The Buffalo Sabres have a logjam at the blue line, with four players vying for the sixth, seventh, and potentially eighth spot in the rotation.
The Buffalo Sabres can’t keep every defenseman on their roster. And there are four of them vying for potentially the final three spots should the Blue and Gold roll with 13 forwards and eight defensemen. For the purposes of this four-part series, which explains why the Sabres should (and shouldn’t) hang onto their bottom four blueliners, I’m making the case for why each should stay, and why Buffalo should either trade or place them on waivers.
Up first is one of the players who I expect will be in a Sabres uniform this season: Henri Jokiharju. But since he will be competing with Ilya Lyubushkin, Riley Stillman, and Jacob Bryson for a spot, there is always a chance that he is the odd man out.
Update: On August 18th, the Sabres traded Ilya Lyubushkin to the Anaheim Ducks.
Why the Buffalo Sabres should keep Henri Jokiharju in 2023-24
While Jokiharju has been marginal at times, he is also no slouch, and he’s shown flashes that he is capable of playing in the Top 4. He’s also primarily played Top 4 minutes over the past two seasons, and he quietly possesses an adequate two-way game – at times, anyway.
The latter of which you won’t see on the stat sheet, but Jokiharju can exit the defensive zone quickly and be effective in transition, We also can’t count out his experience playing alongside the likes of Rasmus Dahlin and Owen Power – if injuries strike the lineup, Jokiharju could at least minimize the drop-off in production in the Top 4.
Why the Sabres shouldn’t keep Jokiharju
We often saw him lining up alongside Owen Power last season, and Jokiharju’s only consistency was his inconsistency. Remember that response article I wrote about Owen Power’s poor defensive analytics? Jokiharju was the primary catalyst for that, and even if he’s playing in a rotational role in the third pairing or as an extra, the Blue and Gold could feel that inconsistency nonetheless when he’s on the ice.
Further, nothing about Jokiharju’s game stands out – he has a two-way approach, but it’s never fully shown. Jokiharju can be physical and he can handle pressure well – when he wants to. At this point, there are just way too many inconsistencies with his game and no real identity, and that could set him back.
What will the Sabres do with Jokiharju?
There is no way a player on a one-way deal getting paid $2.5 million this season heading to Rochester, so if the Blue and Gold no longer wanted Jokiharju, they would be trading, and not waiving him.
Given his experience playing in the Buffalo Sabres lineup in all three pairings, Jokiharju is almost a lock to remain in the Queen City for the final year of his contract before he becomes an RFA. The only way I’m seeing general manager Kevyn Adams dealing Jokiharju before the season would be if another team likes him so much that they are willing to give up significant compensation, which probably isn’t happening.
Source: How the Sabres might solve their surplus on defense before the season begins by Lance Lysowski, Buffalo News