Buffalo, NY (WGR 550) -- With the Sabres back to work after having 15 days off for the Olympic break, it’s time to take a look at where they’re at for the final few months of the season.
The trading freeze will soon be over and then it’s open season until the deadline on March 5th.
Let me start in goal. Ryan Miller will be 34 years old in July. In my mind is having his best NHL season with a save percentage of .923, the second best in his career.
In his 539 games, Miller has given the Sabres his all. He’s played in 47 playoff games and gone 25-22. The unrestricted free agent has not given any indication that he’d like to be part of the team’s current rebuild even though Terry Pegula would like him to be. Miller was very upset when the Sabres traded Paul Gaustad and sending away Derek Roy, Jason Pominville, Robyn Regehr and Thomas Vanek hasn’t made him any happier. For me, I think the time has come to cut ties. By the time Buffalo would get really good, he’d be between 36 and 38 years old. It’s time for Tim Murray to find the Sabres next goalie.
There really hasn’t been a big trade market for goaltenders and Miller in the NHL, but as things heat up in the next few weeks, will St. Louis or Washington decide it must upgrade to take the next step. Does Minnesota want to spend on goaltending or more scoring?
The next question would be is Jhonas Enroth the Sabres next goalie? Enroth turns 26 in June and has just 73 games under his belt with Buffalo. He’s 1-12-5 this season and like Miller, was lights out until maybe his last five starts. Actually, his last start in Ottawa before the break he was back to playing like he did earlier. Overall he’s 22-30-12 in the NHL with a 2.76 goals against.
When he gets hot he’s very good, but Tim Murray said in Rochester last week that he likes big goalies and Enroth is one of the smallest in the NHL. If Miller gets traded I do feel that Enroth deserves the chance to be the starter through the end of the season. I think by then, there would be no question whether he can be that number one guy or not. Personally, I have my doubts, but I’d like to see him get the chance. Murray said neither Rochester goalie is ready and neither will be called up should Miller go.
On defense I think the Sabres are loaded with good, young talent. Tyler Myers appears to be coming out of his three year slump. He’s 24 years old and is playing the type of hockey that made him such an impressive prospect his rookie year. We of course need to see a lot more of it, but if he’s matured into the player he can be, it’s just like making a huge trade.
Mark Pysyk was Buffalo’s first pick in 2010 and he’s going to be a top flight NHL defenseman. Since going back down to Rochester, the 22 year old has dominated along with 23 year old Brayden McNabb. McNabb was a third round pick in 2009 and for me, it’s their time. Both have spent time learning in the AHL and both should be in Buffalo’s lineup for the rest of the season. I especially want to see McNabb, it’s time to find out what Buffalo has in this guy. To make room Buffalo would have to waive Alex Sulzer or Jamie McBain. Both have struggled mightily and neither belongs in the NHL on a fulltime basis. I would waive McBain.
Teams that think they could go deep into the playoffs might be interested in a 35 year old veteran in Henrik Tallinder. He would add some depth to a contending team and don’t discount trading Christian Ehrhoff. He’s miscast in Buffalo as they signed him to be “The man”, but he’s not capable of that. Ehrhoff would be a very good player if he could be slotted as a three or four defenseman. He’ll be 32 in July and has a very tradable contract. Buffalo has paid $22-million of his $40-million dollar salary. A team would get him seven years/$18-million. His cap hit would remain four million dollars.
I think Tim Murray and the Edmonton Oilers should be on the phone until Murray trades either Rasmus Ristolainen or Nikita Zadorov for one of the Oilers world class young forwards. I don’t think Edmonton would move Taylor Hall, but the Oilers drafted defenseman Darnell Nurse last season with the 7th overall pick and signed a prized college free agent D in Justin Schultz who’s already shining. That’s just two and the Oilers need another good young defenseman. Maybe I’m crazy, but if I’m Edmonton, I would trade Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in a second for either Ristolainen or Zadorov. Since Nugent-Hopkins was taken first overall, Buffalo may have to part with one of their 12 first or second round picks in the next three drafts. To me, it makes sense for everybody. Murray would still have the guy he didn’t trade as well as Myers, Pysyk, McNabb, Chad Ruhwedel and Jake McCabe. He would also have a top skilled forward with another possibly to come in this June’s draft.
That takes us to the forwards. Buffalo’s in big trouble there. They have two unrestricted free agents in Matt Moulson and captain Steve Ott. I think this rebuild needs some veterans to bring it along and if one or both would be open to signing at a price that isn’t outrageous, I would keep them. I think Ott is an excellent leader and will show the kids the right way. Moulson can score goals and I think keeping them would bring this process along faster. With all that being said, if some team made me a GREAT offer for either, I’d trade them in a second.
Buffalo likely has its second line center. The problem is they have two of them. Cody Hodgson just inked a six year/$25.2-million contract. Tyler Ennis could also likely fill that role and he’s restricted this year. When Buffalo gets good, there’s not room for both so I think a decision has to be made to move one of them.
Zemgus Girgensons is going to be a very good, maybe even a great forward in this league. Marcus Foligno has the tools to be a very good power forward in this league, but it’s totally up to him. He needs his coach to kick him in the butt way too much. He’s 22 years old so he still should mature.
There is nobody up front in Rochester that has a NHL future except for 2011 first round pick Joel Armia and maybe Johan Larsson. The 20 year old Armia has struggled learning the North American game scoring only five goals and 10 assists for 15 points in 34 games. He shows skill at times, the question is will he learn the team game needed to be a good NHL player? We’ll see in two or three years. Larsson has a shot at being a fourth liner or maybe a third if he improves quite a bit.
That brings us to 2012 first round pick Mikhail Grigorenko. Forget about this supposed skill he has, if his attitude of he’s great and trying his hardest doesn’t change, he will become a first round bust. The Russian centerman thinks he competed hard and played well in the NHL. His feeling that he’s entitled because he’s Mikhail Grigorenko alienates him with his teammates. I’ve heard about his skill, but to be honest, I have not seen it at all in games or practices. This is a 19 year old that has a LONG way to go to be a NHL player or to live up to the hype.
In last June’s draft Buffalo took four forwards in the second and third rounds. They traded up to get J.T. Compher and he’s been a stud in his freshman season at Michigan. He leads the Wolverines with 27 points in 27 games. The other three were Connor Hurley who has 21 points in 20 games in the USHL. He’s committed to play next season at Notre Dame, Justin Bailey who has 25 goals and 43 points in 54 games for Kitchener and Nick Baptiste who ripped up training camp scrimmages and the Traverse City Prospects Tournament for Buffalo. The winger has 37 goals and 73 points in 54 games for Sudbury. I think Compher is a sure thing, but who knows how the others will develop.
Tim Murray has spoken about trading for players that are around 21 and have gone through a bit of the process. Players that were high picks and could step in now. That would be like the Hodgson/Kassian trade. I love that idea. I also get the impression that Buffalo now has an aggressive GM. I think that’s essential in being successful in this league. Murray says it’s all out there and he’s open for business. He said he’ll listen to anything and everything.
So are there untouchables? Murray hasn’t said. In my mind there are VERY few. Girgensons might be the one and only on that list. If I were to move Pysyk, Ristolainen or Zadorov it would have to be for a first line, top flight forward. If not, they would stay part of my team. No matter what happens, I think it’s going to be interesting.
The Sabres had day two of practice on Saturday. Since Ryan Miller leaves Sochi a day earlier that Jhonas Enroth, Miller will start in goal Tuesday against Carolina.