When Sabres training camp opens next week, at least 16 forwards are likely to think they will earn a starting job. One problem: Only 12 are available.
The Sabres simply have too many forwards capable of playing in the NHL (though the effectiveness of each is open to debate). The Sabres enter September having failed to weed out their numbers, so competition for the 12 starting jobs will be a major focus when the players return to HSBC Arena.
The top six spots are virtually assured. Tim Connolly figures to center left wing Thomas Vanek and right wing Jason Pominville, while Derek Roy is likely to be in the middle of Jochen Hecht and the still-unsigned Drew Stafford. Hecht’s performance and stock dropped last season, but he has a staunch supporter in coach Lindy Ruff, who likely will start the left winger in a prominent role to see if he can rebound.
The third and fourth lines are expected to feature the fiercest competition. Center Paul Gaustad and right wing Mike Grier seem to form a formidable pair for the third unit, leaving the left wing spot open (though this is where I'd put Hecht). Patrick Kaleta is effective in his fourth-line agitator role, but there’s no clear-cut favorite to be his center and left winger.
There certainly are plenty of candidates, though.
Four returning veterans are among the contenders: Adam Mair, Daniel Paille, Clarke MacArthur and Matt Ellis. Three hopefuls are intent on jumping from the American Hockey League to the big leagues: Tim Kennedy, Nathan Gerbe and Mark Mancari.
Something’s got to give.
Here's what I'd go with to start:
Ellis would be fine as the 13th forward, while I'd see what a package including MacArthur and Paille would bring.