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Can the mixologist Murray get his ingredients right?

Sabres' roster getting shaken and stirred

Nine thousand fans for a July scrimmage? And is that even surprising?

I've been saying lately that my enthusiasm for the youngest, newest Sabres is stronger than usual, even perhaps stronger than ever, and last night's crowd shows I am not alone in that. What a joy it must have been for those young guys to skate out to that turnout and play in front of it.

As I get older my interest in how teams are built grows, and my interest in watching games wanes. Games are a little bit of "I've seen it all before." Roster construction is never the same thing twice. I'd much rather play fantasy sports, where this is all you do, than play sports.

Forecasting a Sabres roster for the end of the tunnel in a year or two provides two interesting challenges: the team's length in talent should cause a higher standard than in other years for making the team, and that hockey teams don't tend to be built by a mere ranking of the organization's most talented people.


Let's jump ahead two years. Who should be on the team?

Looking at the forwards: Sam Reinhart for sure. 2015's #1 pick also for sure. Four players are already signed (Moulson, Hodgson, Gionta, McCormick), and that's with Tyler Ennis yet to make a deal. Zemgus Girgensons is a sure thing. After that, I have prospects (Grigorenko, Armia, Larsson, Lemieux, Carrier), I have "holdovers" (Foligno, Flynn), I have free-agents who can be almost anybody ... and I have for all of this 12 uniforms to give out.

On defense roster room may be even tighter: Ristolainen, Zadorov, Myers, Gorges and Pysyk are all either signed players or high-ranking prospects. I have Jake McCabe, Chad Ruhwedel and perhaps even Mike Weber to consider, plus any veteran-types that I go grab because I'm about to be good (e.g., Teppo Numminen a decade ago). There are six uniforms to go around.

I don't ever remember the Sabres resembling this. In most years the preseason roster is fairly firm, with there being the possibility of one or two spots open. I know I'm looking two years ahead so it's not a perfect comparison. It's just ... well ... look at all the possibilties.

The second challenge is team-building in hockey's traditional sense. The Sabres won't be looking for the 12 most-talented forwards. They'll be looking for a balance of skill and size, offense and defense, star power and role-players. As this is my column, allow me to say that this doesn't concern or impress me much; my team would almost always dress its top 12 talents. But most NHL teams don't do it that way.

(It's interesting to me how the 2007 team's ability to put four highly skilled lines on the ice has come to be perceived as a flaw, how it would have been better off with, bluntly, less talent. Maybe it's just me but first in the league and a semifinal playoff run seems more deserving of a style being copied than avoided. If Ottawa had dressed a "grinder" instead of a hockey player, maybe the '07 Sabres go further.)

Perhaps the most interesting figure in this dilemma will be Mikhail Grigorenko. If Grigorenko improves enough to make the NHL, great, that would be salvaging what sometimes has looked like a wasted pick. But if Reinhart and, dare I say it, Connor McDavid are on the team, does a worthy Grigorenko play the wing? If he doesn't he's out because that player I'm envisioning isn't centering any checking or "energy" lines.

I don't know that the odds favor that scenario, one where an excellent Grigorenko gets squeezed out. Fans know that expecting all or even most of your prospects to pan out isn't the smartest bet. Some will get hurt, others will just fade away.

But my lists of young players up above aren't even complete, and there are always unexpected acquisitions from other teams to consider. (Andrei Meszaros is a Sabre? Really?) 

The Sabres are considered to have one of the richest prospect crops in the league, if not the richest. (Bleacher Report's Jonathan Willis ranked them first.) And they have maximum room at the NHL level. It all makes for a perfect recipe to amateur hockey mixologists.

Put the ingredients together, add ice.

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07/16/2014 10:23AM
Sabres' roster a flip in the making
Please enter your comments below.
07/16/2014 11:30AM
I swear if the Sabres had a full roster of Drew Staffords this station would drool all over them. I can't even believe its July and this station is still talking Hockey its pathetic.
07/16/2014 12:04PM
Tons of raw talent!
Now the "New winning team" Takes shape! The G.M. Coaches, have lots of raw talent to mold a winning team. Even if only 60% of these young players develop to full potential We have a nice 8 to 10 year period of success with the cup not too far down the road! Next years draft is critical to getting that "One special franchise player" to take us over the top!
07/16/2014 12:29PM
Two Words
Chicago CubsThy are doing the same thing and it is a miserable failure.
07/16/2014 12:46PM
SCHOPP SILYYNESS CONTINUUES,,, And then here come the
07/16/2014 3:15PM
15 guys for 12 jerseys?
Take out Flynn, McCormick and Moulson or Gionta...and then you would have enough jerseys for those kids. Because that is who the jerseys should go to. They are the future.
07/16/2014 3:17PM
6 for defense?
That's easy...Myers, Ristolaien, Zadorov, Pysyk, McCabe, Ruhwedel.
07/16/2014 3:41PM
Hockey Heaven where we try to fail and be the worst. And we are good at it!
The cupboard is empty. All those wasted 1st and 2nd rounders and maybe 1 or 2 players that will be above 3rd line players. The future looks pretty dismal in Hockey Heaven. Of course the Sabres can't improve by traditional means, like very other teamdoes. WE HAVE TO CHEAT AND TAKE DIVES, LIKE COWARDS.
07/16/2014 5:25PM
Does anyone who posts comments actually watch the team or know the first thing about hockey? I doubt they do or they wouldn't write such nonsense.
07/16/2014 6:35PM
everyone on here it seems/// I hate all of you, guess I'm a hater too. Go Sabres!!!
07/16/2014 6:43PM
I am a 62 year Bills fanatic. These guys on WGR and more so these guys on the ice are making me more of a hockey and Sabres fan than ever before. Last night I'm watching the prospects game on line while the baseball All-Star game is on TV.
07/16/2014 6:52PM
In six words
Another dumb article from the dupe.
07/16/2014 7:46PM
That Martini
Is straight up. Don't add ice. Maybe dirty it up a bit.
07/16/2014 8:05PM
who are you idiots...?
...that can't see the silver lining in anything??? No one ever gets anywhere or finds success by being eternally pessimistic! You should give Mike a break; he's often critical of our sports teams' management/coaching staffs, but in this case he sees wonderful things down the road, as do I. Good call Mike! Steve in J-town
07/16/2014 10:00PM
Really-tons of raw talent? Wow, the Amerks were terrible, and they had all the talent last year.
This is nonsense, of all the highend prospects, in the NHL. nobody, and I mean nobody, is talking about any of the Sbare prospects. What Schopp is getting wrong is that the league envies all those high draft picks,of which we have wasted most of them. As far as the talk about the players we took, aside from Reinhart,we don't have any big names. Are there ANY new forwards that are expected to step in this season and have ANY impact....no there are not,think about that, other than a few defensemen, exactly who is going to step in this year, in any way?All these high picks and yes a few D-men and Reinhart. This article was just silly fluff written after ONE scrimmage against other rookies.
07/16/2014 10:01PM
To the Hocky Heaven guy...
How stupid are you? Is your IQ even in triple digits? You obviously know nothing about hockey and even less on how to build a winning team. Do us all a favor and stay away from hockey posts. We don't need you.
07/16/2014 11:57PM
Re: WGR....
Amen. What an absolute joke
07/17/2014 12:18AM
OMFG, enough about Grigorenko already!
He was picked 12th! TWELFTH! He was NOT, NOT and I repeat again NOT the first or second overall pick nor was he EVER projected to be the first or second overall pick in that draft. My Lord, you idiots are all acting as if Regier picked a slumbering Lemieux or Yzerman and we are all waiting for him to suddenly explode into some neverbeforeseen dynamo. That's all I seem to hear "If Grigorenko starts going..." What? If he starts skating at a speed other than pokey? If he actually takes a shot that resembles something more than what my five year old can do? Stickhandles at something beyond PeeWee level? His upside is DOWN you morons! His future passed two years ago. Does "questionable work ethic" ring any bells? Perhaps if you actually listened to yourselves BEFORE the end of the '11-'12 season when NONE of you even so much as mentioned his name. Grigorenko is such a nothing, Kevin Sylvester was quoting him yesterday! Quoting! How pathetic is that? The friggin' KHL is probably smart enough to leave him in Rochester. Bunch of imbeciles on Buffalo radio.
07/17/2014 8:00AM
Let him build fantasy teams then,because Mike and Jeremy have ideas to build teams that do not work.No teams has ever won with a team of unknowns that have potential,edmonton would be dominating the league by now.Look for a long rebuild, followed by longtweaking of that rebuild.
07/17/2014 8:06AM
Reading most of these comments depresses me, But then again that is the goal of the Troll. Nice article Mike, I'm glad some of us aren't eternal pessimists... How do they even wake up in the morning?
07/17/2014 8:19AM
Re: Re: WGR....
YOU are the absolute joke! Along with all these other negative posts. I hardly ever agree with Schopp, but in this case he is finally correct!
07/17/2014 8:29AM
Great article
It'll be so intriguing to see how this plays out. The vets are just as important as the youth, or we could turn into another Oilers franchise. Anyone who complains about a sports radio station talking about sports, needs to reassess their life.
07/17/2014 9:47AM
Re: Really Tons of Talent? Re: Grigorenko Re: WGR...
Grigorenko was ranked top 3 for quite awhile before falling outside the top 10. Secondly, EVERYONE is talking about the Sabres prospect pool because it's second to none. Third, of course the station is talking about the Sabres. We only have two pro sports teams and the Bills aren't even practicing right now. Buffalo gets credit for having "intelligent sports fans", yet you would never know it between the morons that posted here. They're probably the same idiots that actually call the whiner line. -Erik
07/17/2014 12:31PM
RE: OMFG, enough about Grigorenko already! NOT AT THE WALMART FLAGSHIP!
Nice to see there's at LEAST ONE OTHER SENSIBLE person out there! Your post is stunningly OBVIOUS, but WGR and WALMART do an EXCELLENT "job" of BLINDING THEIR SHEEP around these parts. It's as if NO ONE watches the playoffs too see how the trend in the west is too build a BIG FAST NASTY FREIGHTTRAIN of a team to contend in todays "NHL". Nope here in the barf they're all excited about WALMART'S vast collection of WASTES "THAT CAN'T SKATE AT THE NHL level" like "GRIGO"! CAN YOU BELIVE THAT!!?? ...ONE THINGS FOR SURE AND VERRRY REAL HERE THOUGH... THE BRUINS ARE A COMING, SOON... AND WALMART ALWAYS= "THEEEEE BIGGEST, NICKLE AND DIME LOoSER FRANCHISE IN ALL OF PROFESSSIONAL SPORTS HISTORY!" $30 MILLION DOLLARS "BELOW" THE SALARY CAP, LOL!!! ELITE ME NOW!! DO IT! SAY MY NAME! ARE WE ELITE OR WHAT??? The BRUINS ARE COMING! RRRUN!!
07/17/2014 12:38PM
07/17/2014 3:06PM
Re: To the Hocky Heaven guy...
yeah - we don't need to hear negatives ... we only like hearing good stuff in the hope that our boring little lives will somehow be better and that the horrible Buffalo franchises will catch lightning in a bottle for 1 season and be at least .500, so the rest of the country won't laugh as us or ignore us.
07/17/2014 7:09PM
Need Goalie
Without a goalie, we will never progress
07/18/2014 2:41AM
Taking solace from uncertainty and less 'suffering'
The thing about prospects and draft choices is that we don't know. As a Sabres fan, I'll take that. For the last handful of years, we have all known: the Sabres stink. (Well, the Erhoff-Leino off-season was exciting, but we saw quickly where that went.) . . . I am glad the team is back in the grey area. Consider the sheer number of alleged prospects: Fasching, Carrier, Armia, Deslauriers, Grigorenko, Reinhart, Ristolainen, Zadorov, McCabe...who else? Just by sheer probability, they can't all suck, right? Even in Buffalo. This could be cool...
07/18/2014 11:36PM
Re: Taking solace....
Reinhart won't suck. He will be very good in fact. Question is: will wearing a Sabres' jersey lessen how good he could be? It's different with a Canadiens jersey, or a Pens jersey, or a Blackhawks (nowadays anyways) or Kings jersies. But the "proud tradition" of the Buffalo Sabres IS to underachieve, so just how good would even McDavid be if he did come to Buffalo? Sorry, but it won't be cool.
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