The young guys and roster long shots walked out of HSBC Arena on Friday, a trip to Portland and the American Hockey League on their agenda. Ales Kotalik surveyed the 25 players who remained in the Buffalo Sabres' dressing room. He wasn't surprised by whom he saw.
"This is the team we kind of expected it was going to be," the forward said. "It was tough for young guys. Some of them had a really good training camp, and it's good to know for the organization that they have guys playing in Portland that can immediately step in, and as well it's a good feeling for the future of the organization.
"I think the team is strong whoever stays here. We just have to prove it starting next Friday."
The Sabres sent eight players to the minor leagues, leaving them two over the NHL roster limit of 23. It gives them a much better idea of who will be skating against Montreal on Friday when the 2008-09 season opens.
"We have a good mix of players and styles, a good bunch of guys who get along together and are comfortable with each other," defenseman Teppo Numminen said. "I'm excited."
Not everyone who is still in town can exhale. The Sabres have to trim at least one more player, and they could trim more.
Center Paul Gaustad, who underwent thumb surgery Tuesday, said Friday he could be out four to six weeks (that is longer than the original estimate of three to four weeks). He likely will start the season on injured reserve. Players on IR do not count toward the roster, so the Sabres need to rid themselves of one skater before the puck drops to get to 23.
The reason there could be more departures is the staff hasn't decided how many players to keep. The Sabres had 20 two seasons ago when they were constrained by the salary cap. Last year, they usually had 22, with 13 forwards, seven defensemen and two goaltenders.
Right now, they have 14 forwards (excluding Gaustad), eight defensemen and two goalies.
"That's something we're going to discuss, but right now I don't know," coach Lindy Ruff said of how many players will be in Buffalo opening night.
One near certainty is a defenseman will be on the move. The Sabres dress six, and Ruff doesn't want two on the sidelines.
"A coach would prefer to have six, but we've got eight, and we've got to deal with it," he said. "When you have the extra 'D' at the start of the year, it makes it tough on a couple players."
Mike Weber is the leading candidate to go to Portland, simply because he can. The second-year pro would not have to clear waivers while most of the others would. Andrej Sekera is also eligible for the minors, but the organization is enamored with his potential and offensive skills.
"We haven't made any decision on who's going to be in the top six," Ruff said.
Two bubble forwards who survived Friday's roster purge were Clarke MacArthur and newcomer Matt Ellis. Ruff said MacArthur and fellow winger Drew Stafford need to show something during Sunday's preseason finale in Detroit.
"I'd like to see a little more out of Clarke," Ruff said. "I think maybe he's feeling a little bit of pressure. I'd like to see more out of Staff at the same time. Those are two guys right there that I think we're looking for good two-way numbers out of, good offensive numbers and good play away from the puck."
Ellis, picked up on waivers from Los Angeles this week, is benefiting from a pair of injuries at center ice. In addition to Gaustad, the Sabres also are without center Tim Connolly. He has missed the past four preseason games, plus Friday's practice, with a sore back. He is doubtful for Sunday, which gives Ellis another look.
Ellis played 54 games with Detroit and L.A. last year, with three goals and five assists. The 27-year-old native of Welland, Ont., is excited to get a chance with a team he saw in person while growing up.
"When I got the phone call I was ecstatic," the 6-foot, 207-pound Ellis said. "I knew there would be teams looking at this point, but at this stage of the game there's a lot of teams whose rosters are full. There are guys like me who are bubble players battling for spots at camp."
The battle continues, but not for forwards Nathan Gerbe, Tim Kennedy, Marek Zagrapan, Mark Mancari, Mathieu Darche and Dylan Hunter, or for defensemen Chris Butler and Michael Funk. They were the eight players demoted, with Mancari and Darche needing to clear waivers.
Gerbe had several stellar moments in camp, including his second goal Thursday against Columbus. But the organization likes to start first-year players in the minors.
"He's had a good camp," Ruff said. "There's parts of his game that need improvement. I've liked some of the things he's done. It was a good showing for a first camp."