This will be a one week, three-part article culminating on December 23rd. Welcome to Part 1, The Sabres Defensive Outlook.
The Sabres have a bright outlook for the defensive unit, and rightfully so. This team is currently in a rebuilding transition and what an arsenal of weaponry do they have at defense. Let the review begin.............
Craig Rivet - (* $3.5 million, UFA)
Team Captain and currently a healthy scratch. Most definitely his last season as a Sabre. The team will most likely attempt to move Rivet from here until the trade deadline.
What they may receive is debatable (my opinion, a fourth-round pick from a playoff team in need of defensive depth). Although Rivet is a professional, as the team captain and a veteran player, "riding the pine" must leave a very bad taste in his mouth. But, I am sure he is aware that his career is over or just about over.
Tyler Myers - (*$1.3 million entry level, 1 yr left)
Most likely the future captain of the Buffalo Sabres and sure to be locked down via contract at a large price for many years to come. Myers had a rough start to his sophomore campaign, but the prior seasons Calder winner (rookie of the year) has stabilized his game and is now coming on strong.
This kid has the goods and will be an anchor as the number one defenseman on the Buffalo blue line.
Andrej Sekera - (*$1 million, RFA)
Sekera has markedly improved his game this season and is in the process of solidifying his presence as the number two defenseman on the top defensive pairing with Tyler Myers. These two compliment one another nicely as they both can move the puck in transition quickly either via a pass or carrying it out themselves.
Sekera needs to focus on his defensive zone play, especially taking the body of the opponent off the puck either along the boards, down low or in open ice. He is working to this end and is improving quickly with Myers help.
Steve Montador - (*$1.55 million, UFA)
Montador (or Monty as the fan base affectionately calls him) is a real conundrum for the Sabres. He is the rock of the Sabres defense as of late. As of this writing he is a very respectable +12 with 3 goals and 8 assists.
He is a contributing member of the top-rated scoring defensive unit in the league. His defensive zone play has been nothing short of spectacular, and here in lies the problem. In this article you are going to read about a strong pipeline of youth coming up to push for roster spots or already securing one on the team. This creates a paradox of sorts.
With Monty's value most likely to be very high, his pending UFA status combined with what's sure to be a raise should a contract be offered, as well as the strong youth movement afoot, the question is, should Monty be signed or traded at the deadline?
I am strongly of the opinion to trade him at the deadline when I believe he can get a 28 to 35 overall pick from a team who is looking to push in the playoffs and needs defensive help.
Jordan Leopold - (*$3 million, 2 yrs left)
The best pick up of a player by the Buffalo Sabres since Danny Briere and Chris Drury hands down. Leopold is the center of a league leading defensive scoring unit that shows no mercy to opposing teams' goalies.
Quick to jump in tight to the net or a dead-on shot from the point, Leopold is one of the smartest offensive defenseman I have ever seen play.
His numbers are only held back by a lack-luster roster of forwards. He could easily have another 15 points if the forwards were producing more on lines two, three and four. He has solidified himself as the number four defenseman on the team, partnered with rock solid Steve Montador, these two make up Buffalo's second defensive pairing.
Shaone Morrisonn - (*$2.075 million, 1 yr left)
Morrisonn was a depth signing for the number five/six defensive spots. Although injured this season for some games, I am not overly impressed with his play as a Sabre. He will most likely finish out his contract here, in my opinion sometimes in the lineup, sometimes riding the pine.
Chris Butler - (*$850 thousand, RFA)
Butler has been mediocre this season. He plays well some games, not so well in others. He is an attractive piece in trade bait situations. Could also be utilized as a number six or seven defenseman at a very cheap price.
Mike Weber - (*$550 thousand, RFA)
Perhaps the best hidden secret of the Buffalo Sabres is Weber. An "in your face," take it to the limit, no holds barred young defenseman with a fire in his belly not seen on the Sabres since the likes of Larry Playfair or Jerry Korab.
Weber's smash-mouth style isn't his only attribute either. He boasts very good puck control skills and passing ability. He's not afraid to jump in on the rush. I have him listed as Buffalo's number five defenseman due to his work in the games he has played this season, but that should change to the number three position if Montador gets traded. (And I firmly believe this is what should happen as Leopold and Weber would be equally deadly as Montador and Leopold).
And waiting in the wings for next season's training camp or call ups if injuries hit the Sabres defensive corp are Brennan, Schiestel and Gragnani. These three will push for spots next season and one or two of them will most likely see time with the big club.
Add into this mix the amazing turn around of former first round pick Dennis Persson in Portland, as well as the steady progression of Alex Biega and Drew Mackenzie—both of whom appear to be on course to ascend to challenge for a big club spot in two seasons or so. Portland is putting out some very good defensive prospects.
The Sabres' pipeline doesn't end in Portland either. With the likes of first round pick Mark Pysyk and QMJHL phenom Braydon McNabb, this pipeline is the gift that keeps on giving.
Buffalo's defense will be great again, and with the players that are churning out gaining valuable experience, this unit will be elite for quite some time to come. NHL BEWARE!!!!