The Sabres defense is simply too young.
As I’ve described before, the Sabres defense is full of greenhorns. If Pegula and Co. really want to win a Cup in the next 2-3 years, then the Sabres will need to add grit and experience on that blue line.
Meanwhile, the news out of Montreal was that the Habs finally came to terms with ’04 draftee, Alexei Yemelin. This could mean that UFA James Wisniewski will not be re-signed by Montreal – and should then be immediately pursued by the Sabres. From the the Montreal Gazette:
“The signing gives the Canadiens three defencemen under contract for next season – Yemelin, P.K. Subban and Jaroslav Spacek. Next up for negotiations are unrestricted free-agent Andrei Markov and restricted free-agent Josh Gorges. Both finished last season on the long-term injured reserve list after major reconstructive surgeries.”
“The Canadiens are unlikely to bring back James Wisniewski or Brent Sopel because of cap restraints, but Hal Gill and/or Roman Hamrlik are possibilities.”
At 27 years of age, Wisniewski (or “Wiz,” as he is called) has everything Buffalo needs – the age, the experience, the point production, the mean streak, heck, he even has a rare right handed shot for the power play. These are all qualities that Buffalo should covet.
The Sabres exited the playoffs with only three players on defense over the age of 24. A disturbing list:
- Steve Montador, 31
- Jordan Leopold, 30
- Shaone Morrisson, 28
- Chris Butler, 24
- Andrej Sekera, 24
- Marc-Andre Gragnani, 24
- Mike Weber, 23
- Tyler Myers, 21
Of those guys over 24, Morrisson was hardly a defensive stalwart this season, and Leopold/Montador were not able to stay on the ice. Indeed, if there was a major weakness of the Blue and Gold that was exploited in the series against Philadelphia, it was the green defense corps (see: Butler getting victimized behind his own net).
Of all places, it is in their own zone, from where the team must take it’s most important steps, where their Achilles Heel lies.
A few more points on “Wiz” that should get you thinking:
- 51 points (10g, 41a) in 75 games last year (his highest offensive totals, as he now enters his prime)
- 7 power play goals
- Smart hitter – only took 38 PIM’s
- 119 blocked shots (for the Sabres, Montador had 138, Leopold 123, Weber 99)
Pegula is in a lucky spot right now – the old core boys, Roy, Miller, Pominville, Vanek, et al are still around as the new core boys, such as Myers, Ennis, Weber and Gragnani are coming up. Both cores are full of talent, both are full of the desire to win, but the defense remains perilously inexperienced.
Pegula noted when he came in that the loss of key veterans Toni Lydman and Hank Tallinder was a major mistake. If Terry is looking to restore that sort of stability on the back end again, you better believe he will write Darcy Regier a veritable blank check to land Wisniewski.
Of course, there are plenty of other teams out there (likely all of them) that would love to add Wisniewski to their club, and there is no guarantee Wisniewski will want to leave. Despite the Canadiens’ cap constraints, he appears to be ready to take a pay cut in order to stay in Montreal, where he apparently wants to raise a family.
Perhaps part of Darcy’s pitch should be how great a family town Buffalo is.
See also: James Wisniewski’s blog.
I’m already putting money aside for a red white and blue Foligno jersey.
First the Sabres and the Bandits - now the Amerks. What's next Terry - the Bills? The Statler?
Not that I want to get ahead of myself – the word that Terry Pegula was in the final stages of a negotiation process to purchase the Rochester Americans is still a rumor, but -
Jody Gage, also known as "Mr. Amerk," may be getting a very large fruit basket from Buffalo soon.
Cancel that line of thought.
From Kevin Oklobzija, from the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle:
“NEW at 4:14 p.m.: The Associated Press is reporting that the Sabres have signed a nonbinding letter of intent to purchase the Amerks. The AP cites an unnamed source as saying there is no out clause with the Portland Pirates, so negotiations between the American Hockey League, the Pirates and the Sabres would need to continue (yes, I believe they’ve already begun that process).”
The reason this matters (besides the decades of legacy shared between the Sabres and Americans) is that it will serve to empower Pegula – even more – as he seeks to further expand the Sabres’ fan base.
For fans, this means a quick hour and a half drive could get you to a game featuring some of these newest Sabres prospects that we are all drooling over. Heck, maybe Terry will even host a huge Amerks Alumni Day (welcome back Jody Gage)!
And hey, it looks like if Mancari re-ups, he’ll finally get out of Portland. Welcome back to Rochester, Mark!
Who’s up for a road trip?
For an NHL organization to excel and win the Stanley Cup, it must start at the very top of the organization. In that, the Sabres have been pretty fortunate with ownership, aside of course from He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. The Sabres rarely missed the playoffs under the ownership of Seymour Knox and say what you want about Golisano, but he single-handedly kept the Sabres in Buffalo. Plus, during Golisano’s stewardship, the Sabres made it to two consecutive conference finals just after a tumultuous lockout year.
And now, we have the Pegula era.
It’s been a heartwarming start to the new era, and I think most Sabres fans would lift their caps to Terry Pegula (I just had to work a bad hat company pun in there).
To see how well (or poorly) the Sabres may do, we should look to a team that has done something similar recently. The Tampa Bay Lightning were bought last year by Jeff Vinik, who has completely overhauled the franchise, bringing in new general manager Steve Yzerman and new coach Guy Boucher.
That looks like fun! Let's do that.
As should be the case for the Sabres, everyone in the Lightning organization has bought in to what they’re doing. From an article at NHL.com talks about the Lightning’s changes:
Any system, any role for a player starts with acceptance, and the guys in the Lightning dressing room almost sound like robots with the way they praise “Mr. Vinik” and “Mr. Yzerman” for how they laid the groundwork before the season even started.
When Boucher asks the players to tweak something or try something different, they do it. When Yzerman makes a personnel move, the players believe he has made the team better.
The Sabres seemed to buy in to Pegula right from the get-go. And the Sabres had the advantage of a smoother transition as they didn’t need to learn how to play a new system. Ruff and Regier stayed in place; probably a wise move by Pegula but time will tell.
Tampa Bay, unlike Buffalo, didn’t have a great goaltender. They picked up 41 year old Dwayne Roloson who is leading the playoffs in goals against at 2.17/game. The Sabres, of course have an all-star in Ryan Miller and a steady backup in young Jhonas Enroth.
The other thing Tampa Bay needed to complete their transformation? A veteran number 1 defenseman:
“We needed somebody that was going to be able to log a lot of minutes, have the speed to play against top lines that are fast, have the size to play against bigger lines, be able to play in the power play and the penalty kill and have leadership” Boucher said. “So if you put that down as a shopping list, that’s a pretty big shopping list.”
A big shopping list, indeed, and something the Sabres need as well. You can talk about how well the young defenseman are maturing, and they are, but it may not be happening fast enough. Will they be ready by playoff time next year? Maybe. Maybe not. Acquiring a big-time, hard-hitting, veteran blue liner is something the Sabres will no doubt look at this offseason.
Of course you can add any players you want and if they don’t gel, you have nothing. From Tampa Bay defenseman Mike Lundin:
“From what I’ve seen from the past few years, this year the biggest thing has been the structure of everything — the organization, the team and then the system on the ice. It has really come together this year, and all around everyone knows their role, how to act in every situation and how to play.”
Judging from the Sabres 2nd half finish, they came together as a team very well. The young core should mesh even further in the offseason. Hopefully Brad Boyes will feel more comfortable and find his role in the Sabres offense. The young guys have gotten a taste of the playoffs and by the time next spring rolls around should be prepared to do much better.
By all accounts, the Sabres seem to be pretty solid and Terry Pegula has the ship sailing in the right direction. Now it’s up to Regier to add a just a few more critical pieces.
Go Sabres. Nope can’t use that, it’s Scott’s signoff.
Let’s go Buffalo! Nah, too cheesy and doesn’t translate well to text.
Attaboy, Darcy! Umm… in a word, no.
It’s their rink, it’s their ice, and it’s their &%$in town. But tonight we got our fans with us! Too obscure?
All hail Pegula!
You know what, I’ll just quit typing and end the post like that.
NHL ’94 enthusiasts, get ready.
Jagr employs \”the move\” on the Habs back in \’94.
It looks like Jaromir Jagr is thinking more seriously about a come back to the NHL, after earning a bronze medal with his Czech team in the World Championships. I originally reported on this possibility back on May 8th, but the idea was mostly thrown aside by readers as barely plausible.
Still, the talk continues to perculate – and now, it’s Jagr himself who is starting to choose potential teams. (more…)
The Sabres came oh, so close to the second round.
Unfortunately, most of the guys in Blue and Gold got closer to the infirmary throughout the opening series against Philadelphia. Wounded, battered, and thoroughly broken, the Sabres exited the playoffs in Game Seven like only a bunch of warmed over cadavers can do – by taking it lying down.
Before the grisly death of the 2010-11 Buffalo Sabres, I had a conversation with the guys over at “Days of Y’Orr,” a popular Bruins blog, on what a potential Sabres/Bruins match-up would look like. (more…)