Steve Ott brings some much needed grit to Buffalo's lineup.
The Buffalo Sabres' offseason to this point hasn't been nearly as busy as most would have expected. After a disappointing 2011-12 campaign that started with high expectations, the theme of "blowing up" this roster has been a common one in western New York this summer.
When Terry Pegula took over the team in February 2011, there was talk of the Sabres finally being able to compete with the bigger markets in free agency. Last offseason, that idea became reality, as the Sabres signed Christian Ehrhoff and Ville Leino to long-term deals.
Just days prior, they had convinced Robyn Regehr to wave his no-trade clause with Calgary to join the Sabres.
Despite money being thrown around like never before in the Sabres' organization, Buffalo collapsed after a solid start. Many point to the Milan Lucic and Ryan Miller incident as the turning point of the season. The entire team's heart—as well as unity—was questioned, for good reason.
After being the laughingstock of the entire league due to lack of response from Miller's teammates, the Sabres' deficiencies in size and toughness took center stage.
Fast forward to the beginning of this summer: Through the draft, free agency and a noteworthy trade, the Sabres addressed both of those issues in a big way. The following are grades in each category just mentioned: the draft, free agency and the Derek Roy deal. We'll end with an overall grade for the entire Sabres offseason as camp gets ready to start in September.
Mikhail Grigorenko fills a huge hole at center for the Sabres.
Coming into the draft, the Sabres had two picks in the first round and three within the first 42 selections. That left many thinking Buffalo was poised to make a big move.
The Sabres were thought to be players in the Bobby Ryan sweepstakes heading into draft day. Yet as of this writing, Ryan is still an Anaheim Duck.
Instead, they ended up trading the No. 21 and No. 42 picks to Calgary so they could move up to No. 14.
With their first pick at No. 12, the Sabres chose Mikhail Grigorenko, a 6'3" 200-pound center whom many experts had rated as a top-five prospect just a month before the draft. His stock fell for a number of reasons, mainly due to his poor performance in the QMJHL playoffs and the fear he may jump ship to play in the KHL in Russia.
It was later discovered that Grigorenko had mono for much of that playoff run, which led the Sabres to believe they were getting a superstar caliber player outside of the top 10.
At No. 14, the team selected another center, 6'2" 198-pound Zemgus Girgensons, who is known as much for his tenacity as he is for his offense. With this decision, the Sabres again addressed a pressing need up the middle by drafting another kid with size. Comparisons to Ryan Callahan and Dustin Brown have been used to describe Girgensons' style of play.
The Sabres can only hope the first Latvian ever chosen in the first round of the draft pans out to be the warriors that both Callahan and Brown are.
Overall Grade: A-
They've got size and skill at the weakest position on their team.
This year's crop of unrestricted free agents were relatively unimpressive. Besides the two "whales" in Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, much of this summer's class consisted of overpaid veterans.
Although most fans never really thought that the Sabres were in the running for either Parise or Suter, Elliotte Friedman of CBC Sports reported to the contrary:
It's believed Buffalo let both players know they would get $100 million apiece to dress for the Sabres. (Darcy Regier politely declined to comment.)
Just the fact alone that the Sabres were in the running for either shows how Pegula's pocketbook has made them a player for almost every big name talent that becomes available.
Next to those two, the most coveted UFA was and still is Shane Doan. According to a report from ESPN's John Buccigross, the Sabres have offered Doan a four-year, $30 million deal while the Coyotes are only offering a two-year deal. The Doan saga has been playing out for the better part of two months now, so it remains to be seen who he signs with.
If it's not the Sabres, that means their only relevant free agent signing will remain as 6'8" monster John Scott. Don't underestimate Scott's value, though. After the Lucic incident last year, the Sabres were going to make sure they added an ample amount of toughness to a lineup that so sorely lacked it.
Overall Grade: Incomplete
If they sign Doan, it's an A. If they don't and Scott's the one, then it's a C-.
Lindy Ruff and Derek Roy's relationship was rocky at best.
Again, depending on how the Doan situation goes, for now the biggest move by the Sabres in the offseason was trading Derek Roy.
His name had been bantered about in almost every rumor involving the Sabres for two years. It seemed like everyone in the organization knew he needed to go. Some realized it years before others did.
Regardless of what the players said, Roy had made himself a divisive figure on the team by criticizing some of coach Lindy Ruff's tactics in the media. Roy's style of play couldn't have been less conducive to Lindy's style of coaching.
The day after free agency began, the Sabres shipped Roy to Dallas for Steve Ott and Adam Pardy. This was seen as another step to make the Sabres a less enjoyable team to play against. Gone was a finesse player coming off his worst offensive season since his rookie year. Coming in was one of the league's most difficult players to play against.
Ott should immediately become a fan favorite in Buffalo. He's got a fierce reputation for defending his teammates and I can't stress this point enough; that's what this team so desperately needed.
Overall Grade: A
I'll take Ott's 15 goals and 150 PIM over Roy's loafing and diving any day.
The Sabres are making a strong push for Shane Doan.
Anyone who watched this team last year didn't have to look hard to see its biggest weaknesses. A shortage in size up the middle was only compounded by the Paul Gaustad trade.
The city of Buffalo as a whole saw another as their team allowed an opposing player to steamroll their goalie without the slightest bit of retribution. It was an embarrassment.
GM Darcy Regier's been criticized a lot over the years for becoming too attached to his players (especially the ones he's drafted) and overvaluing them in the open market.
He's too often been slow to react to a team whose play on the ice at times has seemingly demanded a change in the dressing room. Since it seems like after 15 years together that Ruff and Regier are a "package deal," that change had to come from someone other than the man behind the bench.
Regier has done a fantastic job so far this offseason in identifying his team's needs and finding ways to address them. He gets high marks for the acquisition of Ott and—to a lesser degree—Scott. The potential to have two studs like Grigorenko and Girgensons up the middle for years to come is also to Regier's credit.
The biggest question that remains is, are the Sabres the frontrunners to get Doan now? And if they do, will expectations be even higher than last year's? Either way, Sabres fans are just happy now to have an owner who'll do anything to win in a city that eats, drinks and sleeps hockey.
Overall Grade: Incomplete
If they sign Doan, it's an easy A+. If they don't, it's still a respectable B+.