The Sabres have made some moves that have seriously altered their lineup, and even though the season is still about 100 days away it's hard not to at least think about what the team's lineup will look like next season. Thanks to some of the additions, the roster should be a bit more interesting than last season.
In Brian Gionta and Matt Moulson the Sabres acquire two players you can plug into the top-six, while Josh Gorges and Andrej Meszaros will both get time on the back end. Tim Murray may have more moves in store, but what does the team look like right now?
Tyler Ennis and Zemgus Girgensons will likely be the top two centers as they were when last season came to a close. Cody Hodgson was able to avoid some of his defensive deficiencies due to playing on the wing, so we probably have seen the last of him at center. He played especially well while with Girgensons, which could be where he finds himself to start the season.
The wildcard here is Sam Reinhart, who could stay up with the team or go back to juniors. Do the Sabres want him to get top six minutes right away, or would they like to start him slowly? If the scenario is that they'd only want him up if he was getting top-six minutes, it could get in the way of the team figuring out if Girgensons is a worthy of centering the second line as well.
Before the offensive signings today, the players that Reinhart would be playing with on the third line would make you think that he'd probably be better off going back to Kootenay. But now, there's some room to fiddle around with the lineup.
Playing Reinhart with veteran scorers like Moulson and Gionta could be a good start for the young playmaking centerman and could create more of an opportunity to roll the top three lines. Once he is a full time member of the team down the road, Moulson would likely be playing with Reinhart on the second line anyways, so it would be nice to start building chemistry now.
Let's assume the Sabres don't resign any of their unrestricted free agents, the lineup could look something like this:
Scratches: Nicolas Deslauriers, Patrick Kaleta, Cody McCormick
There's one issue you may notice when you start to compile the forwards, that it seems that they have at least one too many bottom line players.
After a full season in the organization Buffalo will want to see more of Johan Larsson, as he has far more potential than the players he's competing with. The Sabres just traded for Deslauriers last season and signed him to a two-year one-way deal, so he likely isn't going anywhere. Brian Flynn produces more than most of this group, and while Torrey Mitchell has never been able to score in the NHL he showed decent skating ability in his short time in Buffalo (plus his cap hit would be rather hard to move).
It kind of makes you scratch your head as to why the Sabres brought McCormick back for such a large term. There must be a greater plan here.
If Reinhart doesn't come up, it could mix things up a bit. With the additions today, that could lead to one forward playing with linemates that will halt his ability to produce the way he should.
No offense to Foligno and his abilities, but whoever is on that third line will be playing with players that will make it hard to score frequently. The longer you look at combinations, the more Reinhart staying seems to make sense.
Let's turn our focus to the defense, which looks a bit clearer after yesterday. Previously the Sabres had two players left under contract who definitely would be with the big club, Tyler Myers and Mike Weber. Now they add two more in Gorges and Meszaros.
The questionable players here are the young defensemen, who could start in Buffalo or in Rochester. Of the group Mark Pysyk is the most likely to start in Buffalo, since he has the most experience. Chad Ruhwedel has a good shot at being up as well since this will technically be his third year playing with the Sabres.
Murray has said in the past that it would probably be best for Ristolainen to get a bit more work in Rochester, which clearly benefited him last season. With these signings he can start there and work his way up to playing up in the NHL again this season. Jake McCabe showed promise while with the team at the end of last season, but he could really use some time in the AHL as well.
With this group Gorges fills in the spot opened by Ehrhoff, while Meszaros replaces Jamie McBain.
This group does give the young players a veteran partner, but it is still a touch awkward and could use another defenseman, with Henrik Tallinder returning being in the realm of possibility. Once Ristolainen makes the jump that helps a bit, or the Sabres could trade for/sign another player to work into the bottom rotation. Once you add in Ristolainen it would look a bit more like this: