The Sabres have tried to add size to their organization during the last three drafts. They knew they needed to add bulk to their crop of small, speedy players, so heights and weights got judged along with goals and assists.
Yet when last season ended, their top two centers were 5-foot-9 and the third was a 185-pound rookie.
As Buffalo heads toward the 2012 NHL draft this weekend, it's little surprise size and centers are still a topic of discussion. Either through the selection process or trades, the Sabres hope to improve their standing in the middle when the 30 teams meet in Pittsburgh on Friday and Saturday.
"If there is a position that we're focused in on it's probably in the middle still," Buffalo General Manager Darcy Regier said. "Tyler Ennis obviously did an excellent job, and so did Cody Hodgson. Derek Roy is a known commodity. You can look at a size factor, and that's certainly one area we're looking in."
Given the wide-ranging views on the order of talent and most teams' philosophy of fluidity heading into the weekend, prevailing opinions have this being an active draft from a trade standpoint. Regier says the Sabres will try to be active, but not in every situation.
Regier says he's eschewing "quick fix" theories. Players entering the final year of their contract are not high on his list, especially if they would cost the Sabres part of their draft bounty. The team has two first-round picks (Nos. 12 and 21) and two second-rounders (Nos. 42 and 44 overall).
"I'm not talking about a one-year fix or a player that is going to be looking at becoming an unrestricted free agent and you don't think you're going to have the ability to sign and keep, then you're going to lean more toward the draft," Regier said. "If you have the opportunity to add someone who's either under contract or is a high-profile player at a reasonable – whatever reasonable accounts for these days – cost, then certainly that's something we'll pursue."
If the Sabres can't move their picks, there are plenty of centers available. NHL Central Scouting has seven centers in the top 18 overall among North American skaters. The top-rated European, Sweden's Filip Forsberg, is also a middle man.
"If you want to get a center, this is the year to probably do that," said Kevin Devine, the Sabres' director of amateur scouting.
A number of highly ranked centers come with a caveat, however. Some teams are worried that Russians such as Mikhail Grigorenko (No. 3 in North American rankings) and Vyacheslav Osnovin (13th-ranked European) could prefer their homeland's Kontinental Hockey League over the NHL.
"The problem is these guys hit a bump in the road, it's very easy … there's so much money in the KHL right now, it's very easy for those guys to say, ‘I'll take my $5 million and I'll go play in Russia for two or three years, and then I'll come back,'" Devine said. "Well, it never becomes that easy." ...
Given the Sept. 15 expiration of the collective bargaining agreement, there may not be a 2012-13 season. There will be a schedule, however.
The NHL is expected to announce the 2012-13 schedule this morning. The Sabres have requested fewer back-to-back games after leading the league or being near the top of the category the previous two seasons.
Teams visit some out-of-conference foes every other season. This year, the Sabres will make trips to Phoenix, Los Angeles, Calgary, Edmonton, Dallas and Colorado, among other Western Conference cities.
The Sabres have announced they will play seven preseason games, including three in First Niagara Center. The Sabres will open the exhibition schedule Sept. 24 in Montreal. They will host Boston on Sept. 26, welcome Toronto to town Sept. 28 and close the preseason with a visit by Columbus on Oct. 6. All the home games will have a 7 p.m. start.