The Buffalo Sabres announced Thursday that Tage Thompson has been assigned to the non-roster list for personal reasons. Thompson was a late scratch Wednesday night, and the team nor any reports have divulged the exact reason for his absence.
Thursday, head coach Don Granato hinted that Thompson will likely be an option for Saturday while saying after Wednesday’s game that it’s “just a one-game thing for him”.
So why is he on the non-roster list if it’s just a one game thing?
For one, the Sabres have to do some roster shuffling. Zemgus Girgensons returned to practice, and Tyson Jost was placed on waivers Thursday. Cap room is not the issue, rather, the number of bodies on the current roster is. In order for Girgensons to be activated off injured reserve, Jost will have to be assigned to Rochester should he clear waivers.
That move would still leave the Sabres at the maximum of 23 players on the active roster, with 13 forwards, seven defensemen, and three goaltenders.
In order to reactivate Thompson then, there will need to be a corresponding move.
Another demotion is a possibility, with six waivers-exempt players on the roster. Those players are forwards Zach Benson, Jack Quinn, and JJ Peterka, defensemen Ryan Johnson and Owen Power, and goaltender Devon Levi.
Benson would have to be sent back to his junior club, while the rest could be sent directly to the AHL. Since Benson already burned a year on his contract and was retained through World Juniors, a move like that wouldn’t make much sense.
Quinn and Peterka were perhaps the Sabres best forwards on Wednesday. There’s zero chance of an AHL stint for them. Same goes for Owen Power, who is only second to Rasmus Dahlin in time on ice per game among skaters.
Levi has seemed to reclaim the starter’s role, so a return to Rochester at this point is unlikely.
That leaves Ryan Johnson, who has definitely passed the eye test as an NHLer and has the underlying numbers to back it up. He sits ninth on the team in goals above replacement per Evolving-Hockey.
So what other route can they take?
The Sabres could, of course, elect to waive another player Friday if they so choose. Doing so could lead to another demotion or claim and free up a roster spot for Thompson Saturday evening.
The most likely candidates there would be either forwards Victor Olofsson or Eric Robinson and goaltender Eric Comrie.
Comrie hasn’t played in quite awhile, and is has yet to seize the opportunity when he has. Robinson has been a scratch the last couple of games after some questionable decision-making when on the ice. Olofsson has fallen far from the powerplay threat he once was, leaving him struggling to redefine his game.
With a lot of salary already tied up in previous demotions, and with Jost likely joining that list, it might not be ideal to add more by going this route.
The rumblings have picked up. There’s teams around the NHL desperate for goaltending. With Levi locked in for the future, could Comrie or Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen be drawing interest. The latter would likely be much more appealing to other teams and fetch a larger return, but the question remains if Buffalo would be willing to cut ties on Luukkonen’s development and trade him for parts.
Comrie likely wouldn’t draw a ton in return, but finding him an opportunity elsewhere is an example of something that goes a long way with players and agents. It’s an organizational good deed, of sorts.
Olofsson could also use a change of scenery, and is the type of complementary player that might fit well in the right situation.
The interesting player to keep an eye on is Henri Jokiharju. It seems that Jokiharju is losing in the numbers game to six rostered defensemen despite the stellar underlying numbers in the small sample he’s put together this season. He could be the beneficiary of playing alongside Power, sure, but per Evolving-Hockey he is third on the team in goals above replacement and first among Sabres blueliners.
Right-shot defense is a quality grab in the NHL. Demand is high and supply is usually fairly low. If you want to do something to shake up the roster, perhaps a player of Jokiharju’s caliber could garner a return to make an impact.
Back to Thompson
As for Tage, we wait. If no corresponding moves are announced Friday, some eyebrows will be raised. Stay tuned to Buffalo Hockey Now for all the latest as we keep you up-to-date on this evolving story.