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The Buildup July 15, 2012

Posted by calvin in Uncategorized.
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This offseason has not had the fireworks that Buffalo Sabres fans experienced a year ago. Last year we experienced what free agency under a committed owner feels like, with Terry Pegula and president Ted Black getting personally involved in transactions that led to the arrivals of Robyn Regehr, Christian Ehrhoff and Ville Leino. Kevin Dineen moved on to Florida and Ron Rolston was installed as the Dean of Sabres University in Rochester. The Sabres then contracted the Gwinett Gladiators as their ECHL affiliate to ensure the hierarchy and the youth system was being catered to. There was a full-scale reconstruction job on the locker room to ensure that the facilities were world-class. The draft looked pretty good and hopes were high that Pegula’s first full season as owner would be a good one.

Coming out of the lockout, Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff showed some amazing prescience as to what the game would look like as the NHL struggled to win fans back and sought to end ‘negative’ hockey. They built a team which relied on speed and skill, and for two consecutive years reached the Eastern Conference Finals. Neither of them have shown any of that foresight since then, and it had felt like the Sabres were playing catch-up every year instead of being among the trailblazers in the League. The focus on speed has gone now and the physical element is once again a key component to success. Last offseason the Sabres failed to address that issue on the roster and it came back to bite them with a vengeance.

In the last couple of months, once again it feels like the Sabres management is trying to play catch-up with the way they have gone about addressing the toughness issue on this squad. The last three entry drafts have added bigger players to the system, with size being as highly valued as skill. The two offseason pickups so far, Steve Ott and John Scott both bring grit to the locker room. Maybe toughness will win it all this upcoming season, maybe it won’t.. but it doesn’t feel that Regier & Co. are ahead of the rest in their thoughts or actions. As for letting Derek Roy go, it could be addition by subtraction, remains to be seen. Brad Boyes has moved on as well, little boom and more bust.

It hasn’t been all gloom for the Sabres fans though. By all accounts the Sabres had a corker of a draft, addressing needs and picking up some excellent players all around. Mikhail Grigorenko and Zemgus Girgensons are going to be top 6 centers for many years to come. Regier wasn’t done there though, and went on to pick a total of five centers with the Sabres’ eight picks. Another goalie and two defensemen added to the squad depth. Girgensons then went on to forego college hockey at UVM and signed a three-year, entry-level contract with Buffalo and Grigorenko might do the same though the big and bad KHL is expected to come huffing and puffing at his door. The recently-ended development camp gave fans a chance to see the drafted players up close and personal. A couple of camp-invitees had excellent tryouts too and will probably be given professional contracts as well – Frederick Roy (son of legendary goalie Patrick Roy) and Jamie Wise should be on the Amerks next season.

This is the beginning of Year Two in the three year plan that Pegula and Black had spoken about when they took over the team. So far it’s come with less pomp and fanfare than Year One did, but hopefully it’ll end with more of a bang than then first.

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