If the NHL lockout lasts awhile, and nearly every sign suggests it will, keep an eye on the E-ZPass lane. Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff will soon be using it to shuttle back and forth between Buffalo and Rochester.
Sabres players are off-limits while the league and NHL Players' Association search for a collective bargaining agreement, so Buffalo's front office is focusing on the organization's minor leaguers. The American Hockey League will continue as scheduled, and training camp for the Rochester Americans will open Sept. 28.
"We'll focus on the things we have control over, which is going to be the Rochester Americans," said Regier, the general manager for the parent club and its affiliate. "We'll spend a lot of time as a staff with the coaches and with the scouts, kind of doing some realignment or resetting of priorities. We'll continue to work and figure out ways to become better while we wait for the solution on the CBA side."
The Sabres have already assigned their top prospects to Rochester. Marcus Foligno, Cody Hodgson, Brayden McNabb, Corey Tropp and Zemgus Girgensons are skating with the locked-out veterans now, but they'll head to the Amerks next week.
"I'm hopeful that they look for the opportunity inside of this," Regier said. "They're going to be able to continue learning and playing, and the bulk of the players won't have that same opportunity. It should give them a leg up, and it should allow them to continue developing and learning and working.
"Other teams are doing similar things, so you are going to see an American Hockey League that's going to be a very, very high level of play, not unlike what we saw the last lockout."
The AHL will indeed boast many of hockey's rising stars. Carolina's Jeff Skinner, the 2011 Rookie of the Year in the NHL, will skate in Charlotte. Edmonton has assigned Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle to Oklahoma City. New Jersey playoff star Adam Henrique will play for Albany. Philadelphia sent down forwards Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier.
During the 2004-05 lockout, Mike Cammalleri and Jason Spezza took their NHL experience to the minors and led the AHL in goals and points, respectively. Eric Staal finished in the top 10 in assists and points.
The Amerks, meanwhile, won the league's regular-season title. They went 51-19-10 behind Ryan Miller, Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville and Derek Roy. That group helped the Sabres reach the Eastern Conference finals the next two seasons.
"Rochester had a terrific team, and we benefitted when we came out of the work stoppage," Regier said. "I hope we can take advantage of it similar to how we were able to last time."
Ruff was a regular in Rochester, attending practices and games to get a feel for the players who'd eventually be on his team. Amerks coach Ron Rolston can expect similar help from the Sabres' bench boss.
"Lindy and his staff will be helping Ron and his staff," Regier said. "They've already had some meetings."
Until there's labor peace, that's pretty much all the Sabres' brass can do. As of now, the organization has no plans to make layoffs or paycuts.
"Whether you're in my situation or a players' position, you may have some input but you have limited control," Regier said. "It's going to come down to the work being done between the league and the players' association. I really think it's important organizationally for us to focus on things that we can continue to work at and improve on while this is being worked through."