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2012 NHL Draft preview for the Buffalo Sabres

June 20, 2012

Heading into the 2012 NHL draft the Buffalo Sabres appear to be in a great situation with four picks in the top 44.

Well as college football analyst Lee Corso famously says “not so fast.”

On paper Buffalo looks to have a great opportunity to improve its team immediately through the draft, but the only problem is this year’s first round prospects are shaping up to be the weakest in over a decade.

The growing consensus by many draft experts is that beyond Nail Yakupov and Ryan Murray there are no sure fire picks in the top five. This doesn’t directly affect the Sabres because they pick at 12 and 21, but it lessens the chance of them trading up into the top five to grab an elite prospect.

From everything I’ve heard from both Darcy Regier and Kevin Devine they aren’t enamored with any one prospect strong enough to move up in the draft. If I had to take a guess right now, my money is on Regier burning up the phone lines looking to package some of their top four picks into a NHL player.

In the case that the Sabres do keep both of their first round picks here are some players to keep an eye on this Friday night. (I don’t confess to be a hockey scout, these prospect write-ups are based on several hours of draft research)

Forwards

  1. Radek Faksa: A 6-3 center most like to go in the 7-10 range. Would be a good addition for the Sabres, but they will most likely miss out on him.
  2. Teuvo Teravainen: A 5-11 winger who has seen his draft stock soar over the past few weeks. Like Faksa, Buffalo will most likely miss out on him unless they trade up a few spots.
  3. Zemgus Girgensons: A 6-1 center that should be on the board when Buffalo selects at 12. Considered a safe roster player that projects as a third line center.
  4. Brendan Gaunce: A 6-3 center that uses his size well. Will most likely go in the mid to late teens, the Sabres could consider trading up from 21 to get him.
  5. Thomas Wilson: A 6-4 winger that fits the mold of a power forward. Like Gaunce would improve Buffalo’s toughness and should go in the late teens range.

Some other forwards to keep an eye out for include: Stefan Matteau, Tomas Hertl, Sebastian Collberg and Scott Laughton.

Defense

  1. Olli Maatta: A 6-2 rock solid defenseman who should be available when Buffalo picks at No. 12. It has been reported that the Sabres were the only team to bring him in for a visit.
  2. Cody Ceci: Another 6-2 prospect, Ceci is considered one of the top offensive defenseman in the draft.
  3. Hampus Lindholm: At 6-3, Lindholm is considered a solid two-way defender. Will almost certainly be there at 12.
  4. Matt Finn: A 6-0 reliable defender. If the Sabres go forward at 12 they could try and trade up in the late teens to grab Finn.
  5. Derrick Pouliot: At 5-11, Pouliot is considered one of the top skating defenseman in the top of the draft. He could fall to Buffalo at 21.

Some other defenseman to keep an eye on include: Ludvig Bystrom, Slater Koekkoek and Brady Skjei. If the Sabres don’t trade both of their first round picks don’t sleep on a goalie either.

When listing the prospects I didn’t bother profiling the consensus top prospects at both forward and defense because like I discussed earlier I don’t see Buffalo trading up into the top five. One situation to keep an eye is if Mikhail Grigorenko falls and is there at No. 12. The 6-3 Russian center is considered the biggest question mark of the first round because of questionable intangibles. If he pans out for which ever team takes him he has elite talent if he commits himself.

Here are my projections if the Sabres keep both of their first round picks:

12. Olli Maatta

21. Brendan Gaunce

Check out the site tomorrow and I will dive into some possible trade scenarios and give my thoughts on what the best route for Buffalo to take is.

Feeling rather optimistic

April 9, 2012

Fire Darcy Regier. Lindy Ruff’s system doesn’t work. Ryan Miller is overpaid and overrated. The core of the team needs to be broken up. Derek Roy is a prima donna. The team isn’t tough enough.

Those are just some of the many sentiments fans are voicing after the Buffalo Sabres failed to make the playoffs for the third time in the past five years.

Heard enough of this talk already?

I know I sure have. As I sit here reflecting on the 2011-12 season a rather peculiar feeling keeps popping in my head: optimism. This stems from the fact that for the first time in several years I believe the team has a solid and likable foundation in place.

In a lot of ways this past season reminded me of the 2003-04 team that also missed out on the playoffs.  That team had a good mix of players and you could tell they were right on the cusp of putting everything together (lets hope a lock out doesn’t happen like in 2004-05). I’m not saying Buffalo has anything close to the next Chris Drury or Danny Briere on its roster, but the future looks bright with Tyler Ennis and Cody Hodgson in the middle. I’m also fully expecting the team to find a No. 1 center either via a trade or through the draft. As far as comparing the defensemen and goaltending, the current team has the 2003 team beat by miles.

Should Regier get fired? Which player should be traded? I will save those types of questions for future stories. It’s been awhile since I’ve written an article for Bleed Buffalo so I thought it was time I got back into it and why not start by sharing my thoughts on how the Sabres’ season went. It’s not everyday that you feel optimistic about a team that is coming off such a disappointing season.

With Terry Pegula’s commitment, the wave of young players coming up the pipeline and four picks in the top 60 of this year’s draft I can’t help but feel good about the future. The draft can’t come soon enough.

Where are all the centers?

July 7, 2011

The dust is finally settling over at HSBC Arena (for now), but the buzz in Western New York is only starting to heat up. The first Terry Pegula offseason has opened with quite a bang and it has led to many people wishing hockey season was right around the corner.

Unfortunately, the season is still a few months away, but it provides ample time to continue to evaluate the Sabres’ roster. My colleague John did a great job of highlighting the change in team philosophy this offseason and I will look to explore an aspect of his article further.

So I pose this question to Darcy Regier and his scouting team: Where are all the centers?

(more…)

Things are looking up in Buffalo

May 14, 2011

I apologize for the hiatus, but it’s been a hectic past few months. In our absence here at the site a lot has taken place with both of the local teams and this article is an attempt to give my thoughts on what has transpired.

I’ll start on the ice where the Sabres capped off one of the most enjoyable seasons in team history. Playoffs aside, the way Buffalo competed in the second half of the season brought back memories of the 2006 playoff run. Oh and that Terry Pegula guy kind of added some intrigue to the team. The Sabres went into the playoffs battled tested and with a renewed energy, but they couldn’t finish off Philadelphia. On paper, the Flyers were the much better team, but it didn’t show throughout most of  the first six games of the series. Tired and beat up, Buffalo fell apart in Game 7 and that was all she wrote for the 2010-11 season. The final game didn’t sour my thoughts on the past season and if anything it has started my dreaming for the offseason ahead.

For the first time since I’ve been a Sabres’ fan I can look forward to July and that is all thanks to Pegula and his regime. I don’t think you could have drawn up a more perfect owner for Buffalo and I look forward to the changes that lie ahead. The Sabres need to do some tweaking to their lineup, but I don’t anticipate several major moves because of the salary cap. I know a lot of people are clamoring for a few big names to be added to the roster, but I don’t see it possible unless Buffalo can find a taker for some of its bigger money players. Paul Hamilton summed this point up great Friday on WGR550.com.

The Sabres are no longer the only team in town that looks like they know what they’re doing! Yes that other team I’m talking about is the Buffalo Bills. Between its successful draft and the reshuffling of its scouting department it seems as if Buffalo finally gets it. The Bills were flat out horrible on defense last season and instead of reaching for a quarterback with the third pick in the draft they selected arguably the best defensive player. Marcell Dareus will start from day one and help sure up the NFL’s worst run defense. The Bills didn’t stop with Dareus, they selected six more defensive players in hopes to improve the depth on that side of the ball.

I can’t tell you how much I loved the fact that the Bills didn’t reach for a quarterback in the draft. Buffalo had its sights set on Cam Newton and once he was taken No. 1 by Carolina a signal caller was no longer in its plans. Buddy Nix and Chan Gailey want a franchise guy and after Newton they realized that none of the other quarterbacks had that appeal. So instead of reaching for one they will sign a veteran to back-up Ryan Fitzpatrick and look to fill that need in the much deeper 2012 quarterback draft class. Listen, I know Fitzpatrick is not the long term answer at quarterback, but I can definitely sit through another season or two with him as the starter. He has the respect of all his teammates and he’s not afraid to sling the ball around. When we do draft an elite quarterback I hope Fitzpatrick is still around because I wouldn’t want anyone else to be the back-up.

The future looks bright for the Bills and Sabres and this summer/fall should be a fun time around Buffalo. The Sabres should be plenty busy in the upcoming months and hopefully the NFL lockout ends soon so we can get a look at some of the Bills’ rookies. For now we can sit back, enjoy the ride and as Terrell Owens said “get your popcorn ready.”

(Check back weekly we will continue writing material throughout the summer on a variety of sports topics)

Will the Sabres be buyers or sellers?

February 22, 2011

Now that Terry Pegula has officially been sworn in as king of the Sabres’ throne it’s time to start thinking about the future. The NHL trade deadline is only six days away and it will certainly be interesting to see what approach Buffalo takes. Darcy Regier has come out publicly and said the team isn’t interested in acquiring expiring contracts and if they do make any moves it will be to solidify the future.

I believe the Sabres should attempt to do two things at the deadline: Sell off some stale players and make one significant splash for the future.

The time has come Darcy. It’s time to admit mistakes of the past and shake up this core. Trading away Tim Connolly and Craig Rivet should be no-brainers, but how about someone like Jochen Hecht or Paul Gaustad? What about Jason Pominville? If a team comes calling on any of these players I would sincerely hope Darcy gives it a lot of thought. In order for Buffalo to get to the next level it’s going to need to change the make-up of the team.

It’s no secret that the Sabres lack a true No. 1 center. It’s been that way since Chris Drury and Danny Briere left and no matter how well Derek Roy plays he isn’t on that level.  With a weak 2011 free agent class, a trade may truly be the only way to address this need. Another area I think the Sabres are lacking is a top defenseman to play along side Myers. Pairing him with a proven player could be the best thing for him. Below is a list of players I have heard mentioned in trader rumors (not all with Buffalo) and ones I think the Sabres should take a look at. The one thing to take from the Erik Johnson trade last week is that no player is untouchable.

1. Paul Stastny C: He makes 6.6 million per year and is signed through 2013-14.

2. David Backes RW: He’s going to make 4.5 million starting next season and is signed through 2015-16. The Blues have already shown they’re sellers this year.

3. Stephen Weiss C: He makes 3.1 million and is locked in for two more seasons.

4. Brad Richards C: He makes 7.8 million and is a free agent after this season. He doesn’t fit the description of the player Regier is looking for, but he would fill the No. 1 center role.

5. Dustin Brown RW: An Ithaca native, Brown makes 3.175 million and is locked up through 2013-14.

6. Alexander Semin RW: He’s slated to make 6.7 million next season.

7. Zach Parise LW: He’s going to be a restricted free agent at the end of the season, but he’s going to be a star in the league for a long time.

8. Pat Kane RW: He’s going to make 6.3 million and he’s locked up until 2014-15. Bringing back a Buffalo kid with his talent would have all the makings for a great story.

9. Brent Seabrook D: He’s going to be a restricted free agent next season, but it’s hard to think the Blackhawks are going to be able to sign him to a long term deal.

10. Robyn Regehr D: A solid veteran defenseman that is locked up for the next two seasons at 4.02 million.

Although there is no way most of these players get moved at the deadline, these are the type of players the Sabres should be inquiring about when the season ends. With the weak free agent class, trades may be the only way to make a significant roster move.

(Cap numbers provided by capgeek.com)

A new era of Buffalo hockey

February 22, 2011

As I shared a few tears with Terry Pegula this morning, I couldn’t help but think back to how I developed my love for not only the Buffalo Sabres but for the sport of hockey.

For years I’ve listened to my father share stories about the likes of Gilbert Perreault, Rick Martin, Danny Gare etc…Now at the age of 23, I can join in and reflect on watching the teams of the 1990s and 2000s with him. His passion for the sport carried over to me and we continue to share this bond today.

As I sat listening to the press conference today I couldn’t help but think that Mr. Pegula is just like my father and I. He’s a passionate fan that has a love for the team that goes beyond the sport.

Terry made this very evident in the first minute of his speech when he thanked Tom Golisano for “saving his team”. His genuine demeanor stole the room and when he thanked his hero Gilbert Perrault it was one of those wow moments that will forever be remembered in Sabres’ history.

Pegula and his new regime made it quite apparent that there will be no financial restraints hindering the team in the future. He even went as far to say as the sole reason the Sabres exist is to win a Stanley Cup.

I wasn’t sure what to expect heading into this morning, but as I sit here reflecting on Mr. Pegula’s words I am now confident that I will be able to one day share a Buffalo Sabres’ championship with my father. I know things won’t happen over night, but never has the future looked brighter as a Sabres’ fan.

Photo provided by Harry Scull Jr.

February 17, 2011

Parting thoughts on Golisano

February 3, 2011

With Terry Pegula getting ready to take the reigns of the Sabres in the coming weeks, I wanted give a few thoughts on Tom Golisano’s final press conference today.

First I would like to thank Mr. Golisano for everything he’s done for the organization. Buffalo was on the brink of bankruptcy when he took over in 2003 and apparently the situation was a lot worse than we thought. On WGR this morning, Paul Hamilton talked about how the NHL had a disbursement draft set in place in case the Sabres folded. So Tom, thank you for stabilizing the organization!

One of the main things that stood out to me at the press conference was the fact the ownership regime was happy with the progress they made. Golisano boosted at the fact that Buffalo was the sixth in the NHL in win percentage during his tenure (.590). The thing he failed to mention was that the team only made the playoffs three times out of those seven seasons. The Sabres have had some success under Golisano, but they’ve become complacent.

Reflecting off that last point, Golisano spoke about parody in the NHL and how tough it was to compete year in and year out.  My biggest problem with that point is that after a few years of struggling, most teams make significant changes. After its post-lockout success, Buffalo failed to keep the proper core of players around and the team suffered greatly from it. What did the Sabres do to fix this problem? That’s right, nothing. Golisano was making a profit and fans were coming to games so why shake up the organization. This season is the perfect example of why changes need to be made in both the front office and to the roster.

The final point I took from the press conference is that Pegula has already sat down with Quinn and established a group of players that can’t be moved at the trade line. Why is this significant? To me this means that Pegula already has formulated an initial plan for the future, which is great news for Buffalo fans.

The ownership change can’t become official soon enough; the Sabres desperately need a new set of eyes to guide them into the future.

College coaching conundrum

January 16, 2011

If you do a Google search on poor time management a picture of LSU head coach Les Miles is surely to appear. While Miles’ game management skills are questionable, he finally came through in the clutch and made a smart decision by declining the Michigan head coaching position.

Miles, who was a two-year letterman and assistant coach at Michigan, recently declined his Alma Mater and signed a new seven-year contract to stay with the Tigers. This is a rarity in college football, where coaching changes are as frequent as diaper changes at a daycare facility.  But my question is why do so many coaches switch positions when they are already in a good job?

Take the case of Miles, he has a 62-17 overall record with LSU, which includes a BCS title in 2007 and he coaches in arguably the best conference (SEC) in college football. So tell me why he would risk his secure position with the Tigers to try and rebuild the Michigan program. Sure he could have accepted the Michigan challenge for pride, but a few seasons of not producing and the same whispers Rich Rodriguez heard will start creeping up on him.

I’m not trying to say that no coach should ever take another position, but when you’re already coaching at the highest level of college football why change? In cases like Turner Gill and Butch Jones, they paid there dues in the MAC and were rightfully rewarded with jobs at BCS schools (Kansas and Cincinnati). These are examples of where it makes sense for a coach to leave his current school for a different job.

One recent switch that didn’t make much sense to me was Randy Edsall going to Maryland. Edsall, who was coming off his best season at Connecticut, takes over a Terrapins team that hasn’t been relevant since 2003. Sure Edsall moves to a better conference, but he faces a major rebuilding project if he hopes to compete against the likes of Virginia Tech and Florida State.

Maybe in some cases high profile coaching switches work out, but to me there is still a big risk. Why start from scratch when the foundation has already been laid?

Sabres need a shake-up

January 11, 2011

Anyone have a life preserver handy? That’s a question the Buffalo Sabres should get used to asking as they get ready to embark into the second half of the season tonight. At the midway point the Blue and Gold have a 18-18-5 record and currently sit in 10th place in the Eastern Conference standings. One more extended losing streak and any chance they had to make the playoffs will most likely go out the window. Buffalo’s fall from atop the Northeast conference last season might surprise most people, but I must admit I’m not one of them.

There are several reasons Buffalo has struggled this season from their sluggish start, to Ryan Miller and Tyler Myers inconsistent play and to most recently the loss of Derek Roy. But for me the biggest reason this team has struggled is the lack of changes that took place in the offseason.

For a team that layed an egg in the first round of the playoffs last year and vowed change after the early exit not a whole lot is different down at HSBC Arena. Did Darcy Regier really think Rob Niedermayer was the missing piece to put this team over the top? It’s pretty frustrating when the Boston Bruins beat you in the playoffs and go out and add valuable pieces in the offseason to get even better (Nathan Horton).

Besides Jordan Leopold all of the new faces in the locker room have been invisible and it seems to be yet another year where most of the “core” players are failing to live up to expectations. I commend Regier for locking up several of Buffalo’s up-and-coming stars a few years back, but that’s where the problem lies. Besides Miller and Roy, the rest of the “core” look like they’ve taken a step backwards in the last few seasons. Paul Gaustad does nothing but win faceoffs, Jochen Hecht looks lost on the ice and the population of Pominville has been pretty low the last few seasons.

I guess what I’m getting at is it’s time for Regier and Lindy Ruff to change up the team. Lets be honest, with the Roy injury it’s going to be hard for Buffalo to make a playoff push in the second half of the season. So Regier it’s time to pick up the phone and start making calls.  The Sabres don’t need to clean house, but a contender might want the services of someone like Tim Connolly or Hecht to help in the playoffs. A couple of moves like that could a long way in reshaping the heart of the team.

The “core” of this team has been together since lockout and with new ownership on the way it might be the right time for the team to make significant changes in every aspect of the organization.


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