Another week has passed in the shortened NHL season and the Buffalo Sabres continue to be in a state of limbo. The Sabres earned three of a possible four points this week with a 3-1 win, on March 12, against the New York Rangers and an overtime loss to the Ottawa Senators on March 16. With the points, the Sabres did move up a spot in the Eastern Conference Standings to 13th. However, the Sabres are now seven points back of the final playoff spot.
In terms of off ice decisions this week, the Sabres sent their top pick in the 2012 draft, Mikhail Grigorenko, back to the Quebec City Remparts in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, burning a year of his entry level contract. Also, T.J. Brennan was sent to the Florida Panthers in exchange for a fifth-round draft pick in the 2013 draft.
More and more the Sabres have questions surrounding their team. Are they trying to make a run? Or were these moves the first steps to becoming a seller?
On the Ice
There were many positives from the two games the Sabres played this past week, primarily with their secondary scoring. Marcus Foligno and Drew Stafford who have been almost non-existent, on the ice this year, each scored two goals in one game. Foligno accomplished the feat against the Rangers and Stafford against the Senators.
Jhonas Enroth also earned a much-needed win in net against the Rangers, his first since Nov. 26, 2011. Enroth turned aside 32 of 33 shots from New York.
In Buffalo’s game against the Senators, they showed fight by not giving up despite trailing as they headed into the third period. Buffalo had won just twice this season when trailing after two periods and earned a point on one other occasion.
The game against the Senators also marked the return of Ville Leino to the line up after missing the first 27 games of the season with a hip injury. Leino will be looked upon almost immediately to help spark secondary scoring and the power play. He registered 15:55 of ice time including 2:29 on the power play.
However, the Sabres continued to struggle on the power play, this week, going 0-5 in the game against New York and 0-2 against Ottawa.
Off the Ice
With the return of Leino, the Sabres were forced to make a move to free up a roster spot. Their decision was to send Grigorenko back to Quebec City. This is an interesting decision because, having kept Grigorenko for longer than the rookie-maximum number of games, they used up one year of his three year entry-level contract.
Grigorenko was only averaging 9:44 of ice time and had just one goal and four assists in 22 games.
Darcy Regier had this to say as to why the team sent him back.”… he’s got an opportunity to go back to Quebec, be the go-to-guy and play 20-22 minutes. He’s got a terrific coach there in Patrick Roy. It’s an experience that he can build on the World Juniors, and be the go-to-guy in Quebec. And I expect that at some point in his NHL career, that’s what we’re going to expect here out of him. But it’s not fair to look for that out of an 18-year-old.”
That is all well and good but the fact is Quebec has one more regular-season game. Even with playoffs, there is not a lot of time for Grigorenko to return and dominate the way he had done before. The decision to send him back at this point might be a little too late to foster anything else out of his 2013 development.
The Sabres also made a move via trade where they sent T.J. Brennan to Florida for a fifth-rounder. Brennan had one goal in 10 games for the Sabres this season. The move was a matter of getting something as opposed to losing the defender for nothing via the waiver wire. Still, it is tough for the organization to lose a 23-year-old defenseman. The Sabres do have a well stocked cupboard of defensive prospects and perhaps the 10 games this season were enough for the organization to come to the conclusion that they do not see Brennan being part of the future. Brennan was scheduled to become a restricted free agent this summer.
Where Does Buffalo Go From Here?
So with the on and off ice news of the Buffalo Sabres this week what do we know? Well the answer remains that we don’t really know anything. This team is still hanging on by a thread which makes it difficult to start selling off pieces. At the same time they are not close enough to start buying. If they were to round off three or four straight wins and got themselves to within striking distance of the playoffs, then perhaps they would make some moves to address their weaknesses.
There are two distinct areas that stand out if they were to look to improve the team. The first is in the faceoff dot, where they rank 29th at 46.3 per cent, and one can’t help but wonder if the Sabres would have been in on Dave Steckel who was traded from the Toronto Maple Leafs this week for minor-leaguer Ryan Lasch and a seventh-round pick in 2014. It may have been difficult to deal within the division, but with Steckel’s track record as a physical, faceoff specialist it could have been a cheap solution the Sabres could have experimented with.
The second area is on the power play. The Sabres continue to rank dead last with an atrocious power play that operates at 10.9 per cent. That number is simply unacceptable and while the return of Leino should help up front, the Sabers could still use more from the back end. The current players just have not got it done and a power-play specialist is desperately needed. The Sabres may want to look at a player like Marc-Andre Bergeron who is currently with the Tampa Bay Lightning but is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season and has appeared in only 12 games. While Bergeron’s defensive skills are nothing to write home about, he can be dangerous on the man advantage and at this point, the Sabres could use any help back there they can get.
Once again Sabres fans will have to watch for another week just to see what to expect with this team. The fact is it is up to the current players. Their performance will determine the moves management makes.
An avid sports enthusiast, Darren presently is the Communications and Marketing Coordinator at the Golf Association of Ontario. He has served as a Sports Editor with Etcetera Publications and colour commentator on TV Cogeco’s junior hockey coverage. He has covered a wide range of junior and professional sports including: hockey, golf, baseball and football to name a few.