Fact is, there will be some tough teams in the Northeast Division and the Sabres' skill players will need at least a few tough guys to keep the opposition in check.
The Ottawa Senators just signed a tough, 4th-line centerman (who happened to be 4th in the league in faceoff percentage wins) to a one-year contract--Zenon Konopka--giving the team some tough customers to deal with.
Konopka is 6', 210 lbs. Not exactly a heavyweight in terms of size, but he lead the league in fights over the last two seasons dropping the gloves 58 times.
He joins Sabres-nemesis Chris Neil (6' 1", 215 lbs,) re-signed fourth-liner Zack Smith (6' 2", 210 lbs.) and big-dog Matt Carkner at 6'4", 230 lbs, as Sens With Attitude.
That's a lot of beef and aggression skating for the Sens, and they know their role. "I would put our team, toughness-wise, against anybody else, that’s for sure,” said Konopka, 30. “It’s going to be good for the young players, our skilled guys ... definitely make them more comfortable. It’s going to be a fun year. I’m pretty pumped.”
Buffalo Isn't Exactly Milquetoast, But They Could Use Some Ummph!!!
Where does that leave Buffalo on the toughness scale?
Who knows, but Boston is anything but wimpy with the likes of Zdeno Chara, Milan Lucic, Shawn Thorton and Adam McQuaid roaming the ice.
And in Toronto, Leafs GM,
(blaring trumpets sound)
(you may all rise from your knees now)
is still hellbent upon truculence, testosterone, pugnacity and belligerence as well as any other slogans he can sell to Leaf-nation.
The Sabres counter with recently acquired Robyn Regehr to go along with Mike Weber and Cody McCormick, both recently re-signed to multi-year contracts.
Three is good, but four may be better.
Right now on the fourth line at RW is well-known pest Patrick Kaleta and it would be safe to assume--based upon his style of play and past record--that Patty K. will more than likely miss quite a few games due to injury.
There's really no reason why the team couldn't give him a break and trot out a tough-guy in his place.
Take a look at what happened in the Stanley Cup Finals this past season. Tough-guy Shawn Thorton took to the ice in Game-3 after teammate Nathan Horton was laid out and lost for the series in Game-2. With the Bruins down 2-0 in the series, and Vancouver prancing around like giddy little punks, Thorton's presence allowed the Bruins to get their mojo on. Boston outscored Vancouver 21-3 while winning four of the next five games and the team won their first Cup in nearly 40 years.
Right now the Sabres don't have a player like that on the team up-front, except for maybe McCormick.
Zack Kassian Would Seem To Be the Answer, Maybe
Ya gotta believe that 1st-round pick (13th overall, 2009) Zack Kassian is looked upon to add a strong, physical element to the team up-front.
Expectations remain high for the kid, with fans and media looking at Kassian as a Wendell Clark/Milan Lucic-type force on the ice. Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News wrote this about Kassian today, "There is no player in the Sabres organization like him, a physical specimen more than willing to check and fight who can also fill the net." (We're not sure if Harrington has managed to get his tongue back in his mouth, nor are we sure what the cleaning bill will be for his drool-fest.)
Kassian has promise, but despite his success in junior, the jump to the pros is huge and from the skill side of the equation, Kassian still has a lot of work to do to in order to start "filling the net."
During the Sabres development camp last week, Kassian had minimal impact, which left Sabres Director of Pro Scouting, Jon Christiano, reaching for the right words when addressing Kassian's camp (2:08 mark):
As for the "more than willing to check and fight" aspect, in junior, Kassian's over-aggressiveness and physicality went mostly unchallenged and he'll soon recognize that there are some mean SOB's in the NHL, all of them playing for keeps.
That is, if he hasn't recognized it already.
Take this September 28, 2010 pre-season game vs. Ottawa where Kassian had the opportunity to show he could hang with the big-boys.
The play begins at the 4:15-mark of the following video with fellow Sabre Dennis McCauley laying out the Ottawa's Carkner with a strong check. As the two tangle, Neil cross-checks McCauley a few times. Kassian and Neil end up side-by-side soon thereafter:
Not much to say about his physicality with the big-boys, eh?
Although this particular "first impression" is a fail, the kid is young and could use some seasoning in the minors which is typical of the Sabres and how they approach player development anyway.
And it's a good thing, especially with Kassian needing to grow and mature. He has a long way to go, and it doesn't bode well for him if he doesn't take coaching seriously (see this video.)
The Sabres still have three restricted free agents of their own to re-sign--d-men Andrej Sekera, Marc-Andre Gragnani and back-up goalie Jhonas Enroth--and presently have three roster spots to fill.
Are they intent upon having a $3M player--Ales Kotalik--ride the pine as a 13th forward?
Doesn't make sense.
Perhaps they'd like to add one more tough-guy to alternate with Patty K. on the fourth line to help the skill-players "feel more comfortable."
Might not be a bad idea.
From WGR's Matthew Coller 1-20-12:
Throughout the game, Kassian was taunted by the Barons. They yelled at him from the bench, he chirped back several times. They tripped him. He skated back to the bench. He halfheartedly tried to lay a couple hits. He did nothing when his team needed someone to do something.
Not to mention, this was the same Barons team that had injured teammate Evan Rankin during the two teams' last series.
Doesn't sound much like Milan Lucic.
After the 5-2 loss, most of the media approached center Paul Szczechura, one of the team's better ambassadors.
I asked to speak with Kassian. Here is the transcript of my question about physical play and his answer:
WGR: “Zack, they were talking a lot of trash to you tonight, a lot of fans have been asking why you haven't been more physical and why you haven't gotten in more fights?”
Kassian: “I don't go looking for fights. I don't know what kind of question that is, that's a pretty (expletive) stupid question.”
WGR: “It's a question fans are asking”
Kassian: “You aren't the coach of the team.”
Kassian then walked away, back down the hall way in toward the showers.
“He has to play a physical game and if he has to fight he has to fight,” [Head Coach Ron] Rolston said. “I think it's part of the game and part of what he's here to do is be a physical player. If it happens, we are not in a situation where we're telling him not to fight, that's for sure.”