I can’t give many answers about this Sabres team’s struggles. I know as a blogger I’m supposed to have an educated guess as to what can fix this team, but I’m stuck at the moment. Let the coaching staff figure out how to get Hank Tallinder to stop passing to Blake Wheeler. What I do know is where it’s not going to come from, and although it may be counterproductive to shoot down ideas, I feel the need to get this out of the way.
The answer to the Sabres’ struggles is not in Portland.
Sure, the Pirates are a really good minor league hockey team. Their 12-1-1 start is good for first in their division, and Sabres prospects are lighting up the AHL right now. Mike Mancari has 25 points in 14 games and looks like he’s ready to make an impact in the NHL when he gets his chance.
Also making some big waves in the minor league waters of Maine are Tim Kennedy and Nathan Gerbe, who along with Marek Zagrapan are three of the Sabres’ top prospects in the system. Gerbe and Kennedy are also well over a point per game (20 and 21, respectively) and Zagrapan continues to improve his game at the AHL level. Both Enroth and Dennis are sporting 6-1 records thus far, and all aspects of the roster look deep early.
This Portland team can score plenty of goals and looks to be headed in the right direction, and that’s good to see in what should be a turbulent transition phase for the Sabres’ minor league system. Having a good young group of players do this well together this early is good to see, and of course you want to see that talent perform on the next level. Having a good minor league team is a great sign for the future, and Darcy’s draft picks are looking promising thus far.
However, bringing up Mike Mancari won’t solve much of anything right now. In fact, no one on the Pirates roster is going to help turn things around with the Sabres because they simply have nothing to offer this team. The Sabres’ roster doesn’t need another goal scoring winger. We have plenty of people that can score goals on this team, which almost seems more comfortable when players are hurt and there are less options.
The two biggest things hurting the Sabres are defense and discipline, neither of which will come from a rookie not used to NHL speed and style of play. Tossing a young guy into the fire will take an adjustment period no matter how well versed he is in the “system” the organization has in place. A Mancari, Kennedy, or Gerbe getting a roster spot is going to equal mistakes and bad penalties. Experience comes from opportunity, yes, but allowing that experience to accumulate takes time we just don’t have.
Think of how poorly Sekera played the majority of last season. Making a good NHL player takes time, and right now the Sabres can’t afford an unnecessary side project when they are trying to fix themselves defensively. All three prospects mentioned above are going to be good NHL players, but right now there are plenty of good NHL players on the current roster that just refuse to play defense.
The current Sabres can still be a very good team, and very few of them can be moved out of the way to make room for a call up anyway. Demoting Kaleta at this point simply isn’t an option, and I can’t think of another reasonable option to free up a roster spot. The group that wore blue and gold last night simply has to get better in their own zone and stop taking stupid penalties. Until that happens we have to live with the growing pains that will result from this process.
I’m not saying it won’t hurt, but they may be a better team for it in the end.