As the dust begins to settle after a difficult season, one question that will come up during the offseason is who will be the next Buffalo Sabres captain? The Sabres have had a very rocky captain history in recent years. Fan favorite forwards Chris Drury and Daniel Briere served as co-captains for the 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 seasons. After it appeared the club was turning a corner, both were lost via unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2007.
The Sabres had a rotating captain for the 2007-2008 season. Then, during the 2008-2009 season, Craig Rivet began his tenure as captain and it would last for the better part of three seasons. His reign ended towards the end of the 2010-2011 season when the club placed Rivet on waivers and he was claimed by the Columbus Blue Jackets. After his departure, forward Jason Pominville served as the next captain beginning in the 2011-2012 season until he was traded to the Minnesota Wild in 2013.
The 2013-2014 campaign began with two co-captains, forwards Thomas Vanek and Steve Ott. However, Vanek was traded to the New York Islanders in the early-going of the season and Steve Ott was sent along with Ryan Miller to the St. Louis Blues.
With the club in a full-blown rebuild, it is unclear if the next captain of the Buffalo Sabres is currently on the roster. GM Tim Murray will be remolding and reshaping the roster in the coming weeks. Changes via the draft, unrestricted free agency and possible trades are all on the horizon for this summer. While it is entirely possible that the next captain has yet to join the team, here are the top five players currently on the Sabres’ roster that have the potential to be the Sabres next captain.
Defenseman Christian Ehrhoff has done some decent things since being acquired and signed by the Buffalo Sabres in 2011. Despite a historically poor offense, Ehrhoff managed to score six goals and lead the team in assists with twenty-seven. He is a +51 for his career but he posted a career-worst +/- this year with a -27. This was largely due to the Sabres abysmal offense and the fact that he led the club in ice time with 23:54.
Ehrhoff has a good transition game and has played an important role as an offensive-defensemen throughout his career. The thirty-one year old has a blazing slap shot that has made him a scoring threat on the blue line. Ehrhoff has scored more than thirty points in six of his NHL seasons with the Sabres, Canucks and Sharks. He has a lot of upside on special teams both on the power play and in short handed situations. The defenseman has scored twenty-nine of his sixty-nine career goals with the man advantage.
The offensive-defenseman has also been a valuable player in the playoffs. Ehrhoff has scored thirty-four points in seventy-three career playoff games. The 2014-2015 season will be Ehrhoff’s tenth and he has seven years remaining on his current contract with Buffalo. His $4 million cap makes him an attractive trade target. If he remains in Buffalo for the upcoming season, his hockey sense and experience make him a strong candidate for captain.
Myers had a rough time living up to expectations after he signed his lucrative contract. The defenseman had a very strong rookie season and was selected for the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s best rookie. Since then, Myers has not yet been able to play consistent hockey. However, while last season was difficult for the club as a whole, Myers showed some signs of improvement. He seemed to gain confidence under Head Coach Ted Nolan and might be on the cusp of returning to form.
The defenseman has a unique combination of skating ability and size. Myers is six foot eight with a strong transition game and ability to jump into the offense. This combination is rare and many were expecting big things out of number fifty-seven. While his play has fallen off the last few seasons his game did improve this season. On the whole, Myers made better decisions with the puck and wasn’t always looking for the perfect play.
He has five years left on his current contract which has a $5.5 million cap hit. It remains to be seen if Myers will turn a corner and find his game. He has made some strides with Ted Nolan who has a strong bond with many of his players. Myers clearly has the skill to be an effective NHL defenseman and perhaps Nolan’s continued presence will further his progress. The Sabres are a young group so Myers makes a lot of sense as captain and giving him a higher role with the club could help with his resurgence.
Stafford is another player who has struggled in recent seasons but showed some signs of life this past season. The forward has played for the Sabres for parts of eight seasons. Over that span, he has scored one hundred thirty-six goals and one hundred sixty-two assists. Stafford has scored more than twenty goals in three seasons and he is a former first round selection of the Sabres.
A big criticism of Stafford’s game is his inconsistency. He is a very streaky scorer who has been either hot or cold for long stretches. Stafford did manage to score sixteen goals this past season but ended his season with a -19. Like Myers, the forward seemed to improve under Ted Nolan.
Increased responsibility for Stafford as a captain might help his game. A new challenge like being the captain could help engage the forward some more and help fend off his cold streaks. Stafford is entering the last year of his current contract. This is an important season for the veteran who will need to elevate his game to earn a new contract. With young talent in the wings, selecting Stafford for captain makes some sense in more of a transitional role. He served as an assistant this past season so perhaps he will emerge as the Buffalo Sabres’ captain next season.
While we are in the very early-going of Girgensons’ career, the young forward showed a ton of promise in his first NHL season. Drafted in the first round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, Girgensons spent seventy games with the Sabres where he scored eight goals and notched fourteen assists. He also gained experience at the international level playing for Team Latvia, under Ted Nolan, at the Sochi Olympic Games.
His body of work at the NHL level is small but Girgensons’ attitude and work-ethic are evident on the ice. He constantly finishes his checks and is willing to stick up for his teammates. Girgensons has developing leadership qualities and he figures to be an important part of the team going forward.
The difficult season was a learning experience for the youngster and he will look to improve next year. It might be too soon to turn the reigns over to Girgensons since next year will be the twenty year old’s second season. Nevertheless, if Girgensons isn’t selected to fill the vacancy this fall, he will surely be in the running for any future captain openings.
Entering his fourth year in the NHL, Cody Hodgson finished the 2013-2014 season leading the club in scoring with forty-four points. Hodgson has scored thirty-eight goals in one hundred forty games with the Sabres. He recently signed a six-year contract extension with a $4.25 million cap hit.
Hodgson is an emerging offensive talent but his defensive game leaves much to be desired. He finished the season as a -20 and has been a defensive liability for the club at times. Towards the end of the season, Hodgson was moved from the center position to the wing. The move gave him less responsibility on defense while it allowed Zemgus Girgensons a shot at playing center.
The Sabres committed to Hodgson for the long-term but this was under former GM Darcy Regier. While Hodgson is at the top of the offense-deprived Sabres, he needs to learn to be more responsible on defense. Giving Hodgson the captaincy makes sense from the standpoint of his offensive upside and the fact that he could be in Buffalo for a while. However, he needs to improve many facets of his game in order to develop into more of a complete player. Perhaps a greater role with the organization would motivate Hodgson to improve his game but it may take more than that to get the C this fall.