Entering the 2nd offseason in the post Darcy Regier era of the Buffalo Sabres, mistakes of the previous regime are beginning to haunt the organization. Tim Murray has been put in a bad spot by the previous management group and has very difficult decisions to make on a few young players.
Finding the Fit For Grigorenko
The Mikhail Grigorenko drama will continue for the Sabres this offseason. The Russian center has had a very dramatic and difficult start to his NHL career. When he was selected 12th overall in 2012, he was forced into the NHL lineup. Grigorenko wasn’t mature enough and didn’t have the skating ability to be successful at the NHL level. He would only end up playing 25 games with the Sabres before being sent back to juniors in his first season. Again, in his second season Grigorenko struggled and would be sent back to juniors after only dressing in 18 games. Darcy Regier burned two years of his entry-level deal and the former first round pick only dressed in 43 NHL games. Last season the Sabres finally started to see growth in the Russian’s game with a new attitude and better on ice performance. However, Grigorenko would only play in 25 games with the Sabres and played a good majority of the season in Rochester of the American Hockey League.
Now after playing only 68 NHL games, Grigorenko is a restricted-free-agent this offseason after burning through his entry-level contract. Murray is upset with the contract situation and the fact the he’s already an RFA at only 21 years old. The Sabres General Manager has also indicated that the fit for Grigorenko may difficult to find next season. Buffalo will be strong down the middle with Zemgus Girgensons, Jack Eichel, and Sam Reinhart, who Murray plans on having start in the NHL next season. Putting Grigorenko on the 4th line doesn’t fit his skill set and he also doesn’t look comfortable on the wing. Also complicating the situation is in order for Grigorenko to be sent down to the AHL, he’ll need to clear waivers. It’s possible that the he could sneak through the waiver wire, but it’s a risk to lose a talented 21-year-old for nothing. Murray will qualify Grigorenko and it’s possible he signs his qualifying offer. Don’t be surprised if the Sabres look to include Grigo as part of package in a trade this offseason.
Cody Hodgson Contract Dilemma
Cody Hodgson is another player that Murray has to make a decision on. Regier signed Cody Hodgson to a 6 year 25.5 million dollar contract when he was a restricted free agent in 2013. Many expected Hodgson to sign a “bridge contract” with the Sabres to prove himself as an NHL player. To the surprise of many, Hodgson was given a long-term commitment by the franchise.
Last season Hodgson had the worst season of his career scoring only six goals and 13 points in 78 games. The 25-year-old also found himself a healthy scratch on a few occasions last season. Hodgson was unnoticeable in almost every game he played last season and didn’t play with a lot of effort. It could be argued that former Head Coach Ted Nolan didn’t use him properly last season, an argument that Tim Murray himself made at points during the season. In the 2013-14 season, Hodgson had a career high 20 goals, 9 of which came on the Power Play. To go along with that 19 of Hodgson’s 44 points that season game on the Power Play. Last season Hodgson had very little Power Play time and only registered one assist with the man advantage.
Misuse of the player is certainly not the only reason why Hodgson struggled. He struggled with his skating and defensive zone coverage. These two things have been a weakness for Hodgson throughout his entire NHL career. Earlier last week Murray said that Hodgson was overseas in Sweden working on his conditioning and skating. That sounds like great news for the team, but if Hodgson doesn’t fix his game in his own end, he’s still unreliable as a top six forward.
If possible, Murray would likely want to get out from under Hodgson’s contract. The Canadian born forward has little to no trade value right now so a trade is not an option with his past performance and 4.25 million dollar cap hit for the next 4 years. If the Sabres decide to use a buy out on Hodgson, this offseason would be the most logical. Right now a buy out would be only be 1/3 of Hodgson’s remaining contract due to his age. That would result in a cap hit of 787k for the next 8 years. If the Sabres wait until next offseason, it would be 2/3 of his remaining contract resulting in a higher cap hit. A buyout this offseason would make a lot of sense, but giving up on a 25-year-old who has scored 20 goals in the league in a tough decision.