The end of this interminably long offseason is finally upon us with the Sabres taking on the Montreal Canadiens tomorrow at 7 pm in Buffalo. This offseason has been filled with intrigue, trades, departures and arrivals with a fair number of surprises thrown in at every turn. The latest news involves the Buffalo Sabres naming Zemgus Girgensons and Kyle Okposo as the two alternate captains for this year, without the presence of a captain.
These guys are getting A's added to their sweaters!
Both players are well deserving of the honor and both decisions were easy to see coming. Girgensons is the longest-tenured Buffalo Sabre having been drafted in 2012. Since then, he’s proven a dependable checking-line forward and a stalwart penalty killer through five coaches: Ted Nolan, Dan Bylsma, Phil Housley, Ralph Krueger and now Don Granato. Despite his limitations offensively, Girgensons consistently brings a willingness to engage physically along with a non-stop motor.
Okposo has been often maligned since Tim Murray acquired him in free agency way back in 2016. His history of concussions has severely limited his offensive production, although he has found a niche in a similar role to Girgensons. Okposo has worn – and lost – a letter in the past which is a testament to his desire to persevere through obstacles. The St. Paul native has taken fellow Minnesotan Casey Mittelstadt under his wing to help his American teammate find his way through the grind of the NHL season as an incredibly young player.
Congratulations to them both on their well-deserved recognition.
Elsewhere, it looks like the Sabres are going to lean into this “Tage Thompson is a second-line center” idea that Don Granato is floating around. Here are the expected lines for Thursday’s contest via Sabres.com:
53 Jeff Skinner - 37 Casey Mittelstadt - 29 Vinnie Hinostroza
74 Rasmus Asplund - 72 Tage Thompson - 71 Victor Olofsson
28 Zemgus Girgensons - 20 Cody Eakin - 21 Kyle Okposo
96 Anders Bjork - 24 Dylan Cozens - 91 Drake Caggiula
25 Arttu Ruotsalainen - 15 John Hayden
Rasmus Dahlin - Henri Jokiharju
Robert Hagg – Mark Pysyk
Jacob Bryson – Colin Miller
Like Okposo, Thompson has had some unrealistic expectations thrown his way due to forces outside of his control. His status as the key piece coming back in former general manager Jason Botterill’s failed Ryan O’Reilly trade, and his subsequent trials and tribulations along with this latest decision has really put Thompson in a no-win scenario. This idea of putting Thompson at center has the potential to make that trade look even worse as Thompson is now expected to occupy the role filled by a Selke-winning, Conn Smythe-winning, Stanley Cup winning, all-star.
Best of luck to him.
Of course none of that is fair to Thompson. He certainly didn’t ask to be the next heir apparent to the second-line center position following the failed experiments of Patrik Berglund, Evan Rodrigues, Vladimir Sobotka, Johan Larsson, Casey Mittelstadt and Eric Staal. It appears that Dylan Cozens is feeling the pressure of being yet another potential franchise-savior in the vein of Rasmus Dahlin or Jack Eichel and coach Don Granato wants to take some of that pressure off Cozens going into the season by giving that responsibility to Tage Thompson.
Speaking on WGR550’s “Howard and Jeremy Show,” Don Granato said yesterday that he felt Cozens was feeling too much heat to be “the guy” ahead of the season.
“He just does put too much pressure (on himself),” Granato said. “That’s been negative, but it’s also been a positive because it just drives him to succeed. When he doesn’t reach his personal standard, he take it home with him and dwells on it longer than the next guy. It affects him negatively the morning, the next practice, the next game.”
Perhaps the Sabres would have been better off sending Okposo or Girgensons to media to represent the Sabres instead of putting that responsibility on the shoulders of a young kid from White Horse, Yukon. Granato seems to be trying to rectify the mistake of putting lofty expectations on Cozens by demoting him to a third line position. The Sabres also could have solved this by signing or trading for any kind of reasonable center to take some minutes away from the young kids rather than put all of that weight on Cozens and Thompson.
When speaking about Thompson, Granato seems intrigued by his size at the center position.
“Ooh, the potential there is so intriguing,” Granato said. “You’ve got a guy with his talent who’s 6’6”… That gives him a little more room.”
As a point of order here, Sabres.com lists Thompson as 6’7” rather than 6’6” although that feels like splitting hairs at that point. It makes sense that Granato wants to experiment with the pieces at his disposal given that he doesn’t have an awful lot of premium pieces at his disposal. We’ll see how this experiment goes. Maybe it’s a dud or maybe they catch lightning in a bottle.
It truly has been a long offseason. It’s a welcome relief that the speculation as to the status of Jack Eichel will be put on the backburner for a while with the emergence of real games. As we count down the hours til puck drop, it’s hard not to think about the hockey scene from Canadian Bacon.
Let’s go! Drop the puck!
I happen to like Molson and Labatt’s just fine, for the record.