Losing two quality defensemen is always tough for a club but it is interesting to look at how Darcy Regier is shaping the new Buffalo blueline. Tallinder, a 2-way shutdown defensman will be tough to replace but Regier clearly didn’t want to match a 4-year deal offered by New Jersey. Chris Butler would be the immediate plug for this hole if he gets back on track in his development. Otherwise newly minted prospect Mark Pysyk is the next closest to filling this hole next to Tyler Myers.
Toni Lydman was a shutdown shotblocking defenseman. The Sabres hope that Mike Weber will fill this role as well as add some grit to the backline. If this isn’t their course of action look for them to sign a player like Jay Mckee. Another option would be to trade for a player like Hall Gill.
A gaping hole in the Sabres defense-core for the past few seasons has been offensive defensemen. On any team you would expect to have at least two offensive defensemen (one for each PP unit) and several 2-way defenders to generate offense from the backend. With the departures of Jaroslav Spacek and Brian Campbell the Sabres couldn’t generate much offense from their defensemen. Enter Jordan Leopold.
With over 25 points in every season since his rookie year (including last season with 11 goals and 14 assists) he can help generate offense. One knock on Leopold is he doesn’t make the Sabres any tougher. He is a soft player who doesn’t hit, doesn’t fight and doesn’t play with an edge. Few offensive-defensemen do. He is probably the most reasonably priced defensively responsible offensive-defensemen in this years crop of FA d-men. He doesn’t sacrifice defense for offense which is a difficult skill to master. I’m sorry but $5 Million for Paul Martin is too much! The length of contracts for many 30+ year old veterans also struck me as strange and ill-advised for many GMs.
Other players that could fill the offensive-defenseman would be Andrej Sekera, who has the inside track. The dark horse in the race of two (…huh…anyways) is the young Marc-Andre Gragnani. It is a make or break season for Gragnani and he needs to make the most of it. In the past he has shown great offensive potential but defensive immaturity. He has shown great poise in his few games with Buffalo over the last few seasons and last year in Portland he shored up his defensive game. Expect him to push Butler, Sekera and Weber for a roster spot.
Tyler Myers is a lock as a 1st pair defenseman, but who will he be paired with ? Will Craig Rivet make it back into the lineup for opening day? Will he have regained his old form? Steve Montador will add much needed sand paper on the 3rd pairing. There are currently eight players competing for six spots, the off-season isn’t over yet!
Players to keep your eye on: Willie Mitchell (UFA), Hall Gill (MTL), James Wisniewski (ANA)