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Casey Nelson appears close to a return

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How do the Buffalo Sabres handle their D situation now?

Buffalo Sabres v Florida Panthers Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

The Buffalo Sabres are ready to return from the NHL’s All-Star break and the team’s bye week. Also getting close to a return to game action: defender Casey Nelson, which puts the Sabres in an interesting position in regards to their blueline.

Nelson has been out of the lineup since December 4, when he suffered an upper-body injury during a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. He returned to the ice to skate “a couple weeks” ago and returned to practice drills with the team this past weekend.

There’s no specific timetable for his return, but all signs point to it being sooner rather than later. With that being said, upon Nelson’s return, the Sabres could have nine healthy defenders, which means a roster move is likely to come at some point.

What does that mean? The Sabres have options, but here are just a few possibilities.

  1. Scratch Marco Scandella - This is something many (including myself) have called for in the past, and perhaps with Nelson coming back, it’s a realistic option.
  2. Sit Matt Hunwick - Hunwick has barely played this season and has been a healthy scratch for 13 straight games, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see him in that role again.
  3. Send Lawrence Pilut Back - Boo. I’m not in favor of this one, but it’d be the “easiest” option on paper, for the Sabres to return Lawrence Pilut to the Rochester Americans to help open a spot for Nelson. Pilut, however, has certainly earned a spot in Buffalo and deserves to be up in the NHL club, so it would be disappointing if he were to be sent down.
  4. Send Nelson Down - Whether it be a long-term reassignment or perhaps just a short stint to help him get back to game action as a conditioning assignment, the Sabres could elect to send Nelson down. He hasn’t played for the Amerks since last season, when he put up 11 points and was a plus-14 in 40 games.

Nelson has five points and is a plus-6 in 22 games with the Sabres this season. According to head coach Phil Housley, he’s considered ‘day-to-day.’

Nelson skated on Sunday with the team, taking Jack Eichel’s place on the top line alongside Sam Reinhart and Remi Elie. (Eichel was still in transit from San Jose.) He then skated as an extra player on Monday in practice.