Sabres: The New Guys

ehrhoff

I thought it would be fun to take a look at the key Sabres acquisitions from late June/early July and evaluate their performances to this point in the season. While the Sabres’ pre-existing core players (Miller, Vanek, Pominville, Gaustad, Stafford) are still the driving forces in the team’s ultimate success, the outside additions are the brand new element in GM Darcy Regier’s talent arsenal and also extremely important in achieving the goals of the season. In heralding Pegulaville, we all hope that these three players live up to their billing (and contracts).

Disclaimer – it’s awfully early in the season so this is possibly premature and also an incomplete evaluation. But that shouldn’t stop me from giving my first impressions here and pointing towards the rest of the season.

Robyn Regehr

Stat line – 7 games played, 0 points, an even +/-, 4 PIM, 19:25 TOI/G, 20 hits.

I included some extra stats for Regehr that I won’t for the other 2 players just because the basic stats just don’t tell the story for this guy. He’ll be lucky to hit 10 points for the season being a defensive defenseman, and truly numbers don’t tell the value of Mr. Regehr. To be honest, I’ve been more impressed with him than either of the other two players to follow in this post and that surprises me. I knew we’d be getting a solid, shutdown type, physical defenseman, something the team desperately needed. But I’ve gained a real appreciation for how good he really is. I think sometimes as Sabres fans we hate to talk about the intangibles because that usually means a player doesn’t have it in the area of talent, but Robyn truly brings all the little things that you need to be successful as a defense and as a team.

Yes, he’s been physical when need be, but I’ve been even more impressed by just how steady he has been back there. A lot of the reports coming out of Calgary was that he had lost a step the last year or two, but I haven’t seen many plays where he looks out of position at all. Perhaps he knows his limits and doesn’t push any ill-advised rushes up the ice, but I also think he just has a sense of where to be at all times. Quite simply, he’s been a rock. And the dividends that he’ll continue to play for Tyler Myers as the season goes along may end up being his greatest contribution. Myers has looked more like his rookie year self in the first 7 games of the season, which is like night and day to how he started last year. Now granted, Tyler was much improved in the latter half of 2011, but I think having Regehr as a mentor and a stay at home presence has allowed Big Easy to skate freely out there and with confidence. And he will hopefully continue to take the physical cues from his grizzled veteran partner as he asserts himself as a tougher big guy to play against.

Another way to put Regehr’s much appreciated style of play is that he is what we hoped Craig Rivet would be. I’m very pleased.

Christian Ehrhoff

Stat line – 7 games played, 1 goal and 4 assists for 5 points, -4, 24:24 TOI/G, 15 shots

I think Christian can play better and do more. I don’t want to say he’s been a disappointment, but after watching some of his play in the preseason he looked like he was going to be instant superstar defenseman in Lindy Ruff’s system. He was running the power play like a whiz and skating beautifully, a morph of Phil Housley and Brian Campbell in their best days. Maybe this will teach me not to take any preseason sports too seriously, but I don’t think he’s matched that play consistently in the regular season so far.

Yes, he’s still doing a decent job at the point on the power play, but the unit has struggled for last few games (Overall 4 for 22, 11th in league). It’s not fair to put the blame on one player, but he was brought in here to be the QB and he’s the focal point back there in the same way that Vanek is the focal point in front of the net. I’m sure this will improve as the season goes along since the power play is something built of chemistry and being on the same page, and he’s only 7 real games in with these teammates. And dear God, can he shoot! I love that about him. Unlike so many of our Rochester bred players who came up through the system, he doesn’t pass up the opportunity to throw the puck on the net. And it’s not only slapshots – I think his wrist shot is actually quicker than a lot of our players’ slappers.

At times he’s looked sloppy in his own end, but you’re going to have those moments with an offensive defenseman. Lindy’s trusting him with more ice time than any other D-man so he’s strong enough in his own end to warrant being out there in all situations. And despite those occasional moments of getting caught, he hasn’t been a consistent liability that some free-skating D-men has been in the past (hello, Soupy). I expect by season end to see more of the Ehrhoff we glimpsed in the pretend games and his 4 million dollar cap hit will seem like a bargain.

Ville Leino

Stat line – 7 games played, 1 goal and 1 assist for 2 points, -1, 14:16 TOI/G, 5 shots

Here’s the guy that’s caught a lot of ire from fans and media alike early on. I guess that will happen when you have limited production and impact after signing a 4.5 million dollar contract based on one and a half decent seasons in league. The expectations are really high with him, especially after fans were clamoring and hoping for a top two center from the free agency crop. Well, the Leino at center experiment might be officially over right now so I’m sure more criticism could be coming the Sabres way for signing him to such a big loot. But with the emergence of Luke Adam as a top center, another player I should at least reference in this post, it enables Ville to go back to something he’s more comfortable with and that’s playing the wing. Also putting him with Roy and Stafford could invigorate him further as he hasn’t exactly been playing with the most talented of linemates (McCormick and a struggling Ennis to name two).

I think Leino will be fine. After his assist on Pominville’s goal in the game against Florida, he played his best hockey of the season for the rest of that game by far. He was skating extremely well and creating with the puck, looking like a player whose confidence needed a boost. He’s clearly strong on the boards, which is pretty amazing because he looks like one skinny dude. Will we need to temper our expectations for him a bit? Perhaps. He’s a solid player, though, even if he’s a bit overpaid. But I think by the end of the season and into playoffs he’ll be a valuable player and gain back a lot of the faith lost with his slow start.

Here’s a nice thought to sum up – the Sabres are 5-2 and I don’t think we’ve gotten the best out of the players I’ve mentioned here, namely Ehrhoff and Leino. That’s a great thing to put your hope in, and it speaks volumes about the depth of the Sabres talent level now. Think about how our lineup used to be supported on the forward ranks: Dan Paille, Mike Ryan, Andrew Peters, Adam Mair. Now we have players like Brad Boyes and Leino spending some time on the “4th” line. These players will continue to improve as the weeks blend into months, especially as they develop more comfort in their new surroundings and in their linemates.

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