The New Sabres’ Blue Line: Looking Forward


A few weeks ago I looked at the new Sabres’ Defence from the perspective of this year’s playoffs. Today I’ll be looking at the defence from the perspective of what the other 29 defences look like for next season. While rosters are still evolving, I can compare the Sabres’ defence to the current roster listings. While I had originally planned on comparing the Sabres’ current defensive roster to that of the teams from last season, I decided that it would be best to look to the future instead of the past. Without further ado, I give you a look at where the Sabres’ blue line currently stands.The rosters utilised in my analysis were taken directly from the websites of the respective clubs. Players listed as being on the Injured Reserve list were ignored, as well as players that should not be listed on the NHL roster. In some circumstances an in-depth look at the status of each player was made to determine whether or not they should be listed on the NHL roster. If there was any ambiguity about a player’s status they were not included in the analysis. All rosters were current as of August 8 at 3:45 PM. Ages were determined based on a player’s age as of October 1, 2011.

As you can see above, the NHL Mean Defensive Age (NHLMDA) is approximately 28 years old. Despite the relatively even age distribution of defensive skaters, the question that we must answer is how the distribution of age varies by team; certainly not all teams have an even number of players above and below the mean. You can see, below, that the distribution slightly favours teams with mean ages above the NHLMDA.

The question we must now answer is whether this distribution is likely to change at all by October 1. As previously mentioned, rosters are not yet set in stone, so certainly the distribution of age by team and skaters is likely to change by then. As the rosters currently stand, there are some teams that either have less than or more than six defencemen. This distribution is as follows.

In the table above, you can see that there are more teams with excess defencemen than there are those with too few. Of the teams with 4-6 defencemen, approximately 42% of the teams have more skaters below the NHLMDA, 33% have an even number of skaters, and 25% have more players above the NHLMDA. The same follows for teams with 7-9 defencemen. Obviously teams with more than 7 defencemen are likely to see changes in their mean age as well. The likelihood of a team carrying more than 7 defencemen at one time is low, but it is plausible that they may carry more.

The above is all well and good, but where exactly do the Sabres fall in comparison to other teams and the NHLMDA?

By ranking the teams from youngest to oldest, based on the mean age of their defencemen, we can clearly see where the Sabres stand in comparison to the other 29 teams. The likelihood that the Sabres carry 8 defencemen is very low. Note that I am including Marc-Andre Gragnani on my roster list for the Sabres. Obviously someone would need to exit the roster in order to free up the additional spot. Whoever it is that exits will ultimately determine where the Sabres end up on this list come October 1. For example, if Shamo were to exit the mean age would decrease to 26.29, whereas Gragnani not returning to the NHL in a full-time capacity would increase the age to 26.86. Obviously there will be moves made to get under the cap. Whether or not a defencemen will be part of those moves remains to be seen.

As I concluded in The New Sabres’ Blueline: Playoff Perspective, a veteran defence is a an integral part of a Stanley Cup Championship team. A veteran defence, however, does not necessarily mean that a team will become a playoff contending team. While I have been focusing on the Sabres’ defence, it certainly takes more than a veteran defence to win a championship. Without a functioning offence and goaltender a team stands little chance at making the playoffs; let alone win it all. Will the Sabres finally be able to do this (while avoiding devastating injuries)? That is the question that they will start to answer on October 7th at 1PM when they take on the Ducks in Helsinki, Finland. Until then, all fans can do is look forward to the future. Only 60 days until hockey returns.

In Tylers we trust.

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