Like many Sabre fans I was ready for Darcy Regier to be fired by the end of his tenure. But if there’s one thing you have to give him credit for, it’s the post lockout roster he built that was predicated around quicker players who could take advantage of the holding and hooking that was being removed from the game. Players like Briere, Afinogenov, Roy, Drury, Connoly, Dumont, Kotalik, and Campbell were all players who excelled with the new freedom they had on the ice and helped the Sabres reach the Conference Finals in back to back years.
One of the problems which led to the downfall of Darcy Regier came in not adjusting as the officiating became looser and impeding player’s path with or without the puck became easier. Losing your two best players in one offseason doesn’t help either, but the team never added bigger bodied players who were strong on the puck and could work with less space. The only grit they possessed on the roster came via Paul Gaustad, Adam Mair, or the games Andrew Peters dressed. They were a team that was easily intimidated, not hard to play against, and easily knoecked off the puck which helped contribute to not making the playoffs after winning the President’s Trophy the year before.
Fast forward to this year where the Sabres are in the beginning stages of a full blown rebuild with the looks of being a bigger tougher team this time around particularly up front. Tim Murray’s first moves as Sabres GM had him acquiring three prospects who could be a part of the Sabres roster a few years down the road in William Carrier 6’2 200, Nicolas Deslauriers 6’0 210, and Hudson Fasching 6’3 215. Deslauriers doesn’t have the physical aspect to his game yet that Fasching and Carrier already have but does and a good frame to possibly develop that part of his game. Thanks to Kevin Devine the Sabres also have young players like Justin Kea, Nick Baptise, Justin Bailey, Connor Hurley, and Zemgus Girgensons who are all bigger forwards that are already here and fit that mold of player Murray could be looking for.
If you look at Murrays recent drafts you’ll see his desire to add forwards who are big skilled players. To go along with the three above mentioned forwards he acquired at the deadline, his more recent drafts have seen him take Curtis Lazar 6’0 200, Stefan Noesen 6’1 205, Mika Zibanejad 6’2 210, and Jakob Silfverberg 6’1 200. Not all are overly physical but have frames that allow them to play in tight spots and not be easily knocked off the puck.
So what could this mean for the team going forward? If this is the type of team Murray wants to build going forward guys like Tyler Ennis and Corey Conacher might not as highly valued going forward. Just to clarify I don’t think a player like Ennis will be shipped out for nothing just because he’s a smaller player. He’s a good player that has value going forward, but his size could make him more likely to be used in a deal if Buffalo try’s to add a top young forward in the offseason.
It could also mean seeing more big forwards taken at this years and future drafts who are similar size to Baptise or Hurley. Guys like Brayden Point (5’9 165) or Robbi Fabbri (5’10 165) could not be on Buffalo’s radar with a late first or early second round pick because of their size, on the other end players such as Dylan Larkin (6’1 190) or Anton Karlson (6’1 190) are guys who are similar build and play a style Murray has targeted in the past.
Just a couple of clarifications, If Murray does want to have the identity of being a bigger tougher team to play against it doesn’t mean every player going forward has to over 6’0 and over 190 pounds. If Patrick becomes a free agent I’m sure Murray would have interest in him even know he’s about 5’10 180. One or two players won’t affect the overall identity of the team if Murray wants to bigger. Ultimately Murrays going to want good players but when given the choice it looks like he’ll favor size which could lead to a much different looking team then the last time they were good in 2005 and 2006.