The Buffalo Sabres regime change is already making more moves showing a different direction for the rebuild the team is about to undergo. The team has returned rookie defenseman Nikita Zadorov to the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League. The team may also yet return Mikhail Grigorenko to junior as well.
In sending Zadorov back now, before he has played 10 games in the NHL, the first year of his entry-level contract is preserved, meaning it will slide to next season.
Zadorov was injured for the first part of the season, which allowed the Sabres to slow play their decision on whether to keep him or not. It's not clear if the previous regime led by former general manager Darcy Regier would have done the same or not.
Even though the big Russian defenseman had played pretty well for the Sabres, going back to junior for another season isn't going to hurt him. He'll play for a very good squad in London and will be guaranteed a chance to play for the Memorial Cup as London is hosting the tournament. He'll also be available for Russia's World Junior team, which could also be good for development.
New head coach Ted Nolan shared his philosophy on how the rebuild should be going, which hinted that moves would be coming.
As he told the Buffalo News:
“You see some good organizations and how they go about it,” Nolan said. “You don't force-feed somebody and say we're a rebuild. Rebuild is important, but how you rebuild is really important.
“Patty [LaFontaine] and I have been talking about it since we got involved. I think you can have some young kids, a few of them, but not as many as we have.”
That could suggest that Grigorenko will also go back to junior and the team may move Johan Larsson and Rasmus Ristolainen to the American Hockey League. Zemgus Girgensons could also be a candidate to move down, but Nolan is familiar with him from coaching the Latvian national team.
UPDATE: The Sabes announced Larsson and Ristolainen have been assigned to the Sabres' AHL affiliate in Rochester, while Grigorenko will also join the AHL club on a conditioning assignment. He is expected to return to the Sabres after that, but a return to junior still a possibility.
Should Grigorenko return to junior, the Sabres will have burned not one, but the first two years off of his three-year entry-level contract on eight points in 40 games. That one is also on Regier.
Girgensons, Larsson and Ristolainen will also lose a year off of their ELCs if they are sent back to the AHL.
The final decision on Grigorenko is a little more complicated as his junior club, the Quebec Remparts were clearly not expecting him back. Teams in Canadian major junior can only carry two import players. The Remparts have both those spots occupied and one of those players they would not be allowed to trade or drop due to league rules.
That's likely why the final decision on the 19-year-old Russian center hasn't been made yet.
By making these moves, it shows LaFontaine and Nolan have a completely different view of how to rebuild than their predecessors. The Sabres did put themselves in quite a bind with so many teenagers on the roster, which made it difficult to be competitive clearly.
The regime change is working swiftly. Now they have to find a general manager who is on board with what is looking all the more like an arduous rebuild.