Time is not on the side of the Buffalo Sabres. When Terry Pegula bought the team just a season and a half ago, he put the team and the city on notice that he was in this to win the Stanley Cup, and do it in three years.
It would have been real easy for the organization last year to blow it all up, and realize that the path of least resistance to the Stanley Cup was not with the current roster of NHL players and prospects, but they stuck to their guns and leaned on the injury line for most of the season.
While that may not have sat well with fans, they stuck to their guns. Heading into the 2012-2013 season, the Buffalo Sabres are a very young team, filled with mostly unproven talent.
The list of new additions starts with young center Cody Hodgson. Yes, he was on the team since the trade deadline move that brought him to Buffalo from the Vancouver Canucks, but he rarely played in Buffalo, and was never able to truly settle into his new home. With an off season under his belt – the center could grow and mature into the pivot man the Buffalo Sabres are searching for.
Beyond Hodgson- the hopes of center ice are directly linked the growth and development of Zemgus Girgensons and Mikhail Grigorenko. I cringed on draft day when the announcement was made that the Buffalo Sabres selected Grigorenko with the 12th overall selection in the 2012 NHL Entry draft. It is likely that the young center could be in the KHL – the fears of many fans of the Blue and Gold – if the NHL locks its players out. A lockout move for Grigorenko would not be a permanent move, as the young center wants to play in the NHL, and he wouldn’t be the only one heading to the KHL to get some ice time until a deal was made. Grigorenko cannot play in the AHL because of his age, so its either back to the “Q” or to Russia with love.
Girgensons can start in the AHL, and will be joined by the likes of Marcus Foligno, Corey Tropp, Brayden McNabb, T.J. Brennan, Mark Pysyk and Jerome Gauthier-Leduc. The Rochester Americans may be a source of great hockey and begin the tradition of winning that is so missed in the Buffalo Sabres organization.
With six Calder Cups to their credit, the last time the AHL Championship crown was brought to Rochester for a coronation was the 1995-1996 season. The Amerks squad played with the likes of Dixon Ward, Brian Holzinger, Jason Dawe, Jay Mckee, Steve Sheilds and company. The winning formula did not transfer from red, white, and blue to black, white, and red.
If the NHL locks out it’s players for any length of time, the Rochester Americans will instantly be infused with a higher level of talent than they would have normally started the season with, as guys such as Foligno, Tropp, McNabb and others would be looking for a full roster spot in the bigs this year if they could impress at training camp. While the 1995-1996 Rochester Americans could repeat championship magic when they made it to the bigs, continued positive drafting by the Buffalo Sabres could spell long term success for the Amerks, and in turn long term success for the Buffalo Sabres.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not hoping for a lock out solely because then the Rochester Americans might be good, lets not forget that while we would flood our AHL franchise with some NHL ready talent, so will 29 other NHL teams that have an AHL affiliate. What a lockout does give the Buffalo Sabres is the ability to get their prospects on the ice for professional level hockey, playing the game at a higher level, with the hopes that once the ink drys on a new collective bargaining agreement, those fringe players the Buffalo Sabres need are ready to compete at the NHL.