Center Even Bigger Question For Sabres After Roy/Ott Swap
It was no secret that the Sabres were looking to deal Derek Roy, with talk going back to last season. Today they finally made their move, moving their long-time center for renowned crap-stirrer Steve Ott and yet another defenseman in Adam Pardy. Fans are pleased with the continued culture change at First Niagara Center, but center has only become a bigger question mark for the Sabres with Roy’s departure.
At about 5PM Monday night, the Sabres had two top six centers under contract (Roy, Cody Hodgson), a promising prospect just turned RFA (Tyler Ennis), and an exciting first round pick awaiting development camp (Mikhail Grigorenko). An hour later, with the subtraction of only Roy, the landscape has turned into one center locked in (Hodgson), one youngster awaiting his extension (Ennis), and a possible true rookie awaiting his first deal (Grigorenko). Add to that a failed experiment at center (Ville Leino), and things are murkier than ever for the Sabres at pivot. How will it all shake out?
The easiest solution is to roll Cody Hodgson and a newly-extended Tyler Ennis with the top six. Hodgson has first line center potential and room to shine with the likes of Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville. Ennis showed brilliant chemistry with call-up Marcus Foligno and Drew Stafford once the line was assembled. That gives the Sabres a quick and easy top six of established commodities.
The next solution is one that would require Darcy Regier rolling the dice like he hasn’t yet in his career. The Sabres are reportedly in talks with the Ducks for Bobby Ryan and a second line center has been discussed as a necessary part of the return. Despite his comments after trading for Ott that neither Hodgson nor Ennis will be moved, they would probably be in the discussion with Anaheim (if the Sabres are still in on Ryan at all). That would leave one of the two youngsters in place with Grigorenko being given the golden opportunity to make the team as an eighteen-year-old.
So what happens if the Sabres, following development camp, don’t feel Grigorenko isn’t ready for the big time but they’ve already traded one of Ennis or Hodgson? There are options via trade or free agency to be had. Patrick Berglund is a trade target and a more established commodity, and there is also Peter Mueller via free agency, who is untested but has plenty of potential if healthy. A one or two year deal would be perfect for a stop-gap solution while Grigorenko continues to develop in the Q.
Those are just the top six possibilities to be had; the tip of the iceberg. With Ott telling Sabres’ web writer Kevin Snow that he can play center or the wings, the team now has multiple options down in the trenches as well.
Yes, Darcy Regier sees Steve Ott more as a winger. But a winger-only doesn’t take over a thousand faceoffs in a season, or practice them in earnest with former centermen (like former Dallas assistant – and, obviously, Sabre – Stu Barnes). Even if he doesn’t wrangle the playmaker role, he could still take faceoffs and play on the third line with his past output. For the fourth line, it just makes sense to slot in Cody McCormick at center.
So what if Ott does indeed play wing and also not take draws? A veteran to play the third line is always an attractive idea, and a guy like Jason Arnott could fill in capably with limited offensive output and leadership. With an older center filling in on the third line, keeping Ott at wing, McCormick would still have his place on the fourth line.
When you factor in all four center positions, about the only job that’s set in stone is Cody McCormick’s on the fourth line and even then he could get traded. With this current mess of a roster (9 forwards, 10 defensemen, and 2 goalies per CapGeek’s chart), moves will be made and questions will be answered. Will Hodgson pan out per his first round draftee status? Will Ennis continue his scoring torrent this upcoming season, provided he’s extended? Provided either of the previously-mentioned centers leave, will Grigorenko live up to the hype that had him as high as second-rated overall? Will the Sabres pull a “reverse Leino” (Thanks, @aero_aaron!) with Ott, or acquire a third line center? How will all this Bobby Ryan, and (per RDS) Rick Nash talk, impact the center situation? Free agency is only a few days old, so there is plenty of time for Darcy Regier to answer these inquiries. For the time being, #DoSomethingDarcy is on the backburner.
For a few great Roy/Ott reads, have a look at Eric’s retrospective at 3rd Man In, Ryan’s piece about the former Sabre speaking out (among other things) at The Goose’s Roost, and Chris’ post about the change in the room at Two In The Box.