Offseason Game Plan: Buffalo Sabres

Jason Pominville and Derek Roy - Buffalo Sabres v Ottawa Senators

Overview

Outlook

           Talk about turning over a new leaf.  The Buffalo Sabres are poised to become huge players in the free agent market and could be one of the most active teams in the league over the course of this summer.  Why?  Well, money changes everything, and Terry Pegula has boat loads of it. He is a serious fan who is serious about using his wealth to make Buffalo a premier hockey destination.  His letter to the fans currently posted on the Sabres official page pretty much says it all.  We’ve already seen glimpses of Pegula’s influence at the trade deadline and afterward.  In previous seasons, the Sabres have used picks to acquire expiring deals for players like Dominic Moore and Raffi Torres (hoping these players could put them into the post season).  Last year, they even had to dump Clarke MacArthur just to make such an acquisition financially feasible.  This year they went out and got Brad Boyes who is still under contract for another year at 4 million dollars.  The players responded, and went on a ridiculous tear for the final quarter of the season, even without their number one center Derek Roy.  Everything is coming up roses for the Sabres.

Under Contract

Thomas Vanek (7.143)

Derek Roy (4.0)

Jason Pominville (5.3)

Tyler Ennis (0.875)

Jochen Hecht (3.525)

Brad Boyes (4.0)

 

Paul Gaustad (2.3)

 

 

 

Patrick Kaleta (0.9075)

Jordan Leopold (3.0)

Tyler Myers (1.3)

Shaone Morisonn (2.075)

 

   
   

Ryan Miller (6.25)

 

Cap Hit: 40.6755

Cap Space: 21.5245

  • UFA: Connolly, Grier, Niedermayer, Montador, McCormick, Lalime
  • RFA: Stafford, Gerbe, Mancari, Sekera, Butler, Weber, Gragnani, Enroth

The Sabres have a lot of players with expiring contracts.  Fans grew tired of characters like Tim Connolly, Patrick Lalime and even Rob Niedermayer.  It is possible role players like Montador and Grier are extended if they are willing to sign at discount rates.  From the restricted class, Stafford, Gerbe, Enroth and Gragnani are the key guys that will almost certainly get resigned.  Stafford in particular put up 31 goals in just 62 games.  Over a full season at that pace, Stafford would have lit the lamp 41 times.  Lesser players like Mancari, Butler, and Weber could be packaged for picks at the draft, rights to players headed to free agency, or more established roster players.

Cap Reality: For years the Sabres have had to watch quality players leave for nothing and steer clear of the free agent market almost entirely.  From here on out though, the Sabres should be a cap team, or a near-cap team.  Expect them to spend a ton of money this offseason.

Prospect Growth

           It doesn’t seem to matter what prospect comes through the Sabres system, Lindy Ruff and the coaching staff in Portland (AHL) seem to be able to turn them into quality NHL players.   The Sabres have produced the AHL rookie of the year in back-to-back seasons now with Tyler Ennis and Luke Adam.  That trend looks to continue when Brayden McNabb and Mark Pysyk make the jump out of junior next year.  The Sabres prospects are all on the right track.  Here’s a look at the most recent work from their top five:

Luke Adam (C/LW) – 6’2”, 215 pounds, Age 21

  • 2009/2010 – 56GP, 49G, 41A, 90P, 75PIM, +34 (QMJHL)
  • 2010/2011 – 57GP, 29G, 33A, 62P, 46PIM, +18 (AHL)

Zack Kassian (RW) – 6’3”, 215 pounds, Age 20

  • 2009/2010 – 38GP, 12G, 19A, 31P, 81PIM, -17 (OHL)
  • 2010/2011 – 56GP, 26G, 51A, 77P, 67PIM, +10 (OHL)

T.J. Brennan (D) – 6’0”, 205 pounds, Age 22

  • 2009/2010 – 65GP, 6G, 17A, 23P, 64PIM, +2 (AHL)
  • 2010/2011 – 72GP, 15G, 24A, 39P, 49PIM, +7 (AHL)

Brayden McNabb (D) – 6’4”, 218 pounds, Age 20

  • 2009/2010 – 64GP, 17G, 40A, 57P, 121PIM, -5 (WHL)
  • 2010/2011 – 59GP, 22G, 50A. 72P, 95PIM, +25 (WHL)

Mark Pysyk (D) – 6’1”, 188 pounds, Age 19

  • 2009/2010 – 48GP, 7G, 17A, 24P, 47PIM, -19
  • 2010/2011 – 63GP, 6G, 34A, 40P, 88PIM, +29

          The strength of this group could very well make draft picks expendable.  Beyond the list the Sabres also have quality role players like Marcus Foligno on their way up.  Now that money is no longer an issue, expect the Sabres to ease off the conservative gas pedal, and start dealing from a position of strength.  The drafting and managing of prospects is definitely that strength for them.  They’ve been the Predators of the East in this regard.  It will be interesting to see if the sudden acquisition of money changes that philosophy significantly over the next few years.  Could this be a situation where a fool and his gold are soon parted?

Areas of Concern

Fortifying the Defence

          Even though the Sabres were very strong down the stretch this year, opposing coaches had figured out them out by the time the playoffs started.  While Buffalo can be a difficult team to play defence against, if you can force them to play in their own end, their offense and momentum building skills are completely crippled.  Miller can save the day a lot, but ultimately the Sabres are going to need to add some quality puck moving defenders to their roster to complement their speedy forwards.  Tyler Myers may be the future of the Sabres back end, but he could use some help.

Don’t Go Crazy

          Like mentioned above, money hasn’t always been the best thing for some franchises.  Just ask the New York Rangers or the Toronto Maple Leafs.  Both clubs have traditionally tried to solve problems with money, but in the cap era big dollar contracts are incredibly restrictive and potentially detrimental.  Not only do those kinds of deals eat up a lot of cap space, but they take minutes away from young players who could be developing.  The two aforementioned clubs have a combined 10 million dollars worth of contracts sitting in the AHL (Wade Redden at 6.5 million and Jeff Finger at 3.5 million) thanks to these sorts of oversights.  The Leafs seemed to have learned their lesson in recent years while the Rangers continue to watch high profile free agents like Marian Gaborik and Chris Drury struggle.  Money also changes locker room chemistry in some instances.  These will all be new problems for the Sabres, so perhaps they should consider wading into this new territory instead of diving head first.

Potential Solutions (Cameron’s Take)

UFA Targets

Joni Pitkanen / Christian Ehrhoff / Tomas Kaberle

These are the big three on the market in terms of puck moving, offensively-minded defencemen.  Any of the three would be a perfect complement to the Sabres system.  It was long rumoured that the Sabres were one of the teams interested in acquiring the services of Tomas Kaberle.  Tomas was very happy living in Toronto and did not want to move.  Many believe he only agreed to a trade to prevent a Mats Sundin-esque fall out.  He truly loved the Leafs and wanted to help them, which was a class act.  By signing with the Sabres he could essentially return home – or as close to it as possible.  The Canucks are going to have cap issues following the season, and will probably have to let Ehrhoff test the market.  He’ll be looking for the big ticket, and the Sabres, with their new owner in tow, are just the team to give it to him.  Likewise, Pitkanen could be too expensive for the budget-operated Carolina Hurricanes.  All three of these guys would make an already lethally quick forward group even deadlier.  Scarily enough, the Sabres have enough cash to grab two of them, so don’t rule out that possibility.  They are looking to make a big splash.

Eric Brewer

Brewer is not a pure puck moving defencemen, but rather a hybrid of defensive and offensive skills.  He was enormously beneficial to the Tampa Bay Lightning during their drive in the post-season, but could be an afterthought when it comes time for resigns.  The Lightning need to focus on their priorities and get Steven Stamkos and Dwayne Roloson locked up.  Brewer might not be a perfect fit in Buffalo, but he would certainly help.

RFA Targets

Shea Weber / Drew Doughty

Both GM’s Dean Lombardi in Los Angeles and David Poille in Nashville are likely to take the stance that they will match any offer on these two.  Still, if these players make it to restricted free agency, expect teams like the Sabres to be willing to take a chance and throw big dollars at them.  The idea of one of these guys lining up next to Tyler Myers for the next decade is probably worth the 2-4 first round picks it would recquire to steal them.

Trade Targets

Patrick Kane

This one might seem out there at first, but consider the situation.  Stan Bowman has moved out a lot of players thought to be a part of Patrick Kane’s crew in Chicago.  Byfuglien, Barker, Skille, and Versteeg were all a part of that group.  We know Patrick Kane isn’t exactly the mirror image of team captain Jonathan Toews.  The Hawks could use some additional cap space, and Kane eats up 6.3 million.  Kane is a Buffalo native who mentions his hometown allegiances all the time.  The Sabre are looking to make a big splash, and have tradable assets galore (Stafford, Gragnani, Butler, Adam, Kassian, future 1st rounders, etc…).  Kane is one of the premier talents in the leauge, and one I’m sure Terry Pegula would love to acquire.  Can he get it done? 

Who do you think the Sabres will target this year?

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2 Responses to Offseason Game Plan: Buffalo Sabres

  1. Boston_Bruins says:

    I have a good feeling about Buffalo under new ownership, but this UFA market is pretty weak so maybe it’ll have to wait a year. You touched on more money not always being a good thing, and I agree. Weak free agent classes can be terrible for teams looking to make a splash.

    I can’t really see any of the big-name RFAs moving, but it never hurts to put out an offer sheet.

    • Especially with the compensation reduced big time. 7.8 million and under, and you only have to turn over 2 1sts. You have to wonder if a team like Nashville could afford 7.8 million for Weber. Dreger already says the Devils can’t match even 7 million for Parise…

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