Sabres president Ted Black couldn’t offer any specifics Tuesday about what benefits fans will get in the wake of the NHL lockout. But General Manager Darcy Regier said the NHL should use the same theory it did in 2005 when it returned after missing an entire season: Put more offense back into the game.
The Sabres, remember, took full advantage of rule changes and their offensive personnel out of the last lockout and ended up in back-to-back Eastern Conference finals. In the 2006-07 season, they scored a league-high 308 goals.
Power plays were way up as obstruction and interference penalties were tightly called. That emphasis has basically gone away the last couple of years and so has scoring.
Many NHL observers think tighter whistles will return this year. In 2005-06, the first year after the last lockout, NHL teams combined for 6.1 goals per game. The figure dropped to just 5.32 last year.
“You don’t start out playing minor hockey to be the best defender there is,” Regier said. “You start it out because you want to score goals and I think goal scoring is a real important aspect of our game to the extent that we don’t allow our best players to be productive offensively.”
NHL offenses have been stymied in recent years and the Sabres had just 218 goals last season, their lowest total in nine years.
“Teams don’t have the same number of offensive players and are trying to stop the best ones, there’s natural downward pressure on offense,” Regier said. “You always have to be opening up offensive valves, giving offense another better opportunity and keeping defense off balance.”
One young player who could give the Sabres a quick spark is 18-year-old Mikhail Grigorenko, the team’s No. 1 draft pick. Regier confirmed Tuesday that Grigorenko, the Russian World Junior star, has been invited to training camp. He can play up to nine games, at which time his entry-level contract will kick in or he has to be returned to his junior team.
The 6-foot-3 Grigorenko, taken 12th overall, has 29 goals and 50 points in 30 games for the Quebec Remparts.
“The deciding factor won’t come down to whether we burn a year on the contract or not,” Regier said. “It’s going to be about the hockey club, it’s going to be about his ability to play for this team, contribute to this team .”
Regier said the Sabres will have a tight training camp with few extra players. Marcus Foligno and Cody Hodgson have already been pulled from the lineup in Rochester while defenseman T.J. Brennan, who must clear waivers to continue with the Amerks, will also be in camp while the Sabres figure out what to do about his situation.
As for injuries, Regier admitted there are plenty of “unknowns” as players return to Buffalo and take physicals. The GM said Nathan Gerbe (back surgery) is getting closer to being ready but also revealed that Cody McCormick has had a recurring finger problem all summer and likely will miss the opening of the season.
Regier said he expects defenseman Tyler Myers, who missed nearly three weeks in Austria with an ankle injury, to be ready.