Can the Buffalo Sabres Create the Most Fearsome D in the NHL?

Apr 22, 2013; Buffalo, NY, USA; Winnipeg Jets center Alex Burmistrov (8) and Buffalo Sabres defenseman Chad Ruhwedel (5) during the game at the First Niagara Center. The Jets beat the Sabres 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Dear readers, I am a humble man.

Well, at least I try to be.  When I am wrong, I like to think I can admit it.  When I act out of ignorance, I strive to educate myself.  When I make a mistake, I take the time to fix it as best I can.

Allow me to begin this post, then, by admitting to you: I was wrong.

Sort of.

On July 21st, I wrote a piece entitled 2013 NHL Draft a Step Backwards for the Buffalo Sabres.   A good number of readers were kind enough to leave their comments;  some agreed with me, some disagreed with me, and some readers were on the fence.  Clearly, the draft didn’t please – or infuriate – everyone, but it sure did generate a lot of emotions on both ends of the spectrum, and I wound up on the negative end of things.  I failed to see how a team who struggled to score goals all year, both at even-strength and most glaringly on the power play, could pass up the opportunity to draft at least one offensive player in a draft loaded with near sure-hit offensive players.

It has now been nearly a month since the draft, and I am still concerned that the Sabres offense will be offensive in a bad way during the 2013-2014 season, but I have come here to tell you this: damn it all to hell if I am not excited about the thought of the Buffalo Sabres skating one of the stingiest and most fearsome defenses in the NHL.

There can be no doubt: the potential is there.   Christian Ehrhoff was the best blueliner for the Sabres last season, putting up 22 points, logging major ice time, and

Jun 30, 2013; Newark, NJ, USA; Nikita Zadorov puts on a jersey as he is introduced as the number sixteen overall pick to the Buffalo Sabres during the 2013 NHL Draft at the Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

providing a reliable presence who was rarely caught out of position.  Mike Weber shows no regard for his personal well-being, using his frame to make hits and block shots.  Chad Ruhwedel and Mark Pysyk (especially Pysyk) were bright spots in a pretty bleak season.  Tyler Myers may have looked terrible at times last season, but with Henrik Tallinder back on the team Myers might regain his form, giving the Sabres a blueliner who rivals Zdeno Chara in height and reach (and Myers can skate circles around cinder-blocks-for-feet Chara).  It would be great for Myers to develop a more physical presence . . . which is where the new guys, Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov come into play.  If their physical brand of hockey proves to be infectious, than we might see Myers inspired to take advantage of his size a bit more (especially if he is worried about his ice time being cut).  Word on the street is that Ristolainen and Zadorov are impressive, and if they develop their potential, they will form the cornerstones of a Buffalo Sabres defense that will make the blue and gold a tough out once they finally reach the playoffs.

Of course, the key word today is, “if.”  ”If Ristolainen and Zadorov can adapt to the NHL” is something we’re all going to be thinking about, and reading about, once these two kids start playing.  ”If Tyler Myers can revert back to the player we thought he would be based on his rookie season” is another question Sabres fans must ask themselves.  How about, “If Pysyk and Ruhwedel can go an entire season playing as well as they did in just a small sample of games last season”?   And there’s other players with “ifs” hovering over them – Brayden McNabb, Jamie McBain, Jake McCabe, to name a few – who will determine how prominent this defensive core becomes.  And let’s be honest: looking good in the rookie scrimmage game is one thing . . . but it’s a rookie scrimmage, not an NHL game.

Still: what it all boils down to, fans, is that I am honestly excited. Yes, I’m still nervous about where the scoring will come from next year, and I have my opinions on the Thomas Vanek / Ryan Miller situation, and there’s a lot of cooking that must be done before these young pups are finished . . . but the promise of the Buffalo Sabres skating a bone-crunching, lockdown defense that gives offenses in the NHL nightmares for years to come is just too good for me to ignore.  If the Sabres organization plays its cards right and provides these young blueliners with the guidance and training they need, this year’s draft class may be less of a step backwards and more of a step in a new, exciting direction.

As always, leave your comments below, or hit me up @theamazingMrS! 

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Topics: Buffalo Sabres

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  • PaulR

    I believe Myers will have a bounce-back year. My understanding from last year was he was expecting a full-season lock-out – so he travelled, goofed-around in European Hockey, injured himself, and was totally unprepared for the season in January.

    Now he will have had 6 months to focus and train, and he certainly knows he is in the fans’, and coaches’, dog-house. If he doesn’t not come back ready to kick-butt this season, he is beyond hope.

  • Timothy Redinger

    The Sabres don’t need Myers to bang bodies, that’s not where he’s effective. He was most effective for the Sabres when he had Tallinder, a more stay at home defenseman as a partner, so he could jump into the rush and be an offensive threat from the point. That’s the game the Sabres need Myers to return to form with.

  • davidmuscalo

    Too many” ifs” for me. I am looking forward to next season only because the team is much different than it was at the start of last season and we have a new coach.

    I expect us to finish last in the East and perhaps in the entire NHL. There are so many new pieces and missing pieces that Rollston will need to be a miracle worker to assemble anything that even resembles an NHL team.

    I would appoint Erhoff as Captain, because he is on the ice more than anyone and he has a long-term contract. Ott would make a good Captain also, but he does not have along-term contract and will likely bail out after next season – he is getting older and I am certain he would rather play on a playoff bound team. Perhaps Toronto would be interested.

    • http://SabreNoise.com/ Richard Spalding

      For one, there’s no way I think this will be a playoff team for another 2-3 years, at least. However, their defense does have the potential to be pretty awesome. They still need a damn offense, though!!

      • wolfdoctor

        You act like there are no forward prospects in the pipeline. All of the following forwards were first or second round picks, currently in the pipeline:

        Grigorenko
        Girgensens
        Armia
        Larsson
        Compher
        Hurley
        Bailey

        • http://SabreNoise.com/ Richard Spalding

          Yes: forward PROSPECTS. No proven scorers right now, outside of Vanek (and I’ll give Hodgson the nod, too). How many rookies are going to step into the NHL next year and produce enough offense to improve this team? We may have a great offense in a few years, but I’m not convinced Grigorenko and Girgensons are going to improve our offense much next year for this team to be a clear-cut playoff team next year.

          • wolfdoctor

            You already said you don’t expect the team to be ready for the playoffs for 2-3 years. Why are you giving the defense prospects 2-3 years to mature but want immediate scoring from offense prospects? If you want immediate increased scoring, you’d have to trade away the prospects and/or draft choices for proven scorers.

          • http://SabreNoise.com/ Richard Spalding

            I don’t want immediate scoring from the prospects; that’s my point. You’ve totally lost me; didn’t you bring up our prospects in your earlier reply? I’m all confused now, but maybe it’s just my lack of coffee! :D

            If I was one of the people who thought the prospects could provide immediate scoring, I would be one of those people who feel the Sabres will make the playoffs next year. I don’t, because neither the offensive or defensive prospects are ready for that yet. Essentially, you just made my point: since we have so many prospects, it’s going to take them a while to mature, hence we probably won’t have much of an offense next year, hence we’re probably not playoff-ready for 2-3 years.

          • wolfdoctor

            Your logic totally escapes me.

          • http://SabreNoise.com/ Richard Spalding

            You brought up the topic of offensive prospects; I don’t think they are good enough yet to help us make the playoffs next year. How complicated is it? :)

          • wolfdoctor

            You’re the one who said in one comment that it will take 2-3 years to make the playoffs. Then in another comment say we need a better offense to make the playoffs next year. You flip-flop more than a sunfish in a rowboat.

          • http://SabreNoise.com/ Richard Spalding

            Sorry – I don’t see where I discussed how the Sabres were going to make the playoffs in this thread.

          • wolfdoctor

            Here’s my corollary to what you’ve said.

            There’s no way I think this will be a playoff team for another 2-3 years, at least. However, their offense does have the potential to be pretty awesome. They still need a damn defense, though!!

  • lee Munn

    First of Richard, I read your stories daily & Thank You… I am glad to see you can admit a wrong. I like your stories but the ONE opposite I have with you is how much you HATE Darcy. I think he was lousy for his first 10 years in draft & many trade. But in the last 5 years he has done wonderful (other than a few free-agents… which remember cost us nothing but cash-not players) Look at our last 4 trades:

    1/Pominville-FOR-Hacket/Larson/1st…Zaderov&’14-2nd Rd. We WIN!!!

    2/TJ Brennen – FOR – 6th. We loose but we would have been picked up free agent & after this draft NEVER Played in Buff just in Roch.

    3/ Let’s just say OTT for ROY.. I say we WIN, at minimum we get a player with one more year & He plays with so much Heart you have to LOVE him!

    4/ Gaustad for 1st….Girginsons As Much as I loved the Goose for what I have seen of Girgy He’s going to be great WIN!!! Maybe you can mellow just a little on all the Darcy Bashing & if he makes a few main mistakes again ‘like the old days’ I will join you. (But for now I like where Darcy is going.)

    thanks again!

    • Timothy Redinger

      I disagree. While he has made a few “decent” moves since having the handcuffs removed by ownership…he is the only general manager in the league with as many lives as he has had. It’s time to move on.

    • http://SabreNoise.com/ Richard Spalding

      No problem – thanks for the read!

      I’m not sure if hate is the word I would use – I have never personally called for him being fired (if I am wrong, please correct me, but I have a hard time demanding that people lose their jobs) – but it’s true I am no fan of his. (That’s probably a little bit of an understatement!) However, last year I did give the Sabres a favorable grade on the trades they made around the trade deadline, and I agreed with Regier’s decision to stay out of the free-agent foolishness this year. I try to support him when I feel he has helped the team . . . I just don’t think he has the ability to assemble a championship roster, so I agree with what Tim says down below. I’m an optimist at heart, though, so let’s see if he surprises me this season!!!

    • Jes

      Honestly Darcy has done great these past few drafts. Our prospect defensemen and goalies can rival anyone else in the league. Even forwards we got tougher and more agile. And remember a year ago we were crying about we don`t have centers here at all now we have Girgensons, Grigorenko and Hodgson all future all stars. And we got character guys and power forwards that rival the best in the league.