Between the ups and downs of this year’s hockey season, perhaps some of the biggest changes in both the Buffalo Sabres and Rochester Americans organizations have come on the blueline, with the departures and movements of several defensemen.
Of the eight defensemen who were on the Buffalo Sabres roster when the NHL lockout was lifted, three are now playing with other NHL clubs, with another injured and out for the year. The departures of Jordan Leopold, Robyn Regehr and T.J. Brennan have given a bit of a facelift to the Buffalo blueline, which has now seen ten players skate in at least one game this season.
Looking at the AHL’s Rochester Americans, the numbers are even worse.
Of the six defensemen who played in the Amerks’ first game back in October, just two are still with the Rochester club – Drew Schiestel and Matt Mackenzie. Who were the others? Joe Finley (traded), Brennan (called up, then traded), Mark Pysyk (called up) and Brayden McNabb (injured and expected to miss the remainder of the season.)
Alex Biega, Jerome Gauthier-Leduc and Nick Crawford were with the Americans at the time, but didn’t play until later in the season due to a lack of space on the blueline.
Eleven defensemen have appeared in at least one game for the Amerks this season.
THE BLUE & GOLDLINE
At the start of the Buffalo Sabres season, the team had eight defensemen on the roster and was forced, for a while, to scratch a pair – typically Mike Weber and T.J. Brennan.
The rotation began, although Brennan – who had been playing all season in Rochester prior to the lockout end – struggled to secure a roster spot. With Alexander Sulzer injured, Mike Weber earned a playing spot, which left Brennan still the odd man out. The Sabres, however, couldn’t return Brennan to the AHL without having to clear waivers; since the 23-year-old had scored 35 points in 36 games, Buffalo wasn’t willing to take the risk of losing him for nothing in return.
Instead, Brennan was eventually traded to the Florida Panthers for a fifth-round draft pick.
Jordan Leopold, who had eight points and a minus-6 in 24 games with Buffalo this season, was recently traded to the St. Louis Blues, and Robyn Regehr shipped off to the Los Angeles Kings for a pair of second-round draft picks. Regehr had two assists and was a minus-4 in 29 games with the Sabres.
And just like that – boom. Three of your season-starting blueliners are now suiting up for other NHL clubs, and another is out for the remainder of the season. Cue the likes of Christian Ehrhoff, Tyler Myers and Andrej Sekera being forced to step into bigger roles, along with the eventual call-ups of Adam Pardy and Mark Pysyk, an AHL rookie who has made his presence known on the blueline and has arguably been one of the Sabres’ best defensemen as of late.
Weber and Sulzer are set to hit free agency this July, as is Adam Pardy, whose one-year contract was acquired by the Sabres when the team traded Derek Roy to the Dallas Stars last year.
THE RED, WHITE & BLUELINE
The Rochester Americans had a wealth of defensemen at the beginning of the AHL season, and part of the changes to their lineup has come due to the NHL lockout; other parts, not so much.
The six defensemen who appeared in the Amerks’ first game of the season: Joe Finley, T.J. Brennan, Brayden McNabb, Mark Pysyk, Drew Schiestel and Matt MacKenzie. Alex Biega, Nick Crawford and Jerome Gauthier-Leduc got into the line-up a little further into the season, with Adam Pardy eventually joining the club once the NHL lockout ended and he became eligible to join the AHL squad.
Finley went to the New York Islanders; Brennan, called up to the Sabres and eventually traded. McNabb is injured, and Pysyk and Pardy are now up with Buffalo as well – though Pardy has been up and down. The additions of Corey Fienhage and Nick Bailen have attempted to provide some relief to the depleted Amerks squad, but Bailen is injured and has yet to appear in a game for the team.
Free agency might shake things up even further for the Americans, as three of their current defensemen are set to hit the open market. Schiestel and Crawford will become restricted free agents, while Biega is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent. The team also needs to start thinking about re-signing McNabb and MacKenzie, who have one year remaining on each of their respective contracts.
With the impending NHL trade deadline and free agency just a few months away – how will the bluelines of both these respective clubs continue to shift? Will we see an all-new squad of blueliners one way or the other down the I-90 come the start of a new season in October? Only time will tell, but it’s been interesting – and it’s only bound to get better.