive goaltender of the four who dressed last night. Continue reading

Who is the Next Captain of the Sabres?

The Sabres have a bunch of questions that need to at least begin to be addressed this offseason and next season. While everyone focuses on the draft and who is going to put the puck in the net for last year’s worst offensive team, many have forgotten that the Sabres are (once again) without a captain.

There are a couple basic things that I believe the organization should (or should not) do when considering who will be the next person to wear the “C”.

First (and most important) is that the next captain must come from in-house. The cons far outweigh the pros when it comes to naming a player who was just acquired as the captain. The most obvious issue is that it places undue pressure on the new player. No matter the age or experience of a player, when someone is traded to a new team, or signs with a new team as a free agent, they want to make a good first impression. On top of trying to fit in with new teammates and a new system on the ice, the player is faced with trying to acclimate to a new city off the ice. Throw in moving a family and all that comes with it into a new town and the player is juggling all he can handle.

Another concern is that naming a player that is new to the team as a captain is an indictment of the leadership qualities (or lack thereof) of your current roster. By giving the captaincy to a newly acquired player you’re basically telling the 23 guys on your roster, “I don’t think any of you are capable enough or ready enough to assume responsibility for this team.” Given the state of the Sabres’ roster, I’d advise against doing that. Continue reading

Sabres can fast track youngsters this season

Perhaps this season won’t be about winning the Cup for the Sabres, but that might not be all bad. If suffering is indeed what Sabres fans are in for, at least the crop of fresh faces on the roster will provide a compelling narrative to follow for the season.

In the weeks between the draft and training camp, the Sabres voiced their support of Rasmus Ristolainen as an NHL-ready prospect and confirmed that Mikhail Grigorenko would play the season in Buffalo. Additionally, players like Zemgus Girgensons, Johan Larsson and Mark Pysyk began showing that they’d also be vying for a spot on the roster that takes the ice in Detroit on October 2.

With only six days left until the regular season opens, the roster is beginning to take shape with only a few spots left to confirm. How many fresh faces will be on the opening night roster is one aspect that hasn’t been determined at this point.

Buffalo still has nine defensemen in camp with newly signed, junior-eligble Nikita Zadorov amongst the group. Zadorov has received rave reviews throughout the summer and the preseason and has probably earned himself his nine-game tryout before being sent back to London. However, the already crowded blueline corps has little wiggle room to find a spot for Zadorov, even if it is for nine games.

It would be great if the Sabres could find a way to get Zadorov into the line-up for those first nine games, they certainly don’t need to have Alexander Sulzer on the roster to open the season and could use his spot to insert Zadorov to start. It isn’t inconceivable to think that either Sulzer or Jamie McBain will be heading to Rochester regardless of what the Sabres plan on doing with Zadorov simply because I don’t see many minutes available for those two at this point. Continue reading

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