Buffalo Sabres: The Making of a Contender Part 2 of 3, Forward Thinking



The Buffalo Sabres: A Contender In The Making continues on with the next article in the series. Welcome to part 2 of 3, an overall look at the Sabres‘ offense, its short comings and what can be done to address any needs to plug the holes in the dam, so to speak.

There is a great deal of information to cover in this article and there will be a great deal of speculation and conjecture on the part of many readers. One thing is absolutely certain, The Buffalo Sabres’ forwards (12 of the 23 man roster) are on life support. There is near zero secondary scoring from lines two, three or four and what is probably the most concerning of all is the lack of depth at the Center position, either with the big club or in the development pipeline. Let us begin this journey into the Sabres’ offense with clear minds. We’re going to need it given the woes of this team of late……………

Derek Roy – ($4 million, 2 yrs)

Thomas Vanek – ($7,142,857, 3 yrs)

These two players are a deadly duo and are leading the Sabres in points and goals respectively. We are all aware of their play together over the years. The one thing sorely lacking is a true Right Winger (or Left Winger, due to Vanek’s ability to shift to either wing) to not only elevate production of the line itself, but to also lift its consistency level.

Tyler Ennis – ($875 ELC, 1 yr)

Ennis fit with Roy and Vanek on the Left Wing. His production numbers increased, but Roy and Vanek remained streaky. Ennis has fantastic puck control and skating skills. It is puzzling as to why coach Lindy Ruff broke this line up early into the season. Nonetheless, Ennis remains the best potential to play with Roy and Vanek within the roster to date.

Drew Stafford – ($1.9 million, RFA)

Stafford has been inconsistent during his entire tenure in Buffalo. He shows signs of greatness, then disappears for long stretches of a season. There is no doubt he is a gifted player, but his streaky production has been one of the staple problems with the Sabres’ offense for the last three seasons. He plays with Roy and Vanek from time to time with varying degrees of success. He is in my cross-hairs as a very possible trade commodity come the trade deadline.

Nathan Gerbe – ($850 thousand, RFA)

Gerbe (or, The Gerbil, as I affectionately call him due to his height, 5’5″) is one of the smallest players in the NHL, if not the smallest. He creates havoc to the opposition due to his speedy puck control spins and dangling. He reminds me of Danny Briere a great deal. However, Gerbe was given a large amount of games to prove himself with the Sabres this season and has no goals and only six assists to show for it. I would re-sign Gerbe, but only to a two way contract. He needs to earn his spot on the team by producing, not only in training camp, but also in the regular season.

Jason Pomminville – ($5.3 million, 3 yrs)

This player had a fantastic start to his career, but in the last three seasons, his numbers have consistently decreased in production. Pomminville is a very good two way forward and plays in many special teams situations. It must be noted however, that his salary is extremely high for his production and play. Pomminville was also injured early this season (concussion) breaking his four and a half season iron man streak. I view Jason Pomminville as a solid line two right winger.

Jochen Hecht – ($3.525 million, 1 yr)

Hecht (also referred to by the fan base as Zee German) is another good two way forward, but his offensive production has trailed off to being almost non-existent. He will most likely play out his contract to completion and then not be re-signed by the Sabres. He is a line three Left Winger, nothing more.

Tim Connolly – ($4.5 million, UFA)

Ah yes, the infamous Mr. Glass or Tin Man, as the fan base calls him due to how often he has been injured in his time with the Sabres. Connolly is perhaps the poster child for all that is wrong with the current Sabres roster. A soft, play-making Center, he has the skills to lead a second scoring line or Line two on any team, but he disappears for extremely long stretches. I’m talking seasons here, not games and he is so frustrating to watch as his defensive game is horrible, back checking is non-existent and his turnover ratio in any zone is putrid. Connolly will get traded by the deadline, for what, is debatable. I can see a 2nd round pick for him.

Rob Niedermayer – ($1.25 million, UFA)

Mike Grier – ($1.5 million, UFA)

These two +35 year old players will not be re-signed in my opinion. Although both players were two way defensive forwards in their respective careers, their legs are extremely slow and it is showing. Buffalo needs to inject speed into the line up and these two are very expendable. They do bring leadership to the locker room, but on the ice is where it counts and they haven’t shown they can do that. Too bad really too, I like Grier. Niedermayer, I have no opinion of, but both players should be gone, if possible Niedermayer by the deadline, but more than likely both in the off season.

Paul Gaustad – ($2.3 million, 1 yr)

Patrick Kaleta – ($907,500, 1 yr)

Cody McCormick – ($500 thousand, UFA)

These three players comprise the fourth line of the Sabres. Gaustad (known as Goose) is one of the top face off centers in the league, but he is extremely slow and has hands of stone. He has done better in the past with production, if given the right set of skills around him. Kaleta is Buffalo’s pest. He draws penalties, gets under the skin of opponents, has fast legs and checks extremely hard. He can put the puck in the net from time to time. He and Goose play well together. McCormick is a big bodied Left Winger that can fight as well, but overall, I have found myself very disappointed in McCormick’s play, specifically his apparent refusal to use his body to throw thundering checks, to muscle opponents off of the puck in the offensive zone and to throw some massive open ice hits. The Sabres could do better than McCormick; I wouldn’t re-sign him if there is a better option out there.

So, given the make up of the team, lets review the line up and then move on to the pipeline and potential directions management can take to address the team’s needs.

Scoring line one

Vanek – Roy – ? (perhaps Ennis on Left Wing, shift Vanek to Right Wing)

Scoring line two

? – ? – Pomminville (this line is in shambles right now)

Scoring line three

Hecht – ? – Stafford (If Stafford isn’t traded)

Now that we have identified the gaping holes in the forward roster of this club, let’s see what can be done to fill them. We start in Portland, the AHL affiliate of the Sabres, where some of Buffalo’s future goes to develop and further hone their skills.

Luke Adam – ($875 thousand, 2 yrs)

Adam is definitely an answer for one of the holes at Center on this team. Right now, I am looking at him as a fantastic line three center. He’ll need to wait for the Connolly trade to get put into the line up full time after the trade deadline, but he’ll be up with the big club none-the-less.

Mark Mancari – ($575 thousand, RFA)

Mancari is a real question mark to many fans. He is big bodied, he puts up large numbers in the AHL and he has played with Kennedy, Gerbe, Ennis and Adam as a line-mate as they all went through the Portland system and actually helped them develop their skills and achieve success while in the AHL.

The problem with Mancari isn’t that he cannot transition to the NHL. In my opinion, the Sabres have not given him the amount of time they’ve given every other prospect to adjust. Mancari gets two to four game stints with the Sabres and very rarely. I firmly believe he is in the doghouse of Regier due to contract bickering, but I’ll let the readers formulate their own conclusions. Mancari won’t be with the Sabres organization at the end of this season most likely.

The following is a list of young forwards in Portland that have a great deal to prove and need at least another two seasons in the AHL before they get a serious look from the big club. But none of them are currently prepared to step into the line up with the Sabres. This group may or may not address some of the club’s needs as they develop, but as of now, they haven’t convinced anyone they can step into a big club roster position and make an impact.


Paul Byron, Corey Tropp, Maxime Legault and Jacob Lagace.

As we move on to the Juniors to review the pipeline talent for the Sabres, the picture of the organization should be getting clearer to the reader. This club has drafted heavy defense but failed to address offensive needs with any balance. One name in the Juniors sticks out amongst all others.


Zach Kassian


Kassian is the power forward the Sabres have lacked for many years. This kid is something special. He scores, he hits, he fights, he is the Milan Lucic of the Sabres pipeline and is the most promising player in the Juniors for the Sabres. Currently playing in the World Juniors Championship Series for Canada, Kassian is a man amongst boys in the OHL. He will almost certainly make the Sabres roster next training camp and brings a nastiness with him that Buffalo fans have been longing for.


Marcus Foligno, Steven Shipley, Gregg Sutch and Kevin Sundher are all forwards that will most likely go through Portland in the next two to three seasons with Foligno (the youngest son of Mike Foligno, a gritty Sabres forward in the 1980’s and well respected by the fan base) showing the most promise of the group. Some of these players may provide that essential secondary scoring that is currently missing from the line up.

After the pipeline review, the line up of the Sabres is still filled with many holes short term. Management’s failure to address the offensive forwards of the organization since the departure of Danny Briere and Chris Drury via Free Agency is not only clear cut, but is painfully played out each and every season for the past four seasons now.

With this in mind, we reach a conclusion as to what direction the club is going to take to remedy the forwards issues.

I firmly believe the Sabres are going to move three, possibly four players at the trade deadline this season, in an effort to maximize draft picks in the late first round to mid to late second round selections. Then, at the draft, I completely expect the Sabres to draft strictly forwards with their first four of five picks, including what appears to be a very early pick in the first round.

Currently, they are slated to pick sixth overall in the draft if the season ended today. I would expect that to fluctuate but I expect the Sabres to pick fourth to sixth overall, and I expect a Center to be targeted with that pick. The two players I expect to be targeted with that early first round pick are Centers Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (Red Deer, WHL) or Ryan Strome (Niagara, OHL).

One thing is certain, the Buffalo Sabres must address the forward positions this off season with a vigor. There can be no other options. The defensive rebuild has already started in earnest and with that group of young players gaining invaluable experience, it may only be a season or so to view the Sabres as true contenders, if they make the right choices and put the forward pieces into place.











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