This season, the Buffalo Sabres have been not only one of the worst teams in the NHL, but also one of the youngest, dressing three or four teenagers on a regular basis. However, with Mike Weber expected to return to the lineup tomorrow night against St. Louis, at least one of those adjectives is likely to change.
Activating Weber from injured reserve will put the Sabres over the 23-man roster limit, and thus at least one move will have to be made before then. Interim head coach Ted Nolan has spoken repeatedly about how it's unfair to expect teenagers to dress against 27-year olds night in and night out, so the expected move would be to send one or more of the youngsters back to juniors or to Rochester in order to make room for Weber, and possibly Patrick Kaleta, Luke Adam, and/or Brayden McNabb, if necessary.
The million dollar question (okay, maybe more like the hundred dollar question) is which player, or players, should be sent down? There's a number of strong candidates, so we'll quickly run through each of them to see why they make sense, and then put it to a vote at the end.
|2013 - Nikita Zadorov||7||1||0||1||-4||4||0||0||0||4|
Why it makes sense: Zadorov is the most likely candidate for three reasons: first of all, he's the youngest player on the Sabres roster at just 18 years old, and thus in Nolan's eyes, the least ready to play against fully grown men every night. Second, his OHL team, the London Knights, is not only a powerhouse junior team, but is hosting the Memorial Cup this year, thus guaranteeing Zadorov extended playoff time. In going back to the OHL, he'd be playing on the top pairing and getting 23-25 minutes a game, as opposed to being a healthy scratch as he is now.
Finally, if the Sabres send him back to juniors now, they'll avoid burning a year of his precious Entry Level Contract, and can keep him on the cheap for an extra year when he's ready to play full-time. He's gotten a taste of what the big leagues are all about, now he can use that experience to play big minutes in London.
|2013 - Mikhail Grigorenko||15||2||1||3||-3||2||0||0||0||18|
Why it makes sense: Despite already using a year of his ELC, it's pretty clear that Grigorenko isn't ready to skate with NHL players, both physically and mentally. He has shown improvement recently in both his physical skating ability and effort levels, but he's going to struggle in this league for the rest of the year with both of those factors. Of course, there's not too much more for him to gain by going back to Quebec, so the question is now whether it's beeter for him to try and keep his compete level high among inferior competition, or struggle through a full NHL campaign with possibly limited minutes?
|2013 - Rasmus Ristolainen||19||1||0||1||-4||4||0||0||0||25|
Why it makes sense: Despite playing against fully grown men for two years in Europe, Ristolainen struggled early in the year to find his footing in the NHL. His improving possession numbers and +/- (even in his last 11 games after starting -4) are good signs, but he's eligible to go to Rochester, which might be a better fit for the team's second youngest player.
|2013 - Zemgus Girgensons||21||1||5||6||-1||2||0||0||0||25|
Why it makes sense: Yes, Girgensons has done well so far this year, in both production (for a 19-year old) and compete level (off the charts). He's even impressed Nolan, who said today that he looks "mature beyond his age". Come to think of it, this doesn't make sense. Moving on.
|2013 - Johan Larsson||17||0||1||1||-2||13||0||0||0||12|
Why it makes sense: Most likely, Larsson ultimately projects to be a two-way, third line type of player, but as of right now, he's being used a one-way player. Larsson has the third highest defensive zone starts among Sabres forwards, showing how much faith the coaches already have in him to be responsible in his own zone. But as others have said, the 21-year old could use the chance to play some more minutes where he can keep working on his offensive game, and Rochester would be the place for him to do that. He hasn't looked out of place in Buffalo, but this would be a move for a few years down the road.
One of the veteran players
Why it makes sense: If you really want to shake things up, there's no better way to do it than by sending Drew Stafford or Ville Leino down to Rochester, but of course by doing so you run the risk that they'd be claimed by another team on waivers for half of their salary, which make this idea more of a pipe dream than anything. Cody McCormick, Jamie McBain, or Brian Flynn could also be sent down with no risk, but I don't see too much benefit in that as far as either the development of the young kids or shaking up the team goes.
Let's hear what you have to say, Sabres fans - who should be sent down to make room for Mike Weber and why? Vote now and let us know in the comments.