Portland Pirates head coach Kevin Dineen was in town today, preparing for the start of the regular season, which is fast approaching a week from Saturday.
At the same time, the Sabres announced they were sending 12 players down to the Pirates from training camp in Buffalo.
Players sent to Portland include Jacob Lagace, Maxime Legault, Dennis McCauley, Brian Roloff, Felix Schutz, Corey Tropp, Travis Turnbull, Alex Biega and Nick Crawford.
Tim Conboy, Derek Whitmore and Colin Stuart were also sent to Portland, but it won’t become official until they clear waivers at noon time on Thursday.
Dineen discussed numerous topics including what this year’s version of the Pirates will look like on the ice, believing that team will be better balanced then last year’s team that lost four straight games in the playoffs.
“We’re going to have some guys returning that will add some familiarity for our fans, but we’re looking for a team that can score goals,” said Dineen. “Depending on the players that eventually end up here I feel comfortable that there are players that have played well enough (in Buffalo), who is going to get a solid shot, which is a good sign for us in Portland.”
“There are players coming down who have had good camps and was well prepared for the season. I’d like to think we’ve added some toughness to our team that gives us the ability to compete in any building against any kind of team.”
That said, even Dineen admitted that this team might have lost some skill with the turnover of the roster, but also believes that there is enough young talent in the Sabres organization to replace what’s lost to promotions in Buffalo and free agency.
“You always lose a little skill out of the lineup when you take a “probable” Nathan Gerbe out of the lineup,” said Dineen. “Tyler Ennis (and Gerbe) are really solid hockey players. Brad Larsen did a lot of good things for us as did Jeff Cowan. That’s the nature of our business; the turnover is a little higher in (AHL) than it is in the NHL level.”
“There’s opportunity (for) guys that are going to come in here, establishing themselves as professional players,” Dineen said. “I’m cautiously optimistic that we’re going to have a well-balanced team (and) exciting team to watch.”
One loss that will be felt on the Pirates roster, at least early in the season, will be defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani, out for four-to-six week, after suffering a knee sprain during camp. Gragnani signed a new deal this summer and was expected to get a serious look at making Buffalo’s roster, after scoring 43 points (12g, 31a) in 66 games with Portland.
“It’s hurts the (Sabres) organization because Marc-Andre was going to get a real solid opportunity to make the Sabres this year,” said Dineen. “With his skill set, it’s something other teams throughout the NHL are looking for, and we’re certainly looking for as well.”
“His development is fast approaching where he’s going to get a great opportunity in the NHL so it’s no guarantee that he would be here in Portland, but now given his injury there’s a decent chance he’ll start here.”
The Pirates can’t afford too many injuries early on because they lack the depth of some teams. Dineen address comments that Sabres GM Darcy Regier made in Toronto this week that the organization wasn’t finished adding and improving the roster through either free agency or the waiver wire, hinting that something might happen soon.
“What’s happened this year is there is so many good NHL players that have come off of one-way NHL deals and some of those players are still out (on the open market),” Dineen said. “So there maybe some opportunities for those types of players in Portland; we’ve been patient and waiting, keeping an eye on what’s not only going on in our camp, but in other camps and around the league.”
“There is an opportunity there and maybe some movement in the next week,” he added.
Dineen did take a little time to put wraps on his summer and his interviews for the NHL head coaching position with Columbus.
After the Pirates season was finished, Dineen was considered the front runner for the job in Ohio, interviewing twice before the job ultimately went to Scott Arniel. Still, Dineen isn’t disappointed with the outcome that has him back in Portland for a sixth season.
“For me I had many different discussions (with Columbus), but at the end of the day if Portland is where I fall back that’s a good landing,” he said. “To be part of the development of these young players, it’s an exciting part (of the job) and I enjoy being part of that role.”
NOTES: The Pirates lone preseason game at home was canceled due to lack of players in Portland as the Sabres take an extended look at several players. Portland will still travel to Nashua on Tuesday to play the Manchester Monarchs. Game time is 8pm.