It’s time to get into season mode. Training camp gets underway for the Buffalo Sabres this week and preseason games get started next week.
In the past few years, the roster has been pretty much set in stone outside of one or two roster spots. This time around, things are a little different. There’s going to be strong competition for a few spots in the bottom six of the forwards. As well, as a battle for the last two or three spots on defense.
When you include the large changeover on the roster, there’s an abundance of storylines to follow over the next few weeks. Today, however, we’ll focus on a roster projection prior to the start of camp.
I’ll start off with what will be a very interesting competition for final spots at the bottom of the forward group. The top-six of the roster is almost set with the additions of Jeff Skinner and Conor Sheary. Depending on how the roster fills out, there’s likely one position on the wing still in the top-six to be earned.
The next tier of forwards with their roster spots in comfortable standing are Kyle Okposo, Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka and perhaps to a lesser degree Evan Rodrigues. When you include Sheary and Skinner, as well as holdovers Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart, and Casey Mittelstadt, there are three or four roster places open.
Those final three (if they carry 13 forwards) coveted spots will be up for grabs between 13 players by my count.
Those players are Zemgus Girgensons, Johan Larsson, Jason Pominville, Tage Thompson, Scott Wilson, Justin Bailey, Nick Baptiste, C.J. Smith, Sean Malone, Danny O’Regan, Rasmus Asplund, Alex Nylander, and Victor Olofsson. Each player has their varying degrees of likelihood in earning a roster spot, but all be in the mix to open camp.
Competition is healthy and should bring out the best in the players. If nothing else, it’ll give fans something to discuss and debate leading up to puck drop on October 4.
Sitting here today, here is how I predict the roster at forward will play out:
Crowded Blue Line
The defense group is just as interesting as the forwards in determining the final roster positions. A total of 16 defenders were invited to camp with at least 10 of them having a legitimate shot at making the team.
Rasmus Dahlin, Rasmus Ristolainen, Marco Scandella, Jake McCabe, Matt Hunwick, and Zach Bogosian are all likely to find themselves with the Sabres come opening night. That leaves Nathan Beaulieu, Brendan Guhle, Casey Nelson and Lawrence Pilut battling for those final two spots (if they carry 8 defensemen like last season).
Pilut is most likely to start his North American career in the AHL with the Rochester Amerks. Leaving Nelson, Guhle, and Beaulieu in the conversation. Guhle has the fact that he’s the only one of the three remaining players who does not need to clear waivers to sent down to the Amerks. I don’t think the Sabres should fear the waiver wire (we’ll get to that in a second), but it still comes into consideration.
Here’s my projection for how the defense group will look come opening night:
I’m going to skip over the goaltending because those spots are written in pen with Carter Hutton and Linus Ullmark.
At this point, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve left off a few players that will require waivers to be sent to the AHL. Such players as Beaulieu, Girgensons, Larsson, Baptiste, and Bailey.
The waiver wire is a curious place. Fans believe there are some gems available at times for free that usually go unclaimed. Also, you’ll see players who are expected to clear with ease get claimed by another club.
In regards to Bailey and Baptiste, I believe both players would clear through waivers. Baptiste could be tempting for some teams, but at the end of the day, I believe he’d make it through. Bailey, on the other hand, I don’t think he’s shown enough at the NHL level for a team to use an NHL roster place by claiming him.
As for the others (Girgensons, Larsson, and Beaulieu) before exposing them to waivers Jason Botterill could explore the trade market. It’s unlikely Girgensons would clear waivers and perhaps the same could be said for Larsson. Beaulieu is one that could be interesting if he’s put on waivers. Would a team be willing to claim his $2.4 million cap hit for one season?
As I mentioned, I wouldn’t be afraid of waivers with players who haven’t been able to prove that they’re reliable NHL players. It may be poor asset management to give up players for nothing, but it’s time to start putting the players who give you the best chance to win on the ice.
Players report tomorrow and we’ll begin to fill out the final openings on the roster. Here is a final view of my full pre-camp projected roster: