Last season, the Buffalo Sabres opened up the year in January with what many determined was a surplus of talent on the blue line.
This year is much of the same, while at the same time being oh so different.
Last year's depth was based on experience. Robyn Regehr, Jordan Leopold, Andrej Sekera and Adam Pardy all had significant time in the NHL, and all were expected to have a big impact on the Sabres' success.
Of the four players mentioned, none remain with the team. Leopold and Regehr were dealt at the trade deadline for a glut of draft picks. Sekera was dealt at the draft. Pardy was allowed to walk as an unrestricted free agent.
So, how can the Sabres have a logjam on defense?
The queue is the product of the Sabres' prospects on the blue line progressing to the point of competing for a NHL spot. Sure, there is experience infused throughout, but the Sabres have a much younger feel to them on the blue line than they did last season.
This year, Tyler Myers, despite his rocky year last year, will enter the season as the Sabres' top defenseman, followed by Christian Ehrhoff, who quietly had a strong 2012-13 season.
Beyond those two, there seem to be a lot of moving parts.
The Sabres re-acquired Henrik Tallinder from the New Jersey Devils, likely to play with Myers to start. Mike Weber signed a three-year deal, which seems to suggest he has out-skated his role as the sixth or seventh defenseman. Jamie McBain, acquired in the trade for Sekera, has not lived up to his billing as an excellent offensive defenseman the past few seasons, but a change of pace may allow him to become a weapon for the Sabres.
Mark Pysyk likely earned himself a spot on the NHL roster with his steady play at the end of last season. Pysyk is a future top-four defenseman for the Sabres, so his ability to gain valuable game experience is important to the Sabres' future as well.
After those six, there is also Alexander Sulzer, who was re-signed this offseason, Brayden McNabb, who fought injuries last season in Rochester, Chad Ruhwedel, free agent signing out of college from last season who was steady in his short stint, and Drew Bagnall, likely a signing for Rochester's roster.
The wild card in all of this is Rasmus Ristolainen, the Sabres' pick at eighth overall in June's entry draft. Ristolainen has been touted as NHL-ready by numerous outlets and will have every opportunity to make the Sabres' roster from day one. Given that he is signed to an NHL-AHL deal, he does not only have the traditional nine-game tryout either.
So as it stands, only Tallinder, Ehrhoff and Sulzer the only defensemen who are over the age of 25 to start the season. That's a young blue line.
Seemingly, the top seven defensemen at first glance are Myers, Ehrhoff, Tallinder, McBain, Pysyk, Weber and Sulzer. However, Ruhwedel and Ristolainen should not be written off either.
That means that one thing that will not change this season is the trade winds swirling around the Sabres' defense, especially the youth. While unlikely to occur to start the season, as the months wear on, the Sabres may be in a position of strength to deal some pieces on defense.
So, the predictions for the opening night lineup for the Sabres on defense are:
First Pairing: Tyler Myers–Henrik Tallinder
Second Pairing: Christian Ehrhoff–Mike Weber
Third Pairing: Mark Pysyk–Jamie McBain
Notes on the above predictions:
Alex Sulzer will be scratched on opening night.
Ristolainen will be essentially fighting for Sulzer's spot, so if he were to make the team, the Sabres will either have to waive Sulzer or scratch two defensemen a night.
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