Buffalo Sabres Training Camp Notes: Who Will Man the Blue Line?
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In what has been discussed ad nauseum by many Buffalo Sabres fans, the team has some defensive depth. With nine defenseman at training camp, and all nine able to make most NHL blue lines, one of the biggest questions for the team is which six (or seven) guys will be on the Sabres’ back end.
So who’s going to suit up for the opener Sunday afternoon?
Realistically, assuming no trades, you can fill four spots immediately with Tyler Myers, Christian Ehrhoff, Robyn Regehr and Jordan Leopold. None of those guys are in danger of losing their spots beyond a trade.
That leaves five players – Alexander Sulzer, Mike Weber, Andrej Sekera, Adam Pardy and TJ Brennan – competing for two or three spots.
NHL teams can carry 23 players and must dress 20, including two goalies, each night. That leaves three pressbox seats for each team. John Scott will likely fill one of those spots, rotating with Matt Ellis or Nathan Gerbe for a fourth line spot depending on the opponent. If Mikhail Grigorenko sticks with the club, Cody McCormick may also see more time in the pressbox, leaving only one spot for a defenseman.
Looking at the five that are left competing, a few things stick out.
First, Sulzer played extremely well with Ehrhoff last season. In the 15 games after being shipped over from the Vancouver Canucks, Sulzer scored eight points and displayed instant chemistry with his fellow German. It stands to reason that coach Lindy Ruff would want to keep him around if only for that reason.
Second, Sekera is one of the more talented defenseman, especially offensively, on the team, but also one of the most wildly inconsistent. Some games he looks like a top four guy on any team in the NHL and others he looks downright awful.
Third, TJ Brennan’s contract issue that has been discussed before that requires him to pass through waivers to end up back in Rochester in the AHL.
So what has camp shown us thus far?
It doesn’t seem as though the scrimmage Monday night did much to shine any light on the situation, at least for those not named Lindy Ruff. The game was relatively mistake free for the five in contention and all had their moments to shine.
Sekera has struggled but could also be one of the better bottom pairing defenseman in the league if he remained consistent. Weber has looked good in camp but struggled to the tune of a minus-19 last season, whereas Sulzer looked great. Brennan’s defense needs work, but his power play capabilities, especially his shot, would be huge for the Sabres. Pardy is physical presence that Ruff loves.
Essentially it’s going to come down to what type of game Ruff wants his bottom pairing to play. If it’s more of a defensive, shut down role, then Weber especially has the edge. If it’s an offensive game, Brennan and Sekera have the upper hand. If he wants to pair Sulzer with Ehrhoff again, Leopold would be the likely one to drop and all “type of game” logic goes out the window.
In the end, it just seems like someone needs to get moved. Odds are, given their offensive capabilities, that Leopold, Sekera and Brennan are the favorites for that designation. If Brennan doesn’t make the team, he will almost certainly be traded given the way blue liners are being snatched up on the waiver wire right now. If Brennan has the inside track on the job, Sekera is probably the most likely, with Leopold’s chances increasing slightly if a team would rather have the veteran presence.
But, if no one is moved before Sunday, Sekera and either Weber or Sulzer will probably make up the starting six, with either Weber or Sulzer sitting to start. Pardy will be sent down to Rochester and either Darcy Regier trades Brennan to get some value out of him or risks losing him on waivers trying to send him down to Rochester as well.
Needless to say, it’s going to be a wild ride for the five in question until the puck drops on Sunday afternoon.