Photo courtesy of Worth1000.com

The dust has settled in Hockey Heaven…with $1 million to spare


What a day. The signings were coming hard and heavy. The previous few days had Sabres fans giddy with anticipation. Today we waited and waited and then…Ville! Oh, Ville, you broke our hearts once, back in April. Now you are a member of the Blue and Gold. Funny how things work out, huh? This is a very solid pickup by a Sabres team that has stolen headlines for a week now. The contract, 6 years/$27 million, seems to me to be a bit much, but this July 1st was all about supply and demand. They were bound to overpay a bit if they wanted to be players in free agency. Under previous ownership, we would probably be announcing the signing of Zenon Konopka (no offense, there, Zenon) right now, not Leino and Ehrhoff.  The Sabres, for all intents and purposes, signed 2 of the top 5 free agents of 2011.

Thank You, Mr. Pegula.

At the press conference to announce the Leino signing, Darcy Regier stated that this was basically the team now. They would explore trades in the coming weeks, but that they are very comfortable as it stands currently. Taking a look at the roster, the talent is quite impressive, but the depth even more so. However, it still leaves some questions. While I would expect this roster to be tweaked (players traded, waived or demoted) before training camp, let’s look at it as it stands on July 1st, 2011.

 

GOAL

Ryan Miller

Jhonas Enroth

Need I say more? This is a very strong tandem, especially if Enroth continues the strong play he showed last year. Miller should not have to play 65-70 games, and should be better rested, especially for the playoffs. Both goaltenders will also have a better defense in front of them.

PLUS…a back-up goalie we can finally rely on.

MINUS…a back-up goalie Miller isn’t used to.

 

DEFENSE

Robin Regehr      Tyler Myers

Christian Ehrhoff        Jordan Leopold

Mike Weber      Andrei Sekera

Marc-Andre Gragnani        Shaone Morrisonn

On paper, this group is quite imposing. The top 4 looks like it could rival any team in the league. A Myers/Regehr tandem, if that is how Coach Ruff initially pairs them, has the potential to be, dare I say, dominant. Myers loves to lug the puck up ice and unleash that howitzer we saw so many times last year. He now has that safe, mean, stay-at-home partner he can rely on, which should give “the Big Easy” more confidence. Ehrhoff ‘s strength is his skating and his shot, and will give the Sabres power play another weapon and a huge boost. You would be hard pressed to find me a number 4 defenseman better than Leopold. Barring any trades, due to cap constraints, I would expect Morrisonn to be placed on waivers. If no one picks him up, he would most likely be sent to Rochester. The bottom 3 of Weber, Sekera and Gragnani are young, poor-man’s versions of Rhett Warrener, Alexei Zhitnik and Teppo Numminen, and that isn’t  a bad thing at all. Expect good things from this defense core.

PLUS…the top four are world-class.

MINUS…after the lax defensive-zone coverage last year, this unit will have to prove itself early.

 

FORWARDS

Thomas Vanek     Ville Leino    Drew Stafford

Tyler Ennis     Derek Roy     Jason Pominville

Nathan Gerbe     Jochen Hecht     Brad Boyes

Cody McCormick     Paul Gaustad     Patrick Kaleta

Ales Kotalik

The new toy here is Leino, and I’ve put him at center ice for a couple of reasons. He played down low, occupying the center’s position in the Flyers system, quite a bit last year. The other reason is that, by Leino’s own account, he is a natural center, is most comfortable there, and played center until he was 23 years old. Whether he slots as a number 1 or a number 2 is anyone’s guess, but I would be very interested to see what he could do with Thomas Vanek. While I am not thrilled with the idea of Jochen Hecht as the  number 3 centerman, I expect a bounce back season from “Brochen”. While Hecht is, and this is being kind, terrible on the draw, he has the size and speed to be an effective 3rd line pivot. Brad Boyes was misused as a centerman last year, and I believe his numbers suffered for it. He needs to remain at RW to maximize his potential. The wingers, as it stands, form a deep, versatile and well rounded group which should allow Ruff to roll 3 lines that can score consistently. Kotalik, (like Morrisonn) due to salary cap issues, will probably start the season in the AHL. I have him listed as the Sabres 13th forward for now, but do not expect him to assume that role. Our 13th forward may not be in the organization right now. I would expect the Sabres to sign or trade for a journeyman to fill that role.

PLUS…speed kills, but depth absolutely destroys. The Sabres now seemingly have both. Yikes.

MINUS…the lack of a true number 3 center, and the absence of a gritty Dustin Brown/Scott Hartnell/Milan Lucic type on the top 2 lines.

 

While we didn’t acquire that stud, number 1 center we all hoped for, this may be a blessing in disguise. Leino, much like Danny Briere when he came over to the Sabres, may be ready to explode. He will most likely be placed in his preferred position at center, and the team may reap some rewards for it. The Sabres have to be considered a top 4 team in the Eastern conference after the acquisitions this week, and only Boston should be better in the Northeast division.

Suffice to say, Terry Pegula, Ted Black, Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff had a plan this summer. It looks like it was executed with confidence and precision. In fact, it looked too easy. They have started the ball rolling on “Hockey Heaven”, and everyone league-wide has obviously taken notice. The off-season has only just begun, and more changes may still take place, but this Sabres fan is already counting down to puck drop.