The changes continue for the Buffalo Sabres.
Just a week ago, general manager Darcy Regier and head coach Ron Rolston were shown the door after a start that could be described as “not good”. It could also be described as “abysmal”, “horrendous” or “tire fire” if you were looking for something more descriptive.
The new regime – president of hockey operations Pat Lafontaine and interim head coach Ted Nolan – have since come in, won a game and changed the mood among the Sabres faithful.
They’ve also began instituting heavy changes to the roster.First-round defenseman Nikita Zadorov was returned to his OHL team, the London Knights, today. Many, including those in charge obviously, feel like big Zadorov would be better served getting big minutes in junior where he can continue to develop and grow confidence. Doing that in Buffalo, where he showed he can hang already, wasn’t likely to happen with as bad as the Sabres have been so far and are likely to be for the rest of the year.
Joining him in the demotion line, if you could even really call it that, are Johan Larsson and Rasmus Ristolainen who were sent to Rochester of the American Hockey League. Larsson came over a part of the Jason Pominville trade (which netted the pick that was used to select Zadorov) while Ristolainen was the Sabres first pick in this past draft. Neither looked lost and both had their moments, but they would be better served being integral parts of a much better team, getting more minutes than they would in Buffalo.
There are also rumblings that Zemgus Girgensons could be joining those two in Rochester, though Nolan is familiar with him from coaching the Latvian national team. It wouldn’t be a surprise either way.
The other 500-pound gorilla in the room is Mikhail Grigorenko. The 19-year-old Russian was sent to Rochester on a conditioning assignment with the expectation that he will rejoin the Sabres when he completes it. But there is still some speculation within the organization and fan base that he could be sent back to juniors.
There’s an issue with that, though. His junior team, the Quebec Remparts, were not expecting him back and have filled their two import player slots since. One of the players in that slot they would not be allowed to trade or drop per league rules which complicates things.
The other issue in regards to sending Grigorenko back to juniors is the fact that the Sabres will have burned two years off of his three-year entry-level deal for a total of 40 games. That’s on Regier, but there is the possibility that it costs the Sabres in the long run.
Regardless of contracts, Grigorenko needs to go to either Rochester or back to juniors. He’s struggled in Buffalo so far, finding himself bouncing around lines and clearly struggling with strength versus NHL defenders. He needs to get some time in where he’ll be appreciated and depended up, where he can build his confidence up and grow his body.
The full on rebuild is on in Buffalo and the smart, if unpopular, decisions are being made. Hopefully, it won’t be long before the team can reap the dividends of those decisions.
Ryan is a lead writer for The Hockey Writers as well as editor for Mile High Sticking and co-owner of The Farm Club. Follow him on Twitter to discuss all things puck, Bills football, or his hatred of all things Philly.