Buffalo Sabres: 3 Reasons Why It May Be Time to Blow Up the Roster


Let’s play devil’s advocate. 

The Buffalo Sabres have made some minor and one huge move since the draft at the end of June, and for many it has been encouraging.

The additions of John Scott and Steve Ott bring the physical presence on the team to a whole new level. Adam Pardy gives the Sabres even more defensive depth. 

But for some of you, it’s not enough. So let’s explore the options the Sabres may have moving forward to make even more substantial changes to the roster as it stands today.

(Note: These options are ranked from most likely to least likely in my humble opinion. Also, these are “devil’s advocate” scenarios; I’m not necessarily advocating for any of these moves, just discussing their possibility and their consequences.)

1. Bury Cody McCormick and Matt Ellis in Rochester and Let Pat Kaleta Walk and Play the Youngsters

Last season, the Sabres’ fourth line was a revolving door due to the extensive list of injuries that plagued the team for much of the season. However this season it looks as though Cody McCormick, Matt Ellis, Pat Kaleta and Corey Tropp have the inside track to play the energy role for the Sabres this season.

But the reality of the situation is the cupboards are starting to get too full. 

With the additions of Mikhail Grigorenko and Zemgus Girgensons, the Sabres’ offensive prospects have taken a significant jump in comparison to the league as a whole. The expectation is that these kids will have every chance to make the team, putting the pressure on the current fourth-line players to show their stuff.

McCormick is probably the most talented of the bunch. He plays well in the offensive zone and is stingy in the defensive zone. He tends to be too high energy at times and gets caught out of position, but that is to be expected in the role he is playing. He’ll never score you 20 goals, but a 10-goal season wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility. He also adds some grit to the team that has been sorely needed in seasons past.

Yet McCormick had his offensive struggles last season, dropping from a solid 20 points in 2010-2011 to a lackluster four points last season. Secondary scoring was a huge issue for the Sabres in the November to January slump they found themselves in and you need more than four points out of your fourth-line center. 

Ellis is one of the toughest Sabres to hate. He is constantly going a million miles per hour and is an excellent forechecker. It’s hard to ignore that. Yet, when Ellis gets the puck on his stick it’s hard not to think about Heath Ledger in the Dark Knight describing himself as a dog chasing cars: “I wouldn’t know what to do with one if I caught it.” The same holds true with Ellis and the puck. So while his high energy play is a shot in the arm for the team, his offensive play leaves a lot to be desired

Kaleta is a harder sell.

Sabres fans love his sandpaper play, while opponents hate it. He’s the guy you love hearing opponents complain about. He has the hometown pedigree. But the fact remains that he has not played more than 63 games in any of his five full seasons as a Sabre.

His pest role has taken a toll on him both physically and offensively. Last season there were times where he looked like he was just running around trying to plant someone into next week. He took too many bad penalties and is now squarely in the sights of Brendan Shanahan after his four-game suspension in November of last season. The addition of Steve Ott also makes him even more expendable. 

So the trade-off here would be energy for production, in theory.

Girgensons signed his entry-level contract last weekend, forgoing his collegiate career at the University of Vermont to begin his pro career earlier than expected. Lindy Ruff complimented the 14th overall pick in this year’s draft on his “man body,” saying he has the physical makeup to succeed at least in the AHL with Rochester next year. 

Darcy Regier stated to the media that entry-level contract talks are ongoing with Grigorenko, so the likelihood of him signing soon is quite high. The top-three talent dropped to the Sabres at pick No. 12 at this year’s draft and has electrified fans with the potential of finally having a number one center. 

Corey Tropp showed last season in his 34 games that he was ready for the NHL. Playing solid minutes on the fourth line, and even spending time on the second line with Cody Hodgson and Thomas Vanek, Tropp showed he can be the high energy guy that Ellis and McCormick are, but with more offensive talent. 

As stated before, the Sabres lacked in secondary scoring for much of the 2011-2012 campaign. The addition of some offensive talent on the “fourth” line would be an immediate boon to those numbers. 

This is not even considering Luke Adam who showed a lot of offensive promise playing with Jason Pominville and Vanek for the first 15 games last season. 

With a more offensively skilled “fourth” line while not giving up much size, Lindy Ruff would be able to roll all four lines in all or most situations, keeping the other lines fresh and utilizing the team’s depth to pressure the opposition with every line. As it stands now, you hope for a big hit or for Kaleta to draw a penalty.

Offensive production is not in the expectations of any Sabres fan for them, but it could be. 


2. Trade Jordan Leopold and Andrej Sekera

If there was one major area that was affected by injuries last season, it was the defensive corps for the Sabres. 

Christian Ehrhoff, Tyler Myers, Andrej Sekera, Mike Weber and Brayden McNabb all missed significant time during the year, creating a rotating back end for the team. 

So, in order to create some more depth, Darcy Regier traded Marc-Andre Gragnani for Alex Sulzer at last year’s trade deadline, and added Adam Pardy and John Scott (who may double as a wing) during the offseason. 

What this has effectively done is create a logjam like no other at the defensive position for the Sabres. 

At first glance, the top four is pretty well settled. Tyler Myers, Robyn Regehr, Christian Ehrhoff and Jordan Leopold will form two combinations, with Mike Weber, Andrej Sekera, Alex Sulzer and Adam Pardy fighting for the fifth and sixth spots. 

But it’s not that simple. 

Ehrhoff and Sulzer played remarkably well together last year, and it can be assumed that the German connection will be reformed next year. 

Myers and Regehr would likely be the other top pairing, as they seemed to gel quite well through the second half of last season. 

That firmly places Jordan Leopold as the fifth defenseman. 

Despite the positives you may think are associated with that, there are plenty of negatives. 

First, it creates a potential pairing of Sekera and Leopold. That is one mistake-prone pairing. Sabres fans’ patience would be tried on a nightly basis by all the defensive zone turnovers and bad neutral zone play. 

Second, and most importantly, it does not allow any of the young players to get any experience, assuming no injuries.

Brayden McNabb and TJ Brennan (who just re-signed for another year) played admirably as rookies filling in for injured teammates. McNabb was especially impressive, using his 6’4″ frame to play a physical brand of hockey in the neutral zone and adding eight points.

Brennan only played 11 games to McNabb’s 25, but still notched a solid even plus-minus and added a goal. 

The Sabres recently came to terms with Mark Pysyk, their first round pick in the 2010 NHL draft, and Jerome Gauthier-Leduc, their third-round pick in the 2010 NHL draft.

Pysyk captained the Edmonton Oil Kings to the WHL Championship this season and plays a defensive style of hockey that will complement Myers and Ehrhoff’s offensive style immensely. Very strong in the defensive zone, Pysyk normally would have the opportunity to make the Sabres roster opening night. 

Gauthier-Leduc is an offensive dynamo for the Rimouski Oceanic of the QJMHL, scoring 28 goals and netting 74 points in 62 games this past season. His offensive abilities will remind Sabres fans of Brian Campbell during his days with the club. Gauthier-Leduc has strides to make defensively, but, similar to Erik Karlsson, he is not a liability on the blue line. 

Basically, as it stands, Rochester is going to have some very talented defenseman playing there this year. McNabb, Pysyk and Gauthier-Leduc seem locks to be holding down the back end in Rochester, and will likely be joined by Brennan. 

These kids deserve a chance. 

Leopold has one year left on his deal at an extremely affordable $3 million. Sekera is signed for three more years at $2.75 million per year (via CapGeek.com). They can be moved for more young prospects, or potentially for another top six forward (especially center). 

That would allow McNabb and Brennan especially a chance to compete for a roster spot this season and can usher in a “new core” that many Buffalo fans have been clamoring for since the beginning of last season.


3. Trade Jason Pominville, Thomas Vanek and Any of the Remaining “Core Players”

Expanding on the “new core” idea that has been thrown around by the Buffalo media: Why not trade it all away? 

Sounds ridiculous I know. And it is.


Arguably one of the worst ideas in the history of man. 

But, hey, why not?

Pominville and Vanek have had their chance and they were unable to deliver, so why keep them? 

(There are plenty of reasons to in fact keep them, but again, playing devil’s advocate here.)

Most people would include Drew Stafford and Ryan Miller in this category as well. 

In a trade, they would likely net some nice prospects and even a few top six forwards. It would be an instant reboot of the system. Start it all over with new, young players. Derek Roy is out, why stop there?

Pominville is the captain. It’s hard to trade your captain because your value of him is surely inflated in comparison to the league, but the rumor sites have had him involved in the Bobby Ryan talks with the Anaheim Ducks. (Again, hardly a great source.)

Vanek has his doubters in Buffalo, and will always have them. Maybe a change of scenery will help both teams involved? Vanek would also arguably fetch the highest return, so it would help the team in some respect. (I have written about why this is not a good idea, however.)

Stafford is an enigma. Thirty-one goals one year, 20 the next, and about half of them came once he started on a line with Tyler Ennis. His inconsistencies would not get much in return, especially with a $4 million price tag for the next three years.

Miller is the last of the remaining “core.” He has been inconsistent the past two years, but showed at the end of last year that he is still the all-world goalie Sabres fans know and love. He only has two years left at north of $6 million, so that would be tough to move to anyone that is close to the cap, but he would have a lot of value. Enroth has shown he can play well, so maybe it’s his time?

So, all in all, the Sabres will likely make none of these moves. Grigorenko starting on the Sabres roster is the most likely, probably coming in at around 60 percent of actually occurring. But it’s not totally crazy to think about what could happen if they did decide to drop dynamite on the roster. 

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