Monday, June 11, 2012

A (really late) take on the Alexander Sulzer signing

I haven't written anything for a really, really long time, and since the next Sabres New Media Summit (aka "Basement Brigade 3.0") is tonight, I ought to do something about that.  As a means of reintroducing myself, I want to talk about the resigning of Alexander Sulzer for a bit.

It's fair to say that Sulzer was probably considered a throwaway part of the Zack Kassian for Cody Hodgson swap.  My theory was that Hogdson was considered the overall better (or, at the very least, more NHL-ready) player, so the Sabres made up for that gap by tossing in the sure-to-not-be-resigned Marc-Andre "Tire Fire" Gragnani for the similarly soon-to-be free agent Sulzer. Surely the allegedly talented Gragnani was considered a better player than a dude who was Vancouver's 19th-best d-man and only cracked the lineup for 12 games, right?

Except that wasn't the case at all.  Sulzer proved to be a pleasant surprise, playing generally solid in his own zone and even contributing to the offense on occasion.  He sort of reminded me of Chris Butler in his rookie year - you know, before Butler started to suck.  Meanwhile, as far as I can tell Gragnani had the same impact in the City of Smug Self-Entitlement that he did in Buffalo: offensively promising, yet defensively clueless and ultimately infuriating.

So, for not being Marc-Andre Gragnani, the Sabres rewarded their lowest-paid German with a one-year, $725,000 deal. Nothing earth-shattering, nothing that guarantees a team a Cup run.  But if nothing else, it's a nice midpoint to a feel-good story - you're better than we thought, kid, so here's an opportunity to prove what you're really capable of.  Now go get it.

But speaking of kids, that brings me to the one caveat I have with this deal: his name is Brayden McNabb.

You may remember December '11 as a whirling vortex of suck, especially after Tyler Myers went down with a broken wrist. The Sabres couldn't score, couldn't defend, couldn't get a competent performance between the pipes.  McNabb got his first call-up in late November in the midst of all this and was one of the few bright spots on the team, what with his highlight-reel hits and his... highlight-reel hits.  All kidding aside: although it was McNabb's path of destruction that got him noticed, for a 20-year-old he was pretty darn responsible in his own end as well. After watching him for a few games, I decided I needed Brayden McNabb on the big club next year - to borrow a phrase I once used on Tyler Ennis, "I can't wait to see this for 82 games next season."

Problem is, there's sort of a logjam at the blueline already.  The top four defensemen (Myers, Leopold, Regehr, Ehrhoff) are clealy entrenched - barring injury, they will remain the top four.  I  expected that, at worst, McNabb would fill the #7 defenseman's role; Sulzer's presence now means that McNabb will have to leapfrog two of Sekera, Weber, and Sulzer to crack the top six.  Having watched the Sabres likely wreck Luke Adam's career this past season by stashing him in the AHL for too long and then not giving him proper ice time when he does finally get a shot, I don't want McNabb to suffer the same fate.

Then again, maybe I'm overthinking it.  Perhaps Sulzer's signing means Mike Weber is suddenly expendable; McNabb plays a similar (some might say "better") physical style as Weber, and maybe the Sabres consider McNabb ready to replace Weber much like Marcus Foligno replaced Kassian's "physical" game (yes, quotes are necessary there) when he was sent to Vancouver.  Or maybe the Sabres are planning on losing eleventy billion D-men to injury once again this season.  I don't know.  Whatever the case, the Sabres' defense corps is better with Sulzer returning, and I'm rather pleased he'll be back - as long as it doesn't bode poorly for Brayden McNabb.

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