Buffalo Sabres Roster: Protecting Against NHL Expansion


Tim Murray has done what most would call a phenomenal job in turning the Buffalo Sabres around.  He put together a team that is going to be leap years ahead of where they were last year and could end up challenging for a playoff spot.  Why shouldn’t the Buffalo Sabres shoot for what the Calgary Flames did?  We are all set for the near future right?  Wrong, NHL expansion could lead to the Buffalo Sabres losing some of the players they really want on this team, but can’t protect.

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Only, the Buffalo Sabres would be affected by NHL Expansion, they would have to leave players exposed for the NHL Expansion Draft.

The last time we had an expansion draft, only 26 teams took part, being only sophmore teams, the Atlanta Thrashers and Nashville Predators did not partake.  It might be a little premature, but lets look at the Sabres roster, and who should be protected.

Buffalo Sabres Goaltenders

This one here is a no brainer, as Robin Lehner gets protected.  You don’t spend a first round draft pick and pin your hopes for the immediate future on a guy, and then leave him out there for someone else to take.  If someone wants to select a goaltender from the Buffalo Sabres – their option is Chad Johnson – requiring the Buffalo Sabres to pull from their pool with the Rochester Americans.

If the Buffalo Sabres do not want to lose one of their goaltenders, they might be able to protect two goalies, but that would reduce the number of forwards and defenseman that you could protect (in 2000 teams that protected two goalies could only protect three blue liners and five forwards).

Buffalo could further protect their crease by trading future considerations to keep their prospects safe – they traded fifth round draft picks in 2000 and 2001 and players Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre and Matt Davidson to the Columbus Blue Jackets if they didn’t select a goaltender from Buffalo.

Buffalo Sabres Defenseman

First off let’s start with the no-brainers.  Buffalo will protect Zach Bogosian, Rasmus Ristolainen, and Mark Pysyk.

They may consider protecting Josh Gorges, solely because he is an assistant captain on this team – and is one of the few real veteran leaders.  How much do they value that much in Gorges?

Chad Ruhwedel doesn’t get protected, the undrafted free agent is the smallest defenseman on the roster right now – and would most likely be left unprotected.  He isn’t a Murray guy, so there won’t be much hard decision in making that call. Jake McCabe will likely get tapped to be protected by the organization, so adding Gorges and McCabe to your list, that brings us to our five defenseman on the protected list.

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Buffalo is in desperate need of a solid veteran defenseman – someone who has been through the trenches of a long season and can show the young core of guys on the blue line.  With Oduya signing with the Dallas Stars – the Buffalo Sabres will most likely start camp without the added defenseman that Tim Murray is looking for.  Buffalo will be listening intently on the phones however as the season creeps nearer and teams are looking for salary cap relief.

Buffalo Sabres Forwards

The Buffalo Sabres are not going to let any team near any of their top four forwards, Jack Eichel, Ryan O’Reilly, Sam Reinhart, Zemgus Girgensons and Evander Kane.  The plot thickens a little after that.

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One would think the team would be partial to keeping their captain around – and allowing Brian Gionta the ability to retire closer to home.  That might be the only reason the Buffalo Sabres protect him.  As far as long term potential, this is his last contract – so I can’t see them protecting Gionta over a younger player who is planned to be here long term.

Matt Moulson will likely be protected, especially if he can come into next season and produce around quality players. I haven’t really been impressed with Moulson, but he has the potential to be a regular contributor on a powerful team. Tyler Ennis is going to be protected.  He was the Buffalo Sabres leading goal scorer in the past two seasons.

Do I expect Tyler Ennis to be a leading goal scorer on a team that boasts the likes of O’Reilly, Kane, Eichel, Reinhart?  He shouldn’t be the team leader, but he should still be putting the puck in the net.  I remember an interview I did before the Montreal Canadiens game and I said that if you give Tyler Ennis enough time and space he could score a goal, well he proved that he didn’t need space to put the puck in the net.

Nine forwards to be protected, Eichel, Reinhart, Girgensons, Kane, O’Reilly, Moulson, Ennis, Gionta makes eight.

Do you protect O’Reilly’s brother? Jamie McGinn or Phil Varone?  Do you keep Gionta on the unprotected list to tighten up another prospect?

If it is only one NHL team expanding – then the Buffalo Sabres have room for caution, but two teams might see a decent player or two grabbed by a future NHL franchise.  While the last expansion draft took place before the salary cap era, the Buffalo Sabres lost two players, goalie Dwayne Roloson, and LW Geoff Sanderson.

You might fill a team of mid range guys, but mostly bottom tier players, the Buffalo Sabres are in prime position to not lose all its stars, but still need to be careful with who gets protected, if the NHL does choose to move forward with their expansion process.

Next: Buffalo Sabres Still Have Needs That Could Be Addressed via Free Agency

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