On Tuesday, the Sabres cut their roster down from 29 to 24. Sent down the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League were goalie Martin Biron, forwards Maxim Afinogenov and Matt Davidson, along with defenseman Mike Hurlbut.
The biggest surprise is that Biron was sent down after having an impressive training camp. He is supposedly Hasek's "heir-apparent" for the No. 1 goalie spot next season, and being demoted to the minors raises a lot of questions. The Sabres feel that he will get more playing time in Rochester and that will help his development. After the Washington game in which Biron sparkled in goal, Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said he could not see having Biron sit behind Hasek all season when he could be getting valuable playing time in Rochester. He said that both goalies need and want to play a lot and Biron would get a lot more time down in the American Hockey League.
In his last game against the Capitals, Biron made 18 saves in his one period stint and seemed to prove that he was the better of the two backup goalies. Dwayne Roloson had a groin injury during camp but now is in playing condition. Roloson played the entire game against Boston in a 3-1 loss this weekend.
According to sources, the Sabres may have Biron in the lineup 20-25 times this season, to help out in the back-to-back games or during a long road trip. That remains to be seen. However Biron, who worked hard in camp to make the team, is extremely disappointed about being reassigned to the minor leagues.
Biron has done all he can in the American Hockey League. Last year, Biron won 36 while losing only 13, had a 2.07 goals against average, and 6 shutouts. Biron had a .930 save percentage, allowing only 108 goals in 52 games. He received of all the goalie awards last season in the AHL. The time appears right for Biron to get into the battle zone of the NHL. He needs to feel the pressure, make the mistakes and the adjustments to become a top-flight goalie. Being sent down to Rochester could have a psychological impact on the young goalie.
The big question in all of this is whether Martin Biron really figures into the Sabres plans next year. They will have to protect him in the expansion draft next year, but there is a possibility that the Sabres will turn elsewhere for their No. 1 goaltender position next year. That could be the reason why he may remain in the AHL all season and they may use him as trade bait come the March trading deadline.
Another promising star that was sent down to the minors for grooming was Maxim Afinogenov. The flashy Russian had turned a lot of heads during training camp with his speed and good moves. His skating and passing abilities remind a lot of people of Gilbert Perreault when he was in his prime. But being only 20 years old, he has a lot to learn about team play.
During the Sabres last preseason game against Toronto, Afinogenov got on the bad side of Ruff. Because of that, Ruff had him sitting on the bench for most of the third period.
"He stayed out for a two-minute shift at one point," Ruff said. "I talked about keeping the shifts short, 30 or 40 seconds. I only gave him a couple of shifts after that. He has got to learn that if you're going to win a game you have to play as a team. He needs a lot of work. Maxim is going to be a fabulous player, but he has to learn the game over here. . . . He is going to have to be responsible."
He has been critical of Afinogenov's willingness to play in his system and that could mean that the young Russian will be spending most of this season dazzling the fans in Rochester.
The Sabres have one more move to make before getting down to the NHL roster limit. Ruff said it will be one of the young defensemen in a group of four: Corey Sarich, Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre, Brian Campbell or Jason Holland.