Free Agents: Sulzer, Turnbull


Alexander Sulzer is the newest man on the Sabres’ defense core, but will it last or was he just a rental player? Meanwhile, rookie Travis Turnbull has been with the Buffalo team for several years and finally saw some NHL playing time this season. Along with putting up solid numbers in Rochester this year, will this be enough to get him a new contract?

Today – let’s pretend this isn’t two days late for the most recent Free Agent Friday – we’ll take a look at these two soon-to-be free agents.

Alexander Sulzer | Defense | 27 years old | 2011-12 Salary: $700,000

Sulzer was acquired via trade with the Vancouver Canucks when defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani was sent the other way. He arrived in Buffalo to a team struggling with injuries and inconsistency and found himself scratched due to sheer lack of space on the blueline.

By the end of the season, Sulzer had played 15 games with the Sabres, tallying three goals and five assists in that time. Prior to the trade, he’d played just twelve games in Vancouver. Although he was scratched on-and-off once he came to Buffalo – similar to the Canucks – his presence on the ice seemed to be a good thing, as the Sabres went 10-3-2 when he played.

Sulzer was drafted by Nashville in 2003. He spent several seasons playing in Germany before making his NHL debut in the 2008-09 season with the Predators, playing two games but spending the majority of the year in the AHL with the Milwaukee Admirals.

Over the next two seasons, he played 51 games with Nashville before being traded to the Florida Panthers for future consideration. However, he played just nine games in the Sunshine State before relocating to Vancouver and now, to Buffalo.

In additon, Sulzer has experience playing for Germany in both the Olympics and the World Championships. He played five games in each during the 2005-2006 year, and also suited up for the Worlds the next year. Most recently in 2009-10, he played in the Olympics and Worlds.

The question that arises with free agency: is there room for Sulzer on the already-crowded blueline?

As it stands, the Sabres have six NHL defensemen returning: Leopold, Ehrhoff, Regehr, Weber, Sekera and Myers. Brayden McNabb could also make a strong case for a spot, and the Amerks’ T.J. Brennan could see playing time as well.

If he returns, Sulzer may be subjected to a rotating spot in the lineup. If not, the to-be UFA could sign elsewhere or could potentially return to Germany to play there.

Travis Turnbull | Forward | 25 years old | 2011-12 Salary: $525,000

Never drafted by an NHL team, Turnbull signed with the Sabres organization as a free agent in April 2009 after playing four years of college hockey with the Michigan Wolverines in the NCAA.

He began his professional career with the AHL’s Portland Pirates, playing three games in the 2008-09 season before making his full debut the next year.

In that first full season, he had nine goals and nine assists, plus 98 penalty minutes, in 57 games. Not a bad start – but the next year, he was only able to play in twenty games before suffering a long-term injury.

Coming to Rochester this season ready to play, Turnbull tallied 12 goals and 15 assists in 63 games. The most important portion of his season, however, came in March when he was called up to the NHL for the first time to replace an injured Patrick Kaleta.

Turnbull played three games and scored his first NHL goal before returning to Rochester to finish the season – and the AHL playoffs – with the Americans.

The Missouri native will be a UFA on July 1 after the Sabres signed him to a one-year extension in 2011. His aggressive style – unafraid to drop the gloves but also capable of handling the puck well – is certainly a key point in determing whether to keep him or let him go.

Next up on Free Agent Friday: defensemen T.J. Brennan and Alex Biega.