Alright, so everyone and their mother has made their predictions as to how Lindy will shuffle the lines of this Sabres team and now it’s my turn. The acquisitions of both Jordan Leopold and Rob Niedermayer will make things quite interesting as far as lines go. I also shuffled some players around in terms of position. The Sabres depth chart currently lists only two left wingers on the entire team. That complicates things a bit. Some lower level RW’s may be switched to LW’s for the sake of these lines. I must warn you though, I don’t do this very often and quite frankly I don’t think I’m very good at it. We’ll see where this goes.
Line 1: Hecht-Connolly-Pominville
In the comment section of my last post, David Scirto and I discussed the possible line combinations for the Sabres. This combination was the first line that Scirto suggested and it’s the obvious choice. Although it is probably the worst first line in the NHL, this line makes the most sense. These are the guys that are supposed to be the “core” and they are treated as such. If Connolly can both stay healthy and put up points (I didn’t think the technology existed!), this line could have potential to flourish. Potential, however, is the downfall of this line. On paper this line has the potential to be a show-stopper. Pominville can feed the puck to anyone and plays quite level headed; Connolly has an offensive skill set that could rival the best talent in NHL; Hecht is a two way player that could round out this line perfectly. Of course, that’s just potential. In reality Pominville has never been able to rise above the status of a mid-level player, Connolly has never been able to stay healthy and put up points consistently and Hecht has a tendency to become invisible over long stretches of time. It’s one thing to be a defensive forward but it’s another thing to completely disappear for periods at a time. If this line can find it’s touch and actually do something, this team could actually be a legitimate contender.
Line 2: Vanek-Roy-Stafford
Another Scirto-approved line, this was yet another obvious chose. Stafford is (for some reason) considered top-6 talent in this league. Couple him with Roy and we have ourselves quite a recipe for mediocrity.Vanek is really the only bright spot on this line. Based on Vanek’s past performance, that isn’t saying much. Both Vanek and Roy do deserve credit for being the top two goal scorers on the team last season. That, however, also isn’t saying much. Vanek got the Sabres’s scoring title by netting a measly 28 goals. Those 28 goals are still 23 less goals than Sidney Crosby scored to lead the league last season (51). Granted, no one expects Vanek to be Sid but he is supposed to be our star forward. By no means is it accetable that he only scored 28 goals last year. I hope Vanek is paired with someone like Ennis by the end of the season. Vanek performs well when he isn’t under pressure. Someone needs to help Vanek out offensively and I wouldn’t mind that someone being on the same line as him. I hope this line is dissolved by mid-season. It won’t be.
Line 3: Ennis-Niedermayer-Grier
The depth that the Sabres have this season is what will separate them from other teams. What the Sabres lack in top 6 dominance, they make up for in depth. The way the bottom two lines can be shuffled is almost ludicrous. I mean look how low you can really go. I’m assuming here that Ennis will make the starting day roster with the big club for the sake of this post. Ennis still needs some veteran nurturing and the combination of both Niedermayer and Grier can provide that. Ennis’s natural offensive talent mixed with the grinding ability of Niedermayer and Grier’s natural knack for making plays could be a deadly combo. This line is a near perfect dump-and-chase style line. Grier would hit the corner hard and win the battles, Niedermayer would be there for the second pass and Ennis would use his quickness to find open space and put the puck away. This line won’t be impressing too many people on a fast break but give this line time and space and deadly things could happen.
Line 4: Kennedy-Gaustad-Kaleta/McCormick
Again the depth of this team is quite a strong point. Though this final line seems a bit weak on paper, these are the guys you want on the ice when things don’t look so good. Gaustad has proven himself a valuable power forward who has lost his touch in recent seasons. If he adds a little bit of offensive contribution to compliment his two-way playing, he could be an even bigger asset to this team. The rotating duo of Kaleta and McCormick next to the goose would provide even more muscle and hard work to this line. Both Kaleta and McCormick have also shown that they can dish the puck quite well when the situation calls for it. Plus, if one is playing well and the other isn’t then one shall be scratched and one shall play. It motivates both players to work for every minute of ice. The final and most crucial piece to this puzzle is young Tim Kennedy. Nick Mendola brought up on his Radio show “The Late Nick Mendola” (which you should listen to) that Kennedy has always excelled after a year of play at a certain level. His sophomore season at Michigan State was exponentially better than his freshman campaign. The same can be said for the AHL. Expect Kennedy to break out this season after his adjustment to the faster paced NHL play. Plus the switch back to wing would help Kennedy net more goals. Did someone say depth scoring? Oh yeah, that was me. I said it.
Other Notes: Some notable players are missing from these lines. One such player would be Adam Mair. He isn’t listed for two reasons. One reason is he still remains unsigned and the other reason is that frankly I don’t like him. It’s mostly because I don’t like him. Another notable name (at least ’round these parts) is Matt Ellis. He, like Mair, is also still unsigned. Unlike Mair, however, I like Matt Ellis. A lot. That being said, I have realized that Ellis likely won’t be resigned by the team. He’s a journeyman and moving from team to team is what players like him do. Don’t be surprised if he isn’t back in the fall. You probably won’t be surprised though because you probably already forgot he was even a Sabre at all. Another player some people might have on these lines is Nathan Gerbe. At this point, that is a bit of a stretch in my opinion. Gerbe will likely see playing time with the club by mid-season but he needs to play his way into it.
That’s it. Take it or leave it. Lindy Ruff has a tendency to shuffle lines all the time anyways but I mainly just listed these as a point of reference. Also, I did it for fun (a crazy concept, I know). D-Men are up next.
17 days ago (on July 1st) the NHL Free Agency period officially began. By the end of the first day, the Sabres lost two defenseman and gained a new one. The next day they resigned a depth bruiser. After waiting five days to make another move, the Sabres signed a veteran grinder to add some much needed depth. Let’s break things down.
The first major Sabres signing of the day was defenseman Jordan Leopold . After fans watched both Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman walk to the New Jersey Devils and Anaheim Ducks (respectively) things started to get a little nerve wracking. However, in the late afternoon Darcy Regier and the Sabres front office announced the signing of one Jordan Leopold. The 6 foot 1, 200 pound D-Man came to the Sabres after serving as a rent-a-player for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Many people held Tallinder and Lydman both in high regards and felt that letting them go was a big mistake. However, these people need to look at the real picture and not what they think is the real picture. Although Hank was Tyler Myers’s main partner, he is past his prime and is quite old. The same can be said for Lydman. Both players seem to have lost their luster. Last season both Tallinder and Lydman scored 4 goals and had 16 helpers for a total of 20 points. Leopold had 11 goals and 15 assists for a total of 26 points. The addition of Leopold adds a bit of size to the blue line. Couple that with his ability to put pucks on the net (he had more shots than both Tallinder and Lydman last season) and this acquisition looks like a fine replacement for either Henrik or Lydman (not both). Leopold is signed through 2013 (3 seasons) and will make 3 million each year. It’s worth noting that both Lydman and Tallinder are making at least 3 million a year with their new teams.
You may be saying to yourself: “But that doesn’t make sense… We lost two defenseman and only gained one. What does this team plan to do?” Well, first don’t start a statement with the word “but”. Second, the talk from within seems as though the team is going to replace the missing piece with a player already in the organization (aka a prospect). Now would be a good time to point out that youngster Mike Weber has resigned with the Sabres for one more year. He has had a few opportunities with the big club but has yet to give the team a real reason to keep him up. This season he will have to provide that reason.
On July 2nd the Sabres resigned depth grinder Cody McCormick to a 1 year deal. This is the perfect deal for a guy like McCormick. Because he is relatively unproven as a Sabre, a one year deal helps motivate him to play well but provides a safety net in case we want to part ways with him next year. McCormick brings a lot of size and hard work to the table, something this team could always use more of. On top of that, he proved that he can perform in big situations when the team called him up during the playoffs. If not for his playoff performance, McCormick’s name would probably not even be in the equation right now for the Sabres. However, McCormick is a hard worker who fights for every second of ice time he gets. He’s a Lindy Ruff kind of player.
The Sabres front office made another move on July 7th with the acquisition of Rob “No, Not Scott” Niedermayer. At the age of 35, Niedermayer brings a lot of veteran experience. Actually, he won the cup with Anaheim in ’07 making him one of the only players on the roster to win a cup. Niedermayer will likely center the third line bringing depth and some much needed role to this team. Because of the way Lindy shuffles his lines, however, Niedermayer could end up with anyone on any given night. He’s been known to be a decent set up man and has great hockey senses. He’s a rich man’s Mike Grier in that he knows how to move with and without the puck. Watch for Niedermayer to make a positive impact on this team with his superb two way playing.
Speaking of Mike Grier, the Sabres re-signed him to a one year deal way back on May 17th. This signing speaks for itself. He likes the organization, the organization likes him. Win-Win. His hard work will be much appreciated next season.
Overall, I am actually quite pleased with these signings. The two new players will bring a bit of spark and chemistry to a team that is really only looking for those last few pieces. Would I like to see a definitive top 6 scorer? Of course. Although we didn’t make that splash, I think this team is quite capable of doing well. We brought in a great D Man in Leopold and a hard nosed veteran in Niedermayer. Couple those signings with more experience for our young players (Ennis, Myers, Kennedy) and better playing from the “core” and you have an equation for a solid team.
Tomorrow I will break down what I think the lines will look like. I’ve never really done this before so it’ll take a lot of thought and could be a bit out there. See you tomorrow, Ruffians.
PS Some guy name Kovalchuk re-signed with the Devils for 17 years.