Maine Hockey Journal

Sabres GM confident in Pirates talent

Portland, ME — Since free agency opened in July, the Atlantic Division has undergone some massive changes, even for newcomer, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, but Buffalo Sabres GM Darcy Regier is confident in the Portland Pirates to be one of the top teams in the division with their current lineup.

“No, I’m not concerned about icing a competitive team at all,” said Regier.

“We rely on our drafts,” Regier added. “We’re looking at Philipp Gogulla, who spent three years in Germany and is only 21. Our first round pick from last year, Tyler Ennis, will be (in Portland) and (Paul) Byron, who was one of the top players in the Quebec league last year will be there.”

The Pirates will be one of eight teams competing in the Atlantic Division this season, since Bridgeport moved to the Atlantic Division after spending the last eight years in the East Division, and have yet to make a free agent signing of any quality for Portland.

They’ve signed Kyle Rank, but he only had one goal in 44 games with the Pirates last season, and will play more of physical role than a scoring role with the team.

That certainly leaves some holes that need to be filled after losing 11 players from last year’s squad and potentially losing three-to-four more with the graduation of Nathan Gerbe, Tim Kennedy, Mark Mancari and defensemen Mike Weber.

Already with the loss of Tyler Bouck (Germany), Colin Murphy (Germany) and Mathieu Darche (Montreal), the Pirates roster is full of holes and in desperate need of a veteran forward or two.

Still, Regier isn’t worry about the turnover of the Pirates or the division.

“I recognize some teams have signed a lot of players, but quite honestly, Regier said, it means they’ve lost a lot of players.”

Your roster is your roster so if you’re signing a lot, then that means you’ve lost a lot in the last year. The question then becomes does it mean that they’re any better or does it mean they might be worse.”

“It just means that they’ve signed a lot of players and I don’t get caught up in the perception that you sign a lot (of free agents), you’re going to be better,” Regier said.

That being the case, the division has wasted little time in revamping themselves starting with the Pirates biggest foe, the Providence Bruins.

The Bruins lost Martin St. Pierre, Jeremy Reich and most likely Tuukka Rask, who will be the back up in Boston, but they filled the void with addition of Drew Fata, Trent Whitfield and goaltender Dany Sabourin. At worst, the Bruins are the same in the skill category, which defeated the Pirates last season, 4-1, in the Atlantic Division Semifinals.
There can’t be any denying that fact and that could be said most teams in the Atlantic Division that they are at least of the same skill level as a year ago.

Regier is still working the phone trying to add the final couple of piece to the Pirates lineup, mostly on the wing. He’s comfortable with the team on the blueline and in goal with Jhonas Enroth returning for his sophomore season, but still wants to add a couple forwards.

“We’ve identified a couple of other players that we’re doing some work on,” he said. (Pirates coach) Kevin (Dineen) and I have been talking on pretty much a daily basis.”

“We’re looking at signing a couple wingers that are both quality players, and have some size, toughness and grittiness to their game.”

The Sabres did sign defenseman Joe DiPenta and it’s still not sure where he’ll end up, as he’ll get a fair shot to make the Sabres.

“He will be given the opportunity to compete for a job here, that’s a starting point, but he does have a two-ay contract, so he recognizes that if he doesn’t make our team here that he would be with Portland,” Regier said.

It would be interesting to see if DiPenta would even clear waivers on the way down, or be claimed by another NHL team such as the Toronto Maple Leafs. Brian Burke, now the Leafs GM, was the Anaheim Ducks GM when Joe DiPenta played three seasons in Anaheim, winning the Stanley Cup in 2007. That’s experience you can’t put a price on, and it will make for an interesting situation should it arise.

One player the Sabres would desperately like to get under contract is forward Mark Mancari, after he rejected his qualifying offer.

“Mancari has not (signed),” said Regier. “We continue to talk with Mark. It’s our hopes to get him signed.”

Mancari has spent the last three year in the minors between Rochester and Portland and has had a taste of the NHL. He finally looks ready to make the next step, but that remains to be seen if it’s with the Sabres, in Europe or with another team.

So, while other teams have rushed to make high-priced free agent signings, the Sabres philosophy stays the same as Regier will make targeted choices for both Buffalo and the Pirates.

Let’s just hope it’s not too late.

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