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Sabres Central

Sabres Year in Review
By Fourth Line
April 27, 2000


Doug Gilmour - Possibly the biggest steal of the year came when Chicago traded Doug Gilmour and prospect J.P. Dumont to the Sabres for Michal Grosek. Gilmour, nicknamed "Killer", immediately helped our power play, along with Gratton was one of the few players going to the front of the net and also brought out the best of linemates Curtis Brown and Miroslav Satan from Gilmour's first game against the NY Islanders to near the end of the regular season. Unfortunately Gilmour was not playing at 100% at the end of the regular season and in the playoffs because of a flu virus that he had even while he was in Chicago before being traded. Because of his inability to play at 100%, Ruff had Gilmour on the Sabres fourth line at the start of the playoffs and throughout the playoffs Gilmour was virtually invisible. He did not score a single goal and was only noticed when he fanned on a wide open net in game five of the first round series in Philadelphia. A healthy Gilmour is a key asset who brings all the tools the Sabres need to achieve success. A proven warrior, leader in the locker room, goal-scorer, playmaker, feisty competitor that Mike Peca grew up in admiration of, face-off winner, power play specialist, you name it - Gilmour has it.

Curtis Brown - The un-sung hero of the Buffalo Sabres. I would like to personally nominate Brown for the Selke Trophy. A two-way threat, Brown collected a respectable 51 points and at the same time w
Curtis Brown scores against the Flyers in the playoffs. Brown overtook Michael Peca as the best defensive forward on the team.
[AP Photo]

as the Sabres top defensive forward. With Peca being the marquis name in Buffalo as being our household two-way forward, Brown has been overshadowed by Peca. Don't be mistaken, Curtis Brown during the regular season was our top all-purpose forward. He excels on both ends of the ice, playing the role of a third defenseman on the backcheck, is a efficient penalty killer, and even positions himself in front of his own net when a defenseman missed his assignment in their defensive zone coverage. Brown's defensive awareness allows offensive-minded defensemen like Alexei Zhitnik, Jason Woolley and Richard Smehlik to take chances pinching as Brown has been known to play back and cover for the pinching defensemen. Brown's only 24 so he's still a few years shy of his prime and you can only expect him to get better which is down-right scary for a player who displays the maturity of a seasoned veteran ten years older than him.

Miroslav Satan - Miro's goal totals were seven shy of his 40-goal output the previous season but he has continued to round out his overall game. With a +16 rating, Satan has accepted the role of defensive responsibility. He still is an offense-first player and I don't expect him to contest Peca or Brown for any Selke's anytime soon, but without the puck Satan has really picked up his game. We know that with his sniperish abilities, as inconsistent as they are, he'll score at least 30 on any given season. However, even more impressive is his ability to handle the wear and tear for a player who was shy of physical confrontation when playing in Edmonton. Over the last two years Satan has really rounded out his overall game and coincidentally has also accomplished his finest goal outputs these last two seasons. His inconsistency still is Miro's obvious downside, if he were more consistent he'd have Pavel Bure in his rearview mirror in the scoring race. Fortunately, unlike last year, Miro was able to put together a scoring streak in the post-season where he led the Sabres in scoring.

Mike Peca - This was not one of Peca's better seasons in recent time. He got off to a rough start in the 1999-2000 campaign and didn't finish much better. Humbled by injuries and a suspension, Peca was out of the lineup down the crucial stretch of the season. Luckily the Sabres were able to reach their playoff destination but for the first time since coming to Buffalo, Peca was not a noticeable impact in the playoffs. Ruff took him off the checking line with Varada and Tsyplakov, he did not have an Eric Lindros to "shadow" during the course of the playoff series, and the two game suspension served for his forearm to Valeri Bure can be attributed to the decline in Peca's physical play in the playoffs. At his best, Peca can do it all. Hit, backcheck, score, match up against any superstar in the league and do anything to take him off his game, you name it. For a check-liner, Peca can give you a respectable 20-30 goals a season but stats alone don't present you the entire story of Peca's dominating game. While a disappointment at the beginning of the season and in the playoffs, Peca did enjoy some bright spots this season. He excelled best from the time Vladimir Tsyplakov was acquired from LA and was placed on the checking line with Peca. From out of nowhere, the chemistry between Peca and Tsyppy was an unbreakable bond and the checking line of Peca, Varada and Tsyplakov was by far Buffalo's top line. The roller coaster ride in Peca's season came to two final drops. The first being when he separated his shoulder in a fight with Washington's Steve Konowalchuk, the second being suspended the game he returned against Calgary and was hitting everything in sight. Peca for a 5-11, 180 player is quite powerful but Colin Campbell literally sucked all the power out of Peca when he issued him a two-game suspension for his forearm to Valeri Bure's face. Say good-bye to Peca's physical game for the playoffs and without the physical aspect of Peca's game, you might as well send Peca back to the AHL where he begun his professional hockey career.

Chris Gratton - Darcy Regier rolled the dice by making a 3-for-1 deal with Tampa to acquire the services of Chris Gratton. Giving up a blue chip prospect in Cory Sarich, Wayne Primeau who can be assessed as a poor man's Chris Gratton, and throw-in Brian Holzinger for one player whose integrity has been questioned in the past is quite risky. But maybe Buffalo could be the perfect fit for the lumbering center. He'd get more ice time than he did in Philly and actually have a chance to play with a potential winner in Buffalo unlike in Tampa so if Gratton puts it all together he might turn out to be the Lindros-like power forward that he was drafted 3rd overall in the 1993 draft to become. In his first game as a Buffalo Sabre against the Montreal Canadiens, the entire Marine Midland Arena crowd noticed a player whose work ethic was unmatched. A potential superstar? He brought electricity to the ice, hitting everything in sight, hustling on both ends of the rink, positioning himself in front of Jeff Hackett, winning face-offs. His performance in that game proved to all Sabres fans that Gratton has the potential to be an impact player but potential only goes so far when your effort is sorely lacking. It was all a gradual downhill spiral from his first game as a Sabre to the playoff series against Philadelphia where he was a non-factor. The manner in which Ruff handled Gratton was about as questionable as his day-to-day effort. I cannot understand Ruff's decision to have Gratton center Peca's checking line with Varada and Tsyplakov. When Peca was out of the Sabres lineup this was an understandable move but when Peca returned to the lineup Gratton should've been shifted to center a scoring line. Ruff also failed to use Gratton as a face-off pivot in crucial late-game situations. During the playoffs, Ruff had sub-par face-off men like Stu Barnes, Curtis Brown and Mike Peca go up against Keith Primeau in the face-off circle in the Flyers end instead of Gratton who easily wins well over 50% of his draws. Now the question remains. Which version of Chris Gratton will we see for next season? The Chris Gratton that can dominate hockey games like he did early on since being traded to Buffalo or be on-par with Wayne Primeau who had the size and the tools but was never really able to put it all together when he played with the Sabres?

Dixon Ward - Conventional wisdom says that players who are in the final year of their contract are motivated by the money to score more goals that year than in years where they're under contract the following year. Dixon Ward, a UFA this summer, was the exception. With a measly 20 points, the 1999-2000 season was Ward's lowest point total in a single season since he was signed by the Sabres as a FA in '95. After his superb performance in last year's playoffs on the Sabres checking line, Ward got off to a rough start to this season. It was only in the final stretch of the season when Ward actually put his game together, hustled hard, and scored most of his goals for the season during this stretch. Ward picked up his game as the season went along, but for 3/4 of the regular season Dixon was arguably our least inspired forward. When playing his "A" game, Ward plays with an edge. He hustles on both ends of the rink, plays with feistiness and can contribute adeptly in a checking line role. Unfortunately that effort was not consistent and hence Ward is going to have a tough fight for a contract agreement. Darcy Regier along with most general managers around the league realize Ward's drop-off this season and if he goes to arbitration, the arbitrator will look at his point totals from last season and give a good chuckle. Ward has shown to be an asset for the Sabres, but he needs to remember that an NHL season is an 82 game process.

Geoff Sanderson - Can this guy buy a break? The former 40-goal scorer who has been blessed with the fastest wheels on the Sabres roster, has been stuck between a rock and a hard place on a fourth line role. Some nights Sanderson is flying, using his tremendous speed to fly up and down the ice. It's just that his effort is so inconsistent that you don't know what to expect and his brilliancy that he's capable of is so far and few between. Last year, Sandman had as many breakaway opportunities as WNY-native Todd Marchant and shanked every one of them a la Marchant. Finally, after literally thousands of breakaway chances, Sanderson finally realized that trying to deek on a breakaway was a better option than taking the forehand shot that he had been doing all along. The result was scoring a key breakaway goal in last year's Stanley Cup Finals against Eddie Belfour. Sanderson just wishes that he had all those breakaway chances back because they certainly weren't coming this season. Or at least not at the frequency as the preceding season. He still amplified his goal total from last season, although 13 goals is nothing for the former 46-goal Whaler sniper to boast. Like most of his efforts, Sanderson's effort is consistent. I remember some nights that he was flying up and down the ice, using his speed to terrorize defensemen in transition and receiving innumerable scoring chances. Other nights, Sanderson was invisible. He does have a case as Ruff hasn't given him enough ice time to produce results but the other half of the problem lies with Sanderson himself. We have seen him display a strong work ethic but in order for him to seal up a scoring line role, that effort needs to be consistent instead of in spurts scattered throughout the season. And Sanderson doesn't have long to prove himself a worthy piece to this hockey club before up-and-coming Maxim Afinogenov makes him expendable.

Vladimir Tsyplakov - Whoever that eighth rounder that the Kings received for Vladimir Tsyplakov better be the second coming of Wayne Gretzky for Dave Taylor to win this trade that Darcy Regier completely fleeced Taylor on. "Tsyppy" was immediately placed on
Vladimir Tsyplakov was a pleasant surprise for the Sabres. He helped make the Peca, Varada line click and was acquired from the Kings for a 8th round draft choice.
[AP Photo]

our checking line with Mike Peca and Vaclav Varada. With Tsyplakov's addition, the checking line had a resurgence, playing the best hockey since they dominated the 1999 Stanley Cup Playoffs. At first I questioned Lindy's decision of placing the crafty Tsyplakov on the checking line instead of on a legitimate scoring line, but before long Ruff proved me wrong. The chemistry on the check line, especially between Peca and Tsyplakov, was vibrant. Even when Peca was injured and Gratton filled in for Peca as the checking line's center, Tsyplakov never slowed down. He played superb on both ends of the ice, made things happen with his puckhandling wizardry, and boosted the +/- rating of himself and his linemates. He disappointed in the playoffs being a virtual non-factor but I'm confident he'll be a steady contributor next season like he was since being traded here this season. I find it amazing that a one-line team like Los Angeles would even offer a Tsyplakov-like player to the Sabres for a marginal draft choice. Not that I'm complaining though.

Vaclav Varada - Like his linemate Mike Peca, Varada got better as the season progressed. The first half of the season, Varada was AWOL. He wasn't hitting, wasn't forechecking, wasn't doing much anything. After his spirited performance in the 1999 playoffs, many were surprised by his remarkably miserable start to his 1999-2000 campaign. It was only in the second half of the season when Varada picked up his game. Varada will never be a skill player. Will never score goals at a Satan-like pace, will never contest Satan in the skating department, and will never bring the electricity that Maxim Afinogenov brings to the ice everytime he comes in contact with the puck in the neutral zone. Varada's strictly a grinder who finds his niche on the Sabres checking line. He does all the things that sometimes goes un-noticed: hits, battles for loose pucks along the wall and in the corners, forechecks aggressively, takes a beating in front of the net. But take away the gritty element from his game and Varada will be catching a one-way bus to the nearest ECHL city. This season, we have seen flashes of Varada playing the game he's capable of playing, primarily towards the end of the regular season but being unnoticed in the first half of the season and in the playoffs clearly outweighs the games in which Varada was a factor on the ice. It probably sounds like a broken record by now, but a more consistent effort from Varada is desired.

Stu Barnes - Stu Barnes was one of the very few Sabres who consistently played outstanding hockey throughout the course of the regular season and playoffs. Unlike last season after coming to Buffalo, Barnes was able to put the puck into the net at a more frequent pace. His 20 goals and 45 points that he put up this season is highly commendable for a third line center. He excels in transition. No Buffalo Sabre reads the play as well as Barnes. Throughout the season, Barnes' incredible ability to read the play has allowed him to intercept the puck from opposing players and make the quick transition from defense to offense. Barnes fits well when on a line with Maxim Afinogenov and Geoff Sanderson, two explosive players who can make something happen when Barnes steals the puck in the neutral zone and feeds them with the puck. Ruff noticed the tandem Barnes and Jaromir Jagr formed in Pittsburgh and thus placed him with skilled players who can benefit from Barnes' strong transition game. Often unnoticed, Barnes also forechecks tenaciously. He's not the most ferocious hitter, but isn't afraid to battle for loose pucks and because of his tenaciousness, Barnes is an asset on the forecheck. He's also a versatile player who can play either at center or on the wing, plays both ends of the rink, and is a commodity on special teams. Day by day I am liking the Barnaby for Barnes trade of last March more and more.

Maxim Afinogenov - By far the most explosive forward the Sabres have to offer. Maxim has the wheels and hands to dazzle through would-be defenders in the neutral zone and is very hard to take off the puck. He can cut on the dime and no Sabre has stickhandled through traffic better since the days of Gilbert Perreault. If he had natural goal-scoring abilities, Afinogenov would be a Bure-like 50-goal scorer. While the comparisons to Pavel Bure aren't 100% accurate, comparisons to Sergei Samsonov or Valeri Bure are more accurate. Quite simply, Afinogenov makes things happen. Fans at the Marina literally rise out of their seats whenever Afinogenov dazzles with the puck in the neutral zone as they know Afinogenov's bound to make something happen. Max is so breath-taking and electrifying that he can be used as a secret weapon against trapping teams who clog up the neutral zone because Afinogenov can skate the puck up ice even through the traffic that a trapping team presents. Of course with every player, there's a major weakness. Afinogenov's chief downside is his defensive responsibility. The Buffalo Sabres and Rochester Americans organizations have respectively done their best to round Max into a complete player, but Afinogenov still lacks the defensive responsibility to receive ample ice time from Lindy Ruff. He doesn't backcheck often and when he retrieves the puck in his own end, instead of safely getting the puck out of trouble, Maxim chooses to roll the dice by skating with the puck out of his own zone. With his excellent puckhandling skills, he can create flashy end-to-end rushes doing this but as often coughs the puck around his own blueline, giving opponents considerable scoring chances. This has not been to Lindy Ruff's liking as because of Maxim's lack of defensive responsibility Ruff has lashed out against Afinogenov and even listed him as a healthy scratch. The ideal situation for Afinogenov would be playing on Curtis Brown's line. Brown's top-notch backchecking abilities would compensate for Afinogenov's defensive liabilities, allowing him to play his exhilarating game.

Erik Rasmussen - Drafted seventh overall in the 1996 draft, Rasmussen's potential has always been filled with promise. He's not going to be a big-time scorer, but has settled into his role of being a big-time hitter and grinder. Rasmussen still has some grooming to do before he's regarded as a major impact player, but this season he took one step forward in that direction. He only scored eight goals this season, but 10-15 goals is about his ceiling. More importantly, Rasmussen showed that he is capable of playing his rugged game at an NHL level. On numerous occasions, he was awarded Empire's "Carubba Collision" and has been accredited with some of the most devastating checks thrown this season. I would like to see him emerge into more of a power forward who uses his large frame in the slot. Even after the acquisition of Chris Gratton, we still haven't stood our ground in front of the net like we should. This is unfortunate because Rasmussen is one of the many tools we have capable of doing this. Still a young 23, Rasmussen has plenty of time to bloom into the power forward that he's capable of becoming and continue delivering the bone-crushing hits he's thrown throughout the course of the season.

Rob Ray - To the despise of a majority of the Sabres faithful, this could very well be Rob Ray's final season in the NHL. With the diminishing role of the NHL enforcer, most enforcers are forced to add another dimension to their game and become a power forward a la Chris Simon or pray that there is a roster spot remaining for the poor endangered enforcer in this league. Ray doesn't have the size to become a power forward and with the forward roster spots being filled up with newly acquired additions Vladimir Tsyplakov, Chris Gratton and Doug Gilmour, there is going to be at least one odd man out. That means this season in all likelihood will be Ray's last. Over the years, his accomplishments have stood out. He's always been a fan favorite who will square off in the ring with any top-notch NHL fighter, was an active community member throughout his tenure in Buffalo, and established into a veteran locker room leader who after playing so many heart-filled years in Buffalo was the cornerstone of this hockey team. So with the near assurance that Ray has played his last game with the Buffalo Sabres, what's next on Razor's agenda? Maybe a hint was given during the playoffs when Ray was dressed up in a suit and tie behind the Sabres bench as an honorary coach. It is to my belief that Ray will become an NHL coach. He has the energy and fire to spark fuel under the players much like Pat Burns and Mike Keenan, has experience as a certified locker room leader for an NHL team and now has done his internship as an assistant coach for the Sabres during the playoff series against the Flyers. The coaching field seems right down Ray's alley. That way he can still be involved with the game he loves without having to fight for a roster spot every year presenting a one-dimensional game on the ice.


Alexei Zhitnik - If you were to pick any adjective to describe Zhitnik's season, ‘disappointing' would probably fit the bill the best. After a masterful playoffs the year before, Zhitnik was AWOL the entire 1999-2000 season and probably the Sabres biggest disappointment. Alexei usually disappoints during the regular season so I figured I'd cut him some slack given his track record of playing outstanding in the playoffs after a third consecutive mediocre regular season. As it turns out,
Alexei Zhitnik plows into Flyers' goalie Brian Boucher during a game with the Flyers in the first round playoffs. Zhitnik was a big disappointment this season with the Sabres.
[AP Photo]

the sole time Zhitnik was noticed in the playoffs was when he received a one-game suspension for getting his stick up on Daymond Langkow in game four. We needed a defenseman who can rush the puck in transition to try breaking the Flyers trap that Craig Ramsey was utilizing. Zhitnik had the ability to be the answer, but he didn't fulfill his expectations. For a defensemen who likes to lead and join the rush, along with playing the point on the first power play unit, a two goal output is quite laughable. His -6 rating also speaks for itself. Zhitnik always has had a tendency to be caught pinching in the offensive zone and this year he didn't let up. He wasn't scoring like he can, he wasn't hitting in open ice like he can, so basically he was useless (besides when he took the occasional bone-head penalty) and this played a major part in the Sabres early departure this season. On the power play he is useless, yet Ruff kept him on the first power play unit until the acquisitions of Gilmour and Gratton. Zhitnik played a big role in the reason why our power play was dead-last in the league. No, I take that back. Zhitnik WAS the reason our power play was unsuccessful this season. He was too passive with the puck and when he did fire the shot from the point, he had a better chance of hitting the glass ten feet wide of the net than putting the puck on goal. Half the power play is spent with Zhitnik controlling the puck outside of the offensive zone. The power play routine was as predictable as the Buffalo weather in January. He'd gather the puck behind his own net and wait there for 30 seconds. When he finally came out from behind his own net, he'd rush the puck from coast-to-coast, only to either be taken off the puck or shoot the puck in at the blueline. The opposing teams' penalty killing unit had no problem gathering Zhitnik's shoot-ins as he'd shoot the puck in the same exact way every single time. No wonder why our power play ranked 28th out of 28 teams this season. No player backpedals more than Zhitnik. It gets frustrating as a Sabres fan late in the game to see Zhitnik take the puck in the opposite direction behind his own net when we're down by a goal, let alone all the times he rushes the puck right across the slot in front of his own net. The one positive thing about Zhitnik this season was that he was consistent, consistent in his disappointing throughout the season and into the playoffs. What a waste of $2.5 million!

Richard Smehlik - Smehlik will never be that noticeable of a defenseman. The only kind of check he throws is a pokecheck, he doesn't rack up Lidstrom-type numbers, and plays a conservative defensive game while his pair partner Alexei Zhitnik tried to assist offensively. When Smehlik has a good day, he'll play mistake-free hockey, playing positionally sound and being the sole defender against odd-man rushes while Zhitnik's caught pinching in the offensive zone. Unfortunately, Smehlik has his occasional bad game where he gets caught out of place, turns the puck over and is unable to maintain adequate defensive zone coverage. The pairing of Zhitnik and Smehlik was so bad at times that Lindy Ruff no longer could stand keeping their All-European pairing together and thus broke them up for the second half of the season and even in the playoffs. This season, Smehlik was the better half of the expired pair with Alexei Zhitnik. Even if he didn't pinch as much as Zhitnik or log excessive power play time, Smehlik still was able to score as many goals as Zhitnik and play more responsible defensively. He'll always be an underrated defenseman, never getting as much credit as he deserves and only seeming to be noticed when he makes a poor defensive play and the same held true for this season.

Jay McKee - Missing the beginning of the season due to a hold-out, McKee returned to the Sabres lineup with fire and tenacity in his debut game of the season against the Phoenix Coyotes. Unfortunately, his hitting game was absent the rest of the season. After Rhett Warrener was traded to Buffalo last March, McKee and Warrener formed the Sabres most physical tandem. They fed off each other in the hitting department throughout the rest of the 1998-99 regular season and into the playoffs. This year, with Warrener being injured for a good part of the season and not stepping up his physical game, the physical element from McKee's game plunged contiguously. Early in the season, McKee struggled. He had a tendency to play the body instead of the puck and thus found himself out of position frequently. He also turned over the puck more than he should early on. In one early-season game in Montreal, it cost his team the hockey game. McKee got better as the season progressed. Surprisingly, during the final stretch of the season, McKee evolved into more of an offensive force than a prime-time hitter that he's marked out to be. How he added the offensive element to his game is beyond me, especially for a player who went a long stretch of over a year without scoring a single goal. Late in the season, he contributed in the offensive zone, firing the puck from the point and jumping up from the point to the slot for the open shot. It worked as he scored as many goals this season than he scored in his entire professional career in the NHL and AHL. I predict next season to be a break-out year for McKee. He has all the tools - can hit, clear the crease, play sound defensively, blocks shots, and even contribute offensively - now all he needs to do is put the package together and he'll be the Sabres most complete defenseman and emerge into a poor man's Chris Pronger.

Rhett Warrener - Last season, Rhett showed promise after coming to Buffalo from Florida in the Mike Wilson trade. He played fierce, aggressive hockey along with defensive partner Jay McKee in the final weeks of the season and in the playoffs. This season, Warrener was anything but that. He suffered numerous injuries throughout the course of the season and that probably was the chief cause for his declined physical play. Even Mike Wilson, the big but physically shy defenseman, played more physical for Florida than Warrener did here. While Warrener did have his occasional defensive breakdown, all-in-all Warrener played well in his own end for most of the season while healthy. I still am disappointed because he was not the physical warrior that he was when we first acquired him. Assessed as a crease-clearing defenseman, he was anything but that late in the season and in the playoffs. While he did occasionally stick up for his teammates, he didn't agitate like did the previous season. Warrener needs to pave the way for defensive partner Jay McKee so they can feed off one another physically a la last season. That was one element missing from both Warrener and McKee's respective games this season.

Jason Woolley - After arguably his best season as a Buffalo Sabre, Jason Woolley felt he got a raw deal from the arbitrator's settlement on his contract agreement last summer. He demanded roughly $1.5 million and wasn't even awarded a million. When the team was struggling, they lacked offensive production from their blueline and Woolley was a major part of the Sabres disappointing blueline production. After a tremendous playoffs the year before, Woolley only managed to come on strong offensively towards the end of the season. Unfortunately, it was at this time that he struggled defensively, missing defensive zone coverage assignments and not being on the same page as defensive partner James Patrick. When the Sabres defense fell through on their Western road trip in San Jose and Vancouver, Woolley's defensive breakdowns costed his team substantially. Woolley's biggest disappointment was on the power play where he struggled all season. In last year's playoffs, Woolley led the power play to new heights, but along with Woolley the Sabres PP came crashing down to rock-bottom status this season. Much like Alexei Zhitnik who played the other point on the power play for most of the season, Woolley hesitated with the puck when he had a good look at the net and when he did shoot the puck, his accuracy was on-par with Zhitnik's. Woolley has proven to utilize his skills and be an underrated two-way defenseman. He did show streaks of his offensive capabilities at times this season, but not on a consistent basis. One thing is for certain though, he best stay away from arbitration this time around because his numbers and play are one notch below that of last season where he could only muster $950,000 from the arbitrator.

James Patrick - Patrick was acquired last season to fulfill the role of a steady, veteran depth defenseman. He was at his essence in last year's playoffs where he played rock-solid. What a difference one year makes. Patrick for the most part was a steady blueliner during the course of the regular season, but was a surprising disappointment in the playoffs against the Philadelphia Flyers. With Zhitnik, Smehlik, McKee, Warrener, and Woolley filling out the top five defensive spots and JLGP, Campbell and Kalinin on the rise, Patrick will be the odd man out (probably not next year, but likely the year afterwards). For the most part, he's been a steady sixth d-man over the last two years, but his time may be up. Because the Sabres are likely to lose at least one of their regular rearguards in the expansion draft if they protect both Hasek and Biron, Patrick might be able to salvage another year in Buffalo. But with JLGP proving his worth in Buffalo and Campbell and Kalinin another year or two away, next season may be Patrick's last in Buffalo. Even after his late-season struggles and sub-par playoff performance, Patrick continues to be a reliable veteran defenseman who will probably remain a Buffalo Sabre for one more year, especially if we lose a regular blueliner in the expansion draft.

Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre - Playing most of the season in Rochester, JLGP filled in at the start of the season while a few of the regulars were holding-out. He was recalled once after during a stretch of time between late February and mid-March while injuries were kicking in to Rhett Warrener and Alexei Zhitnik, but never found his niche during the regular season for the Sabres. Because of the unspectacular play of Jason Holland late in the season, Lindy Ruff decided to give the energetic JLGP a chance in the playoffs. As it turned out, Grand-Pierre was our most physical defenseman in the playoff series against the Flyers. Grand-Pierre is an up-tempo player who can skate like the wind and play as aggressive as anyone. The major downside to his competitive game is his defensive responsibility. After some grooming in Rochester, Lindy Ruff wanted JLGP to play a more conservative game while filling in for regular defensemen. Thus, Grand-Pierre was more responsible defensively but you could tell he wasn't the same JLGP as we saw terrorize the ice last year. It wasn't until in the playoffs against the Flyers when he started picking up the physical element of his game. With the Sabres likely to protect both Hasek and Biron in the expansion draft, now that JLGP's through playing his third professional season he could very well be expansion bait for Minnesota or Columbus.

Jason Holland - Career minor leaguer. With the Sabres already having six established defensemen currently playing for the Sabres and JLGP, Campbell and Kalinin being potential future defensemen, the only chance Jason Holland has of playing another game with the Buffalo Sabres is if the team needs a temporary replacement. Holland has his good nights and his bad nights. When he has a good night, he plays much like Richard Smehlik. Doesn't hit, doesn't contribute offensively, just plays a conservative stay-at-home game. When he's off his game, like he has been for most of his time during his late-season call-ups, he is the biggest impediment we have defensively. He'll get caught flat-footed, turn the puck over, miss defensive zone assignments, and shoot the puck in without gaining the red line causing an icing. He just is not NHL material. Despite his inconsistent regular season play, I will give him credit for filling in quite nicely for game five in the playoff series against the Flyers. Like usual he didn't stand out but didn't make any bone-head mistakes that we've seen him make during the course of the regular season.



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