It's easy to look ahead to the opening of the NHL season. The teams have played their share of preseason games. They've thinned training camp down to the core guys and the top prospects. Just drop the puck already.
Darcy Regier, though, isn't ready. The Buffalo Sabres general manager thinks this final week of training camp is just as vital as eight days from now, when the regular season starts.
"I have no desire to get ahead of ourselves or can hardly wait till the start of the season," Regier said Thursday in HSBC Arena. "For me, these are important days."
Regier is still looking to evaluate players, get to know them better and see where their skills fit. He wants more conversations with the coaches, to hear their thoughts on individual players and team dynamics.
"It's an opportunity to learn, and I think we need that time," Regier said.
The Sabres play their final two preseason games this weekend, traveling to Montreal on Saturday and Toronto on Sunday. While the team is looking to improve its 3-0-1 record, Regier is looking at who should be on the team when the games really count.
"It's making the right choices on the personnel front," he said. "Collectively, we need to get that right and get a good start."
The Sabres have their starting forwards penciled in, at least on the top three lines. Coach Lindy Ruff said between practices Thursday that he anticipates Tim Connolly centering left wing Clarke MacArthur and right wing Jason Pominville. Derek Roy figures to be flanked by Thomas Vanek and Drew Stafford. Paul Gaustad has looked good with
wingers Jochen Hecht and Mike Grier.
"I initially would like to start the season that way," Ruff said.
That scenario would likely leave out prospects Tim Kennedy and Nathan Gerbe, whose skills are more suited to scoring lines than fourth-line checking roles. But they shouldn't give up hope yet. Regier doesn't want to commit to a lineup with so much time before the Oct. 3 opener against Montreal.
"It's too early to tell," Regier said. "Because of the level of competitiveness in camp, it's really important not to filter things. We do anyway, but to limit the biases we might have . . . and to remain open-minded and be as objective to the decisions as we can because they need to be right."
Regier still wants chats with the amateur scouts to see if players like Tyler Myers are better suited for juniors or the NHL. He wants talks with the pro scouts to see if guys such as Kennedy and Gerbe are ready to leave the minors for the next level.
"You need the diversity of information coming from different areas," Regier said. "In the end, I think you're respectful of those situations, and they all weigh in."
It's clear by Ruff's words certain players have established an edge through the first two weeks of training camp.
"If you look at the numbers, not a lot [of spots are available]," Ruff said. "But there's some players you're always looking at, and we've always been a team that a player that's impressed you, you end up putting that in your pocket knowing that you've got a player that can fit in and play a certain role, and that player eventually pushes himself into the lineup."
Ruff has decided to move Vanek back with Roy after a failed experiment alongside Connolly and Pominville. Roy has been Vanek's center for most of their pro careers.
"If you look at what Timmy, Van and Pommer have done five-on-five in the preseason, there hasn't been a lot there," Ruff said. "The Detroit game, when Clarke MacArthur went up on left wing and Thomas got away from the other team's top line and played on the other line, we instantly got a little chemistry going."
MacArthur has apparently separated himself from his prime contenders on the left wing, Gerbe and Daniel Paille.
"Clarke has done a nice job," Ruff said. "He had 17 goals. You put him in a position where he feels like he's getting a good offensive opportunity, it's an opportunity for him to move forward of where he was at last year."
Ruff echoed Regier in saying no one should slack off yet.
"The competition is there," Ruff said. "It's there every year. It puts players in tough positions, but I think they need to feel that. They need to feel that they really need to do something to be in the lineup or to make the team."