The disappointing 2011-2012 season has only been over for a little under a week, but I feel that the time is right to begin looking at what the roster may look like next season.
For this post I’m going to focus solely on the defense.
Last season the defense, for the most part, wasn’t that good. Hell, they were actually down right terrible for a large chunk of the season.
With a deep talent pool in the system as far as defense goes one has to wonder just who from last season won’t be back.
First let’s get out of the way who we know will be back next season: Tyler Myers, Christian Ehrhoff, and most likely Andrej Sekera, who I’ll touch on later.. Those are the only defensemen with more than a year still remaining on their contracts.
With three of the six spots taken, it’s time to figure out who will fill the final three.
Last season the defense was a turntable due to injuries. There were numerous different call-ups to take the place of an injured blue-liner — some good, some not so good. With a few of the call-ups being NHL ready, and one player providing a spark on the defense, it’s tough to figure out who stays and who goes; that’s why we’re here.
Alexander Sulzer was a huge and pleasant surprise when he was dealt to Buffalo from Vancouver as basically filler in the trade that brought Cody Hodgson to the Sabres. Not many knew much, if anything, about the German born defender who has been on four teams, including the Sabres, in the last two seasons.
Before the trade, Sulzer had played in just 12 games for Vancouver and only registered one point. He far surpassed that in his short time in a Buffalo sweater.
After being inserted into the lineup due to injury, Sulzer made the most of his opportunity. In 15 games he scored 3 goals and 5 assists for 8 points and was a plus-2. Sulzer made just $700,000 last season and is a UFA on July 1st. He most certainly wouldn’t be an expensive signing, and I feel that he could very well be had for under one-million per year and should be back in a Sabres sweater in October.
That gives us four defensemen heading into the 2012 season with four left to pick from for the final two spots.
Both Robyn Regehr and Jordan Leopold have just one year remaining on their contracts. Regehr is due to make $4.02 million; Leopold, $3 million.
The Sabres did so much to convince Regehr to come to Buffalo last offseason that I really don’t see him getting shipped out after just one season. I expect him to be on the roster come opening night as well.
In the case of Leopold, there is a strong possibility that he gets dealt before the season begins. He has been a very serviceable defender for the Sabres since coming here before the 2010-2011, but he has the bad luckk being the “odd man out” in the defensive corps. Therefore I see him being traded possibly around the draft.
The only way I really see Leopold coming back next season is if the team doesn’t bring back Sulzer or gets an offer for the aforementioned Sekera. While I like Sekera, Buffalo’s defensive depth is so great, that they could probably deal the young Slovakian blue liner for a very solid return.
The man I definitely see being either in Rochester or the 7th defender is Mike Weber. Far too often last season Weber would play himself out of the lineup more often than in to it. His mental lapses on the ice hurt the team way too much, and with so much talent in Rochester just waiting to come up, it’ll be a surprise if he cracks the top 6 next year.
The man I and, quite frankly, a lot of Sabres fans expect to see full-time next season is Brayden McNabb. In his time in a Sabres sweater last year McNabb impressed the masses. Using his big body to his advantage, McNabb was able to overpower his opponents more often then not, and had a knack for forcing turnovers.
Sure he made mistakes, but what rookie call-up doesn’t.
McNabb can be a true stay at home, power defensemen in the NHL and he’s only 21 years old.
To recap, the top 6 entering next season, in my mind, will be: Myers, Ehrhoff, Regehr, Mcnabb, Sulzer, and Sekera. Leopold is still a possibility but I still lean towards him being traded away before the season starts.
Buffalo’s defense should be much better with the pairings having had a year to gel. Next season we should really see how good these guys on the back end can be.