We’ve got a lot of Defensemen: how the Sabres can Add Bieksa, Erhoff, or Wisniewski

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Something’s gotta’ give.

The Sabres would purportedly like to add to their defense to develop a true shutdown pair.  Buffalo’s locker room is already pretty full, however.  If Pegula and Regier pull in a big name on July 1st, then a player (or two) are going to have to be shown the Zamboni door.

BieksaCullingAPuck1 Weve got a lot of Defensemen: how the Sabres can Add Bieksa, Erhoff, or Wisniewski

At the beginning of the season, Vancouver fans were clamoring for Kevin Bieksa to be dealt for a bag of pucks. After a strong year, and a particularly snarly post-season, he is the top defensive UFA of 2011.

The Sabres are blessed with a stockpile of young talent on defense.  Up and coming names like Andrej Sekera, Chris Butler, Mike Weber and even Tyler Myers are only going to get better.  The problem is the majority of the Sabres D is young – only 3 of the team’s 8 utilized defensemen were over 24 last year.  A list:

  1. Steve Montador, 31
  2. Jordan Leopold, 30
  3. Shaone Morrisonn, 28
  4. Chris Butler, 24
  5. Andrej Sekera, 24
  6. Marc-Andre Gragnani, 24
  7. Mike Weber, 23
  8. Tyler Myers, 21

We might consider Drew Schiestel as #9 – he was selected as a member of the Eastern Conference AHL All-Star Team, but a late season injury prevented him from being called up.  Also working their way up through the system are other top prospects such as Mark Pysyk, Brayden McNabb, Jerome Gauthier-Leduc, and TJ Brennan – all of which are ranked within the top ten prospects by SabresProspects.com.

Add Dennis Persson to that young list (ranked #14), who was a late season emergency call-up, and we have a grand total of 14 guys who want to cross-check Chris Neil away from Ryan Miller.

Sabres fans would love to see UFA’s Kevin Bieksa, Christian Erhoff, or James Wisniewski brought in to stand with Tyler Myers and add some veteran leadership to this green core of blueliners.  It’s Ruff and Regier’s top priority, in fact – and let’s not forget how Terry Pegula lamented the loss of Hank Tallinder and Toni Lydman immediately after he assumed ownership of this franchise.

If we are to add a Bieksa or two, then we need to part with some of these guys.  Well then, who do we say goodbye to?

Of those “graybeards” over the age of 24, Morrisonn was hardly a defensive stalwart, and Leopold/Montador were not able to stay on the ice.  Montador was a healthy scratch for Game Seven against Philadelphia – a damning indication that his time in Buffalo is over.   Conveniently, Montador is an UFA himself right now, so the Sabres can simply let him take his up-and-down game and his oopsy-daisy-pass-through-the-slot style of play elsewhere.  Inconveniently, Shaone Morrisonn has one year left on his contract, with a cap hit of $2,075,000. Leopold has played very well in Buffalo, and if he can stay healthy, he will remain a valuable asset on this team.

Of the youngbloods on the roster and those about to break into it, well, there just isn’t enough space to squeeze them all in.  Players like McNabb and Schiestel will be itching to come up from the AHL this coming season if not the next, with Pysyk and the rest soon to follow.  At the same time, they could all be used as trade fodder.

Of the young core already in town, Weber, Sekera, Butler, and even Gragnani could be offered up in a trade.  Weber has just broken into the lineup and showed a prowess to rub out forwards along the boards and block shots, and doing it all with a snarl.  Sekera has shown flashes of offensive brilliance, and gained an immense amount of composure and confidence after his Olympic experience. Butler has had his struggles, but finished the year complementing Tyler Myers nicely – and it’s important to remember that Butler never had any experience in the AHL.  All of his mistakes have been at the NHL level, perhaps being unfairly magnified as a result. Meanwhile, Gragnani burst into the scene late in the season as one of the Sabres’ best defensemen, after winning AHL defenseman of the Year honors.  From this group, it’s anyone’s guess as to who will stay and who will go.

But somebody has to go.

Like I said, something’s gotta’ give – whether it’s to make room for an UFA signing (or two), or to clear space for Schiestel et al.  The only thing that  my sources (my brain and my gut) can tell me is this:

“Don’t buy any of these guys’ jerseys anytime soon.  Well, except Myers.”

Aside from The Big Easy, no defender is safe before the puck drops in October.

Go Sabres.

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