29th place visits 30th place today at the First Niagara Center this evening. I got a hold of Die By The Blade's Andy Boron to get the dirty low down.
On with the quesiton making.
Jeff Chapman, Copper and Blue: Tell me a little bit about Mikhail Grigorenko. Here's a guy that the Sabres traded up to get in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, he's been on the opening day roster twice, and twice he's been sent down to Québec after the nine-game trial period, effectively killing the first two years of his deal. Next year is his contract year. There was some press about how Grigorenko (justifiably) didn't want to return to the QMJHL for the second year in a row, he eventually went. Why did this happen? What's the future for this former first round draft choice?
Andy Boron, Die By The Blade: Grigorenko has been horribly mismanaged by the Sabres front office since the beginning. Former Sabres GM Darcy Regier signed Grigorenko to his ELC and promoted him to the NHL way too early in the hopes that the kid might surprise everyone and help Regier keep his job. Of course, Grigorenko couldn't hang with NHL competition, but he was also too good for the QMJHL, and thanks to the NHL-CHL agreement, he can't play in the AHL, which is really where he belongs. After many recalls, failed conditioning assignments, and healthy scratches, the 19-year-old simply got fed up with the way he was being handled, and it's tough to blame him. He never knew where he stood with the organization, and with his World Juniors stint this year, he had played for an astonishing seven head coaches in the year 2013. It's still too early to give up on Grigorenko, but his development looks like it will take a lot longer than some folks anticipated.
JC: The Sabres have scored 105 goals in 54 games, averaging just about 1.95 goals per game. The team with the next-fewest goals (New Jersey) has 132 on the year. What's the biggest reason the Sabres have trouble scoring goals?
AB: They don't have any talent? In all seriousness, the Sabres "top line" this year has at times included players like Ville Leino, Marcus Foligno, Brian Flynn, Matt D'Agostini, Steve Ott, and Linus Omark - I'll forgive you if you've never heard of at least two of those players. Aside from Matt Moulson, Cody Hodgson, and Tyler Ennis, of which only Moulson is a bona fide "top line guy", the Sabres simply have no real offensive threats. I think their offensive struggles can best be summed up by the fact that John Scott saw legitimate power play time for two games this season. That last sentence was not a typo.
JC: Who has been this team's biggest surprise so far this year? Biggest disappointment?
AB: The biggest surprise has been Zemgus Girgensons. The 20-year-old Latvian rookie is the ultimate high-motor player (something Buffalonians cherish above all else) and has shown enough offensive skill that we can dream about having our own David Backes or Ryan Callahan with another year or two of growth and development. The biggest disappointment has to be Ville Leino, a man who's being paid $4.5 million this year (and for the next three) and has ZERO GOALS through 37 games. Even John Scott has scored one, dude. The saddest thing is that the Sabres might not use a compliance buyout on Leino this offseason because they'll need to spend in excess of $20 million more next season just to reach the cap floor.
JC: Ryan Miller has been your team's MVP so far this season. Ryan Miller has been so good for the Sabres, that if Buffalo were near the league average in scoring goals per game, they'd be flirting with a playoff berth. His stock is probably at the highest level it can possibly be right now. Will Buffalo trade Ryan Miller in the upcoming weeks, or will we see him get re-signed to finish his career in Buffalo? Is backup Jhonas Enroth ready to backstop the team full time?
AB: That is a very dicey proposition at this point. Although Enroth was selected to Sweden's Olympic team, he's been incredibly streaky for the Sabres over the course of his career, and this whole season he's been mired in a losing streak. Enroth is 1-10-5 with a .905 save percentage and a 2.87 GAA. Had he been the Sabres top goalie this season, I seriously doubt the team would have more than 25 points. Ryan Miller has been incredible, and joy to watch in this midst of this tire fire; he's the only thing that's been keeping the Sabres afloat for much of the season, and when he inevitably leaves, the worst team in the league will become far, far less competitive.
JC: If the Sabres pick first overall in the 2014 Entry Draft, who do you pick? In your opinion, what is Buffalo's greatest need?
AB: The Sabres are in desperate, terrible need of top line offensive talent, so either Reinhart or Bennet looks like the pick. I'd be shocked if they took Ekblad, but it would give the organization an incredible nucleus of top young defensemen along with Rasmus Ristolainen, Nikita Zadorov, Mark Pysyk, and Tyler Myers. Even without Ekblad, we're already fantasy-booking the defensive pairings for the 2016 season.
JC: Finally, the Oilers don't see the Sabres very often during the year. Tell us about a player or two that we should keep an eye on.
AB: Aside from the aforementioned Girgensons (he'll be the one cannonballing around the ice like a madman) I would keep an eye on big defenseman Tyler Myers. He's had a long road back to respectability after his Calder-winning rookie season, but he's finally starting to round back in to form. He was a very young man thrust into a position of import and was given a massive contract boost, and played the past few season like you'd expect a too-rich-too-soon 22-year-old to play. Over the past two months, he's started to show that talent he flashed in his rookie season, but the Sabres need him to learn how to play like that for an entire season if he's every going to live up to his contract.