Free Agency AHL Vets Could Complete the Amerks Lineup

The Hockey Holiday of July 1st has come early for Buffalo Sabres fans with the signings of free agent defensemen Robyn Regehr and Christian Ehrhoff, something almost unheard of in June out of Buffalo.  The monster contract of 10yrs and $40 million for Ehrhoff is proof that Pegula isn’t messing around and that Darcy Regier is capable of making big moves.

We should be expecting a great group of Sabres prospects in Rochester next season but the roster still has some openings in it, openings that could be filled by some of the AHL’s best veterans.  The salary of an AHL veteran can range anywhere from $105,000 to $500,000 (a one way deal but the player knows they’ll be sent down).  The fact that Pegula was willing to put $40 million on the line for a top notch NHL defenseman we (Amerks fans) can only hope that the dollar amounts for an AHL veteran equals couch cushion change for the Pegula family.

In the American Hockey League teams are allowed to have five veterans.  A veteran is (according to the PHPA), “a Player, other than a goaltender, who has played in 301 or more regular season games of professional hockey (including NHL, AHL, CHL, ECHL, IHL, UHL, or European professional games in equivalent Leagues).”  Unless the rules have changed, which I haven’t seen anything saying they have, a team can also have one exempt veteran and an exempt veteran is someone who has played in more than 260 games but less than the 301.

The 2009/2010 season was a season where Amerks fans saw players like Graham Mink, Jeff Taffe, Jamie Johnson, Mike York, Chris Taylor and Rory Fitzpatrick all fill out the roster. That same season is one where the Amerks made the playoffs but were not able to defeat the Abbotsford Heat in the first round. Some parts of that season saw some exciting hockey, other parts of the season not so much. It was clear though that those players made the world of a difference.

Looking at what the Rochester will likely be in October shows that there’s a need for at least two centers.  Right now the only centers on the roster are Luke Adam and Travis Turnbull.  Adam was the AHL Rookie of the Year last season, safe to say he should be great his sophomore season.  Turnbull had five goals and four assists in 20 games for the Portland Pirates.  Paul Byron would have been a third center but was part of the trade to the Calgary Flames that brought Robyn Regehr to the Sabres.

A huge splash in the free agent market for an AHL team would be to land Alexandre Giroux. In 70 games last season for the Oklahoma City Barons he scored 32 goals along with 46 assists.  Giroux had signed a one way deal worth $500k with the Edmonton Oilers with hopes of making it to the NHL full time, he played in eight games for the Oilers.

Another top notch center would be Jason Krog.  Would he leave the Chicago Wolves?  Not sure, I seem to recall at one point he preferred to stay in the mid west which is why he’s only played for the Wolves and Manitoba Moose in recent seasons.  Krog played in all 80 games last season for the Wolves scoring 19 goals and 56 assists. At a $550k salary last season though he’d be another dream.

Put either of those two players on a top line with Zack Kassian and Marcus Foligno and who knows what the possibilities would be.  You could even swap out one of those two players with Luke Adam, assuming he’d play wing as well.

Looking at the right wing side of the ice only Zack Kassian, Corey Tropp, and Shawn Szydlowski are expected at that position.  Shawn Szydlowski has put up some good numbers in juniors (41 goals 37 assists in 66 games during 2010/11) with the Erie Otters but how well that’ll convert in the AHL is a different story.

Ryan Keller who just won the Calder Cup with the Binghamton Senators would be a top pick to fill out that side of the ice.  He had 32 goals and 19 assists in 71 regular season games. During the playoffs he scored 10 goals with 15 assists in 23 games.  A proven winger with a Cup under his wing.  Not only would he be a great asset in the AHL but he’d also be someone that could be called up if needed.

With the acquisition of Ales Kotalik by the Buffalo Sabres there’s also a chance he could be sent down if he doesn’t crack the Sabres lineup.  The Sabres have already said they do not plan on buying him out and that he will be competing for a job.  Assuming he reports and doesn’t plan to go oversea’s he’d be a decent addition.

On the left side of the ice the only left wingers listed are Marcus Foligno and Jacob Lagace. The number one pick for a left winger would be Rochester native Derek Whitmore.  There’s the obvious reason of him being from Rochester but he’s also a great player.  He had a career season with the Pirates last year scoring 27 goals and 20 assists while playing in all 80 regular season games. During the 2010/11 season he only made $50k in the American Hockey League, a steal for that position.

Moving over to the defense currently penciled in are Brayden McNabb, TJ Brennan, Drew Schiestel, Alex Biega, and Dennis Persson. Not exactly the in your face defense that can win a Calder Cup in the AHL.  Could this group surprise us?  Of course.  At this time though signing a veteran defenseman (like the Sabres have done) would be a game changer.

A few players that come to mind are Andrew Hutchinson, Rob Davison, Andre Benoit, Dean Arsene, or Bryan Rodney.  Andre Benoit was another member of the Binghamton Senators Calder Cup team, get him and Keller together on the same team and maybe they could help bring the magic that the Senators saw this past season.  Any of these defenseman would likely be looking for a standard two way contract and each one of them would be worth it.

The next position to look at is who will be starting in goal.  It’s all going to be based on who the Sabres decide will backup Ryan Miller.  Jhonas Enroth stepped up in Buffalo when needed and was able to prove he can play in the NHL.  It’s unlikely the Sabres will want to push Miller to play close to 70 games but is Miller ready to play less and give Enroth more time?  We’ll see if the Sabres sign a goalie early on in free agency.

The Sabres did renew the contract of Williamsville native David Leggio.  He won 22 games and lost 12 for the Portland Pirates last season with a 2.80 GAA and 0.911 save percentage.  Pretty good numbers.

How he works into the Sabres long term plans could determine what they do at the AHL level.  Five top goalies available on the free agent market are Brent Krahn, Curtis Sanford, Mark Dekanich, Anton Khudobin, and Drew MacIntyre.  Any one of those goalies is known around the AHL and could help lead a team to wins.  They’d also be players that could be called upon in the NHL and no one would think anything bad of it.

Are there bits and pieces missing?  Likely but that gives fans a good idea of what we should expect.  Thanks to the guys on Rochester Sports Fan for gathering most of this information.