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Antici……Pation! 2013 Sabres Roster Preview

01/12/13
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This is a pre-training camp practice. Look at what the lockout did to us! (Photo credit: Kevin Snow, Sabres.com)

The lockout is over. Except that it’s not. But it is. While the stoppage is effectively kaput and the CBA has been ratified by the NHLPA, the memorandum of understanding not being signed yet is holding up schedules, signings, and training camp. This hasn’t stopped all the chatter, though. First up, a look at the roster.

In the words of the immortalized-in-Plasticine Judge Mills Lane, “Let’s get it on!”


Hecht’s Return
Straight from the Adler Mannheim (his team in the Deutsche Eishockey Liga) website is the report that Hecht will be re-signing with the Sabres, which activates the out clause in his DEL contract. In what could be the German international’s final go at his NHL career, Hecht will almost certainly see ice time at third line center and on the penalty kill.

UPDATE: Bob McKenzie is reporting that Hecht’s one year deal is worth $1M ($1M cap hit) with $250K in games played bonuses, while CapGeek is reporting a cap hit of $1.25M. Either way, it’s a cheap contract for a player in the twilight of his career who can offer veteran insight and mentoring to a pair (possibly a trio) of dynamic young centers.

Injuries Sort Forward Questions
With Nathan Gerbe and Cody McCormick recovering from respective back and finger procedures, the forward ranks are fairly settled with Jochen Hecht’s return to Buffalo. Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville will be centered by Cody Hodgson, rookis Marcus Foligno and Drew Stafford will be centered by Tyler Ennis, newcomer Steve Ott and lame duck Ville Leino will be centered by Jochen Hecht, and physical wingers John Scott and Patrick Kaleta will see Matt Ellis at center.

Enter Mikhail Grigorenko
However, the Sabres have a prospect with the talent to make the lineup in his draft year in Mikhail Grigorenko. The Quebec Remparts’ offensive centerpiece, Grigorenko surprisingly fell to the Sabres with the 12th pick in the 2012 entry draft. The Russian looks to have the tools to make the Sabres as an 18 year old and will get his shot at training camp. Should “Grigo” make the team and get his five game tryout, the forward lines become question marks again. Does Lindy Ruff put him with the Sabres’ premiere wingers in Vanek and Pominville for a career jump-start or does he give the youngster lesser minutes and defensive responsibilities on a lower line? What does that do to the rest of the lineup? Who the hell knows.

Traffic Jam On Defense
The Sabres have a lot of defenseman. More than they know what to do with, actually. Tyler Myers, Christian Ehrhoff, Andrej Sekera, Jordan Leopold, Mike Weber, Robyn Regehr, Adam Pardy, TJ Brennan, and Alexander Sulzer. What in the world is this team going to do with 9 defenseman? Makes moves. Darcy Regier had said he’s been fielding calls for defenseman since the lockout de facto ended, which would probably be for enticing veteran Leopold and rising all-around rearguard Sekera. Then there’s the question of what to do with Pardy, Sulzer, and Brennan. The two former skaters are bottom pairing defensemen who could get waived, while the latter is a high-octane prospect who didn’t clear waivers before and likely won’t with his 31 points in the AHL. For the right return, I could see either Sekera or Leopold leaving, Brennan taking a limited minutes role with special teams play, and one of Sulzer and Pardy getting waived while the other is kept up as the depth defenseman.

All Quiet On The Goalie Front
Ryan Miller is the starter. Jhonas Enroth is the back-up. Moving on.

Whither The Amerks?
With Cody Hodgson, Marcus Foligno, and TJ Brennan shuffling off to Buffalo, the Amerks are losing the three most potent pieces of their roster. After last night’s 5-2 victory against the Hamilton Bulldogs, that may not be so crippling as some thought. Brian Flynn, Kevin Porter, Mark Mancari, Luke Adam, Zemgus Girgensons (who just turned 19), and Evan Rankin will have to be the new top six for Rochester. In Foligno’s absence, Girgensons especially will have a chance to make an impact and justify his selection 14th overall. On the bottom two lines, the Amerks will have Phil Varone, Nick Tarnasky, Kevin Sundher, Jon Parker, Rick Schofield, Maxime Legault, and Frederick Roy to fill things out. In case of emergencies, Jacob Lagace is available for call-ups from Bakersfield (ECHL) while both Shawn Szydlowski and Riley Boychuk are stashed in Fort Worth (CHL).

Defensively, Brayden McNabb will need to step up his game and look like the solid revelation that played in Buffalo last season. He’ll be anchoring the defense with Mark Pysyk, Alex Biega, Jerome Gauthier-Leduc, Drew Schiestel, Nick Crawford, Joe Finley, and Matt MacKenzie being switched in and out of each night’s top six.

David Leggio and his new mask will continue to start while Connor Knapp will remain as backup. Nathan Lieuwen waits for his chance to make a mark as he plies his trade with Greenville of the ECHL.

While they have the depth to fill the roster, do they have the depth to get the job done? That remains to be seen with their inconsistent play and shaky play in their own end.

Training Camp Beckons
When will fans be able to see the hopeful Sabres competing with the established stars? Training camp opens to the public on Monday the 14th. From the Sabres press release:

BUFFALO, N.Y. (January 11, 2013) — The Buffalo Sabres today announced the team will open its week of training camp practices at First Niagara Center to the public, beginning with a night practice and scrimmage on Monday, Jan. 14, at 5:30 p.m. For the remainder of the week, from Tuesday to Friday, practices will be held from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Monday’s night practice will feature an intersquad team scrimmage with the team playing three 15-minute periods. Admission and parking for the event will be free and arena concessions will be available at family-friendly prices.

With the new collective bargaining agreement having been ratified by the players by a vote of 667 to 12, all that remains is the memorandum of understanding being signed before everything can move full-steam ahead.

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