The competition for college free agents can be fierce, especially when they have the talent to become All-American defensemen. NHL clubs need to add special incentives to get deals done, which how the Sabres got Chad Ruhwedel.
The team signed the much-lauded D-man from UMass Lowell to a two-year contract today, and Ruhwedel will make his debut this afternoon against Philadelphia.
The promise of playing time lured Ruhwedel.
"It’s what you have to do to get the player signed now," Buffalo General Manager Darcy Regier said outside First Niagara Center. "You have to make a commitment to put him on your roster, and so you have to have a comfort level with them playing some games here. That’s really part of the package.
Mikhail Grigorenko and his girlfriend arrive at the airport in Quebec on Saturday. (Le Soleil photo)
By Mike Harrington
WASHINGTON -- We'll be heading over to the Verizon Center in a couple of hours for the Sabres' morning skate and to preview the expected return of Patrick Kaleta to the lineup tonight against the Capitals. Saw through Twitter a link to a story on Mikhail Grigorenko's return to Quebec (his lone remaining regular season game is this afternoon), and there's some pretty interesting French translation.
In the story, Grigorenko is gracious to the Sabres for the chance to play in the NHL, to veterans like Jason Pominville and Steve Ott for helping him through the season. He revels in the fact he got to play against the likes of Steven Stamkos and Ilya Kovalchuk.
During his pregame briefing with reporters today prior to the 3 p.m. faceoff against Ottawa, Sabres interim coach Ron Rolston made it pretty clear that the team's place near the bottom of the Eastern Conference was a key reason that T.J. Brennan was traded yesterday to Florida and Mikhail Grigorenko was shipped back to the Quebec Remparts. You want a firesale? The Sabres still seem to be shooting for eighth place.
"With where we were at as a team, it was difficult to give him an opportunity that he probably needed developmentally," Rolston said when asked about Grigorenko. "For our organization right now, the best thing for him would be to go play in the [Quebec League] playoffs get playoff experience, really be a really big part of that team and be in every situation."
Brennan couldn't find any ice time either and was dealt to Florida, where he will be reunited with Kevin Dineen, his former coach in Portland.
Mikhail Grigorenko just wasn't ready for big minutes with the Sabres, so General Manager Darcy Regier decided today the rookie center was better off getting prime ice time in the playoffs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
The Sabres have sent the 18-year-old back to the Quebec Remparts, but Regier feels Grigorenko learned a lot about what he needs to do to be an NHL player, which should benefit his future.
"I think this has been a very good thing," Regier said about Grigorenko's NHL debut season.
With the Sabres near the bottom of the NHL and the trade deadline approaching April 3, Regier said the team needs to find a way to acquire more good players. But ...
"I'm not in a blow-it-up mind-set," Regier said.
To hear all his thoughts, click the audio file below.
Mikhail Grigorenko's time in the NHL is up for now.
The Sabres have sent the rookie back to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. The move came less than an hour after a member of the Quebec Remparts told The News there had been no discussions between the Sabres and Remparts about Grigorenko returning.
"It is big news and big surprise for us," said a Remparts spokesman.
After a solid tryout period, Grigorenko became a spare part for the Sabres. He averaged 9:44 of ice time during his 22 games and recorded one goal and five points with a minus-2 rating.
The Remparts have just two regular-season games remaining before starting the playoffs. They are sixth in the 18-team league.
Early in the season, the Sabres debated whether to keep Grigorenko and use the first year of his entry-level contract or send him back to Quebec. They decided to keep the 18-year-old, who now has two years left on his deal.
After sitting out three games as a healthy scratch, Mikhail Grigorenko is back in the Sabres' lineup tonight. As he should be.
If the Sabres are going to miss the playoffs this year, the No. 1 draft pick should play. I want to see 12-14 minutes a game and some power play time. Not this fourth-line garbage. Even if the team starts to improve, Grigorenko should be seeing time over some veterans (see Hecht, Jochen).
Seems like interim coach Ron Rolston agrees.
"When we put him in there, we want him to be playing with some players that he can play with and make plays and build confidence," Rolston said today.
Guys were more talkative on the ice in First Niagara Center. They cheered their teammates during a session-ending shootout drill. They loudly complimented their goalies for big saves during the breakaways.
Yes, winning feels good. Now they just have to do it again.
Tyler Seguin celebrates his goal last week in Montreal. (Getty Images)
By Mike Harrington
Lindy Ruff has made several references this year to the Sabres' plan of using Mikhail Grigorenko as being similar to what the Bruins did during the 2010-11 season with winger Tyler Seguin.
Two years ago, a season he began at age 18, Seguin was a healthy scratch seven times during the regular season and scored 11 goals. But he really produced in the playoffs with a couple key goals in the Eastern Conference finals against Tampa -- and those came after he was scratched for every game in the first two rounds against Montreal and Philadelphia.
Last year, Seguin burst on the scene with 29 goals, 67 points and a plus-34 rating. So far this year, he hasn't been as good (two goals, six points, plus-8 in 11 games) but he still plays 17:46 a night.
I asked Boston coach Claude Julien today about the process of massaging young players through the early travails of their career and he said the Bruins had a distinct plan in mind.
OTTAWA -- The Sabres have hit the ice at Scotiabank Place for their pregame skate. As Lindy Ruff said this morning, Mikhail Grigorenko is back in his normal spot on the third line. One of the fourth liners will be a scratch. The lines look like this:
OTTAWA -- In his weekly appearance on WGR Radio this morning, coach Lindy Ruff announced that defenseman Tyler Myers and center Mikhail Grigorenko will return to the lineup tonight against the Ottawa Senators. Myers has been a healthy scratch the last two games while Grigorenko sat out Sunday against Boston.
There was no indication who will be coming out of the lineup. The Sabres are scheduled to skate at Scotiabank Place at 11:30.
Mikhail Grigorenko has been a surprise in the faceoff circle. (Getty Images)
By Mike Harrington
BOSTON -- The Sabres have to be quicker on the draw. That's become plainly obvious this season. But it could really be a major issue tonight.
Buffalo enters the game last in the NHL in faceoff percentage at 42 percent -- and the Boston Bruins are No. 1 at 60.7 percent. There's been plenty of chatter on Twitter in recent days over how significant the Sabres' troubles in the circle really are. I say it's one key problem to the season (although I would list lack of secondary scoring and poor play along the blueline as bigger trouble spots).
(*I acknowledge a decent argument can be made that six games is a small sample size, although I remind you it's already 12.5 percent of the season. And it also can be pointed out that the numbers might even out a little bit as well because 42 percent is historically bad; the last-place team in the league has never been under 44 percent since 1998.).
Let's start by comparing the two teams' numbers. The NHL lists faceoffs in wins-losses format so a team or player that's, say, 20-25 has won 20 and lost 25 and is NOT 20 OUT OF 25 (Going 20-25 essentially means 20 of 45).
Matt Frattin burns Jordan Leopold and Ryan Miller for the OT winner. (AP)
By Mike Harrington
The Sabres are off today, a concession to the new CBA that mandates far more time away from the ice than the old one. No way -- and I mean no way -- Lindy Ruff would have taken today off in the past. There are too many things to work on.
So the team is off to Boston later today and I'll be heading to the airport late this afternoon as well, with the next time on the ice coming at 11:30 a.m. Thursday for the morning skate in TD Garden. Still shaking my head about last night's 4-3 overtime loss to Toronto. Lots of little nuggets percolating in my mind:
The Sabres ended their morning skate today like they often do -- with coach Lindy Ruff calling them over to the boards across the rink from their bench for a quick chat. But as the group broke up, sticks were tapped on the ice and a few gloves face-washed rookie Mikhail Grigorenko in a form of hockey-team congratulations.
Ruff had just broken the news to the players that Sabres fans everywhere were waiting to hear: Grigorenko is staying in the NHL. He'll be in the lineup tonight against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
"It's really amazing news and I'm really happy and really excited," Grigorenko said. "It's a good step in my career and I'll do everything to show people they made the right choice."
General Manager Darcy Regier told The News Monday night that Grigorenko would likely have stayed in juniors this year had this been a regular 82-game season. But Regier said now that he's starred for half a season in the Quebec League and for Russia in the World Junior Championships, his NHL timetable was accelerated.
The Canadiens are keeping No. 3 overall pick Alex Galchenyuk. (Getty Images)
By Mike Harrington
The Sabres are still up in the air with Mikhail Grigorenko even though the decision to keep him in the NHL seems like a no-brainer from this view. He's talented, he's creative and he plays center -- an area this team is woefully thin at. You want to see Grigorenko or Matt Ellis? You want them to force Ville Leino back to center, as Lindy Ruff mused about today? Please.
Keep the kid.
Still, it's only been 50-50 among other NHL teams about keeping key junior eligibles or sending them back. Here's a quick rundown:
No decision on Mikhail Grigorenko yet. (Harry Scull/Buffalo News)
By Mike Harrington
The Sabres had an optional practice today in First Niagara Center, a clear result of the tight schedule that saw the club open the season with five games in eight days. Several players, notably the top-line forwards, stayed off the ice with what coach Lindy Ruff termed "light groins" and Ruff said it was more important for them to be rested for tomorrow's visit by the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Two guys who took the ice, however, garnered most of the day's attention. Rookie Mikhail Grigorenko had a full practice, even working on faceoffs with assistant coach Kevyn Adams, and Thomas Vanek skated in several drills after missing Sunday's loss in Washington with a muscle strain believed to be in his back or rib cage.
Grigorenko said the Sabres have yet to tell him if he's staying in the NHL or returning to his junior team in Quebec. Ruff said he was optimistic Vanek would return to the lineup tomorrow.
"It's like burning a game," Ruff admitted when I asked if it might have been better to simply scratch Grigorenko rather than dress him and not use him. Ruff then admitted that getting the rookie added practice time might be in the cards, so the team isn't forced into a decision just yet.
John Vogl has been covering the Sabres since 2002-03, an era that has included playoff runs, last-place finishes and three ownership changes. The award-winning writer is the Buffalo chapter chairman for the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.
Mike Harrington, a Canisius College graduate who began his career as a News reporter in 1987, has been covering the Buffalo Sabres since 2007. He is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association and can vouch that exposed flesh freezes instantly when walking in downtown Winnipeg in January.
Amy Moritz, a native of Lockport, has a bachelor’s degree in journalism/mass communication from St. Bonaventure University and a master’s degree in humanities from the University at Buffalo. An endurance athlete, she has completed several triathlons, half marathons and marathons.