Last offseason, I made a prediction that the Sabres would miss the playoffs, but more the less because of the fact that I felt like this team was too young at some key spots like center and with Tyler Myers as well as not ready yet. I felt like at the time between whats here now and what's coming up through the system, the Sabres would probably need one more offseason to get back into the playoffs. So far, it's not looking too good, but it's still early in the shortened season and this team has made late season runs before, so there is no reason to think they can't.
There were also some questions and some glaring holes on this team. Center is still one of them. The team has Cody Hodgson, but im still convinced that Tyler Ennis needs to be a Left Wing in the NHL just because i'd prefer a center thats a little bigger in size. I'm not talking Jordan Staal big, but even Chris Drury's 5'11 190lb build. I just think he's too frail to be an NHL level center. Mikhail Grigorenko will likely be that top three or top six forward someday but I just dont think he's there yet.
What this team really needs though more than anything is that 2nd to 3rd line defensively responsible complement center for a guy like Cody Hodgson on the top line. This where the team misses Derek Roy and Paul Gaustad more than people think, and not having those two guys down the middle really hurt this teams immediate depth.
Say what you want about Roy, he still was a productive player for the majority of his time here, was more defensively responsible than Ennis and killed penalties. In fact, last season Derek Roy was the teams leading penalty killing forward last year with 1:42 per game of short handed ice time. They do miss Roy's natural center ability and two way play, and it'd be nieve to think the Sabres dont miss that about him.
Paul Gaustad was this teams defensive specialist, and was also a great penalty killer and one of the leagues best faceoff men. But i'd take a first round pick (Girgensens) for him ten times over. They did get Steve Ott for the bottom nine, but Ott has been a left wing for a majority of his time in the league. I still think there is a gaping hole on this roster of "natural centerman" on this roster right now and the remedy does not appear to be ready yet with youth in Girgensens.
Ryan O'Rielly from the Colorado Avalanche is a hot name that I have kept hearing popping up all over the place as a popular name the Sabres should acquire. But It seems like people are really underestimating what it would take to get a player like this. Colorado wants a top player for O'Rielly, whom many think could be a future Selke Winner down the road. He was one of the Av's leading penalty killers and is phenominal defensively at only 22 years old.
It will cost you a top player/prospect and/or most likely #1 defenseman like Myers, just like last year with the Getzlaf rumors. They dont want Derek Roy for Getzlaf, they want a guy like Myers or a top prospect like Brayden McNabb or Mark Pysyk. But Ryan O'Rielly is a different type of player. Defense is his specialty, and the Sabres need forwards who can play two-ways. He led all NHL forwards in takeaways last year with 101, and also blocked 50 shots (Top 50 in the NHL) and won 53% of his faceoffs, and is only turned the puck over 34 times in 81 games, all while scoring 18 goals and 55 pts playing in mostly defensive situations. The Sabres do need a defensive minded centreman to complement Cody Hodgson so the need is there for sure. Personally i'd find it a little redundant for a team that needs defense to trade its #1 defenseman with upside for a guy like O'Rielly, unless you honestly believe that Brayden McNabb can be the #1 defenseman, similar to the Kassian-Foligno situation. The Sabres had a need and Kassian whom was the power forward of the future for the team was traded to fill that need, but was still replaced by another guy who is just as capable of filling that role in Marcus Foligno. But i'd consider parting ways with a prospect like Pysyk or McNabb. You dont know what those guys will end up being, but we do know what O'Rielly will bring to the table and the Sabres need it all.
I felt like Tyler Myers was a question mark even last year, because as talented as he is, he still has not "put it all together" game in and game out. Could he be an underachiever like Dion Phaneuf was in Calgary? But there is no doubting his talent level, the question with him is: will he ever reach it? This team will go as far as the tower of power can take them and right now he's been very inconsistent for this team. Maybe its the lockout or Lindy Ruff and the assistant coaches but the consensus seems to be continue to give him time, and maybe if there is a coaching change this offseason, that a new coach could come in and elevate his play.
You can never discredit the importance of good quality assistant coaches on a coaching staff in any sport. This is true in the every sport: The NHL, NBA, NFL, MLB. Coaching matters. Nicklas Lidstrom always credits former Scotty Bowman assistant and current Carolina Hurricanes assistant Dave Lewis for the success that Lidstrom achieved in his career. Dave Lewis is now in Carolina working with their young defenseman Justin Faulk and Jaime McBain. Could you also imagine the impact a guy like Scott Stevens is having on Adam Larrson in New Jersey? Newell Brown is widely regared as one of the best powerplay minds in the NHL, and Vancouver surely benefits from his input under Alan Vignaeult. I just dont think this team is getting that right now with James Patrick and Kevyn Adams behind the bench for Lindy Ruff to delegate coaching duties to them, and maybe they miss having Bryan McCutcheon and even prior to him, Scott Arneil who ran some excellent special teams units here in Buffalo.
Looking forward, the Sabres biggest need right now would have to be: Top 4 defenseman and bottom six checking line defensive forwards who can kill penalties.
The Sabres are pretty fringe on the bottom nine aside from Steve Ott. I know Gerbe has a lot of heart, but this team has one smurf (Ennis) on this team too many, they need a bigger player back there. They really really miss Paul Gaustad back there for his size and especially his faceoff ability and they could use another defensive/PK/ Faceoff Specialist. Jochen Hecht is here to do those defensive responsibilities, but he's a far cry from what he was 5 years ago. The need to look at players like Eric Belanger, Mike Rupp, Boyd Gordon, Sami Pahlsson, Manny Malhotra or Antoine Vermette, guys in that mold. Ryan O'Rielly would be the perfect fit for what we need.
Another name to toss out there who can help is Patrick Eaves from Detroit, and Drew Miller, the brother of Ryan Miller who is in the last year of his contract. People may remember Patrick Eaves from his days in Ottawa and Drew Miller is actually one of the Red Wings top penalty killers. Maybe there can be a match for a trade if the Sabres were willing to swap out a depth defenseman that Red Wings could be looking for. A Top 4 defenseman should be at the top of the wish list. If the Sabres end up back in the hunt later this season, and the Kings are still a mess, i'd be looking at a trade for Rob Scuderi to pair with Tyler Myers. Scuderi is in the final year of his LA contract. You could also reacquire Henrik Tallinder as a realitively cheap options in terms of what you'd give up.