Since before the beginning of this season, everything that the Sabres have had to say about their young players has been tagged with the #Blueprint hashtag. It’s on all of their tweets. It’s on the banner of the team’s official website sabres.nhl.com. Every time that one of the wonder kids from the last two draft years did anything of note, or anyone under the age of twenty-three for that matter, it received the hashtag and every time that Zemgus Girgensons enthralls us it’s a fair bet that it will cross our Twitter feeds once again.
Personally, the hashtag is my least favorite thing about the Buffalo Sabres right now. While there is great hope to be found in the Sabres Youth Movement™, it is infuriating that the team used it during the first game of the LaFontaine/Nolan era. You know, especially considering that it was essentially a marketing campaign to sell the work that Darcy Regier had done setting a foundation for his team.
Promoting the blueprint when you light the architect on fire is ridiculous.
But where Darcy warned of suffering, Patty has asked for patience. And I owe him that for almost single handedly making me a hockey fan in my youth.
So let’s talk about the good, the bad and the ugly of the Sabres Youth Movement™.
There is an argument to be made that the Sabres were perfectly positioned by the outgoing General Manager to go forward. While they have yet to find a true number one center (which does not mean that Hodgson or Grigorenko can’t be that guy, just that they aren’t now) they have a hungry crop of young players who can do great things in this league and are poised, even after collecting five of a possible six points in their last three games (and riding a two game winning streak), to have the best shot at the first overall pick in this year’s draft. The chances get even better if the disappointing Islanders continue foundering and decide to give up this year’s pick in hopes of landing Connor McDavid in next year’s draft.
Oh yeah, and Thursday night while the Sabres were in the process of picking up that second straight win against Atlantic-division leading Boston, the Sabres made a trade, bringing in another bright young talent. A conditional 6th round pick is going west to Edmonton for Linus Omark. Omark is a dangler and a truly dynamic talent who was drowning in a sea of high round draft picks and stuck on Edmonton’s AHL affiliate in Oklahoma City. While he’s going to be a free agent at the end of this season, he could be another building block.
The Sabres are also loaded to the gills with trade bait going into the deadline this year. As intriguing as the thought of re-signing Ryan Miller, Steve Ott or Matt Moulson could be, there’s a strong possibility that they could each fetch first round picks or hot prospects for teams that are closer to the cup than those players are to being on those teams every day. Plenty of ammunition for LaFontaine and whoever the Sabres choose as the next GM can use to craft a great team.
But there are flaws, as there must be. Mikhail Grigorenko is kind of a mess; he’s too good for juniors and in desperate need of the kind of seasoning that Zemgus Girgensons was able to take advantage of last season in Rochester. Unfortunately agreements between the NHL and the Q make it impossible for that move to happen. He gets a temporary reprieve being assigned to Team Russian for the World Junior Championships, which should both put him against better competition than he’d face in Quebec and put him in a position as a leader in a game he will desperately want to win. There’s also some hope that coming back from an international tournament that the NHL will allow him to be sent to Rochester for a two-week conditioning assignment (a move they blocked previously).
Personally, the first true misstep of the new regime in my mind is the waiving of Corey Tropp. Now, I was all for bringing Matt D’Agostini to the team. But waiving Tropp is a travesty when a player like John Scott is still on the team. I don’t want to come off like a fight-hating wuss, but the Sabres have plenty of tough players without needing a ‘heavyweight’ like Scott. While Nolan has upped his time on the ice and adjusted him towards being more of a solid 4th line player, in my mind his value is so much lower than Tropp’s that it borders on the ridiculous.
Then again, they may have thought Tropp would pass safely through waivers down to Rochester. Despite all his promise, his numbers this year have been lack-luster and a series of bad luck injuries also could have contributed to a belief that his value was less than it actually was. Sometimes that’s just the price of doing business in the NHL. However, it feels like a major loss to me.
So where does this leave the Sabres Youth Movement™?
Time will tell. Personally, I haven’t decided to cut bait on Grigorenko, I am excited about the prospect of him still being able to grow and the addition of new pieces around him (and maybe next year’s time in Rochester). I’m excited about a high salary cap and a General Manager not named Darcy Regier having all those picks to work with. I’m excited about how Brayden McNabb and Mark Pysyk will look when they make it up to Buffalo, how Armia will look after seasoning in the AHL and want to see what we’ll get out of Ristolainen and Zadorov. What will happen with Larsson and what happens if the Sabres flail into drafting Sam Reinhart?
Stay tuned. It’s going to be an interesting year.