The Buffalo Sabres are starting to look like the team they should have been all year.
Amazing how that works, right?
You add two talented defenseman, a two-way center and a scorer from Rochester and subtract two aged Dmen, an 18-year-old who was no where near ready for the NHL and a coach who had long worn out his welcome with the team's leadership group and bizam! You have a halfway decent team.
You have to ask the question: If Adam Pardy, Kevin Porter, Mark Pysyk, Brian Flynn and even Luke Adam were in the NHL all year, would the Sabres be in the playoff hunt right now? Instead of trading Jason Pominville for a prospect, would general manager Darcy Regier have been looking to buy, buy, buy at the deadline? Would the Sabres have been looking at Marian Gaborik for the stretch run?!
OK, maybe the imagination's running a little wild there. But now that the deadline's over and before we can turn the debate officially over to WR vs. QB with the eighth overall pick, there's something that still needs to be addressed: The future of Ron Rolston.
Since taking over for Lindy Ruff, Rolston has gone 9-7-5, good for 23 standings points in 21 games. Certainly Scotty Bowman isn't impressed, but it's a pretty big jump over Lindy Ruff's 6-10-1. In fact, if you take Rolston's current rate and project it over 38 games, the Sabres would be in seventh place right now.
It's hard to decide whether that stat is misleading or telling. But after back-to-back wins over Pittsburgh and Ottawa, it's worth asking if Rolston should be the head coach next year and beyond.
In the nay column is the obvious drawback: The interim head coach is lacking of NHL experience. Some of his moves, if taken in the context of trying to win each hockey game, have also been worth questioning. But the one major positive for keeping Rolston might outweigh the concerns over experience and lineup shuffles.
That positive relates to the reality of the Sabres' situation. Pardy, Pysyk, Porter, Flynn and Adam weren't here all year. Regehr, Leopold and Grigorenko were and the team is officially in rebuild mode. Pominville is gone and Johan Larsson, Joel Armia, Zemgus Girgensons, Grigorenko and whoever the Sabres draft with their abundance of picks this year and next year...those guys are the Buffalo Sabres now.
And the situation couldn't possibly fit Rolston any better.
In the last two years, whether it's been in Rochester or Buffalo, younger players have gotten better while playing for him. Marcus Foligno is the best example. When he arrived in Rochester in 2011-12, he wasn't expected to crack Buffalo's lineup or even be much more than a fourth line type player. Of course he deserves credit for working with the coaching staff and pushing himself, but he improved so greatly under Rolston that he was playing on the team's top line by the end of 2012.
Foligno struggled at times to begin the season, but, unsurprisingly has gotten his game back together since the Sabres changed coaches.
Brayden McNabb saw a similar leap from a lower-round pick to top prospect under Rolston while in the minors. If not for a season-ending injury, McNabb would probably be in Buffalo now. Instead, first-year pro Mark Pysyk is in the NHL and playing very well. Pysyk also spent his earliest days as a professional hockey player in the AHL under Rolston.
Flynn went from a healthy scratch in the AHL to a contributor at the NHL level and RR seems to even have resurrected Luke Adam from the darkest depths of Ruff's doghouse.
So who else would you rather see work with Grigorenko when he returns as a 19-year-old? Or Larsson when he's ready? Who else would you rather see teach Cody Hodgson how to play in his own end or push Tyler Ennis to properly backcheck.
Who better to fix Tyler Myers' broken game than the guy who's known for teaching immature players to grow up?
Patrick Roy is certainly an option. Regier certainly likes to drop his name into conversations as often as possible (who wouldn't?). Next year seems a long shot though for a guy with enough playing-career credibility to land a top tier gig. Roy is a big maybe.
Rolston's more or less a lock to take the full-time job if he wants it. And there's enough evidence to suggest he's the right man to deal with the reality of a Sabres rebuild.