Ahh, the Stanley Cup Finals have come to a thrilling close. For a couple weeks, I actually forgot about the Buffalo Sabres offseason-to-do list. Hockey fans were treated to an unbelievable best-of-seven series between the two best teams in hockey, the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins.
So before I get into homer mode, I want to say congrats to the Penguins and their fans.
Unfortunately, I have to get back to the reality of what is currently going on in Sabreland. Nothing. But hopefully, with free agency quickly approaching on July 1, and the draft June 26, Darcy Regier and Co. will work their magic. I don't exactly know what that magic is, but I hope they have a plan to improve the current Sabres' roster.
After watching the NHL playoffs, I was constantly reminded of the kind of players that make up winning teams. Yeah, it would be nice to have a team of Malkins, Crosbys, Ovechkins and Lidstroms, but those players are a little hard to come by.
I found myself saying, "Man, if only the Sabres had that guy," plenty of times during the playoffs. Not only about the aforementioned players, but about guys like Maxim Talbot, Dustin Byfuglien, Darren Helm, and Milan Lucic—exactly the kind of players the Sabres lack.
The Sabres not only need to re-sign certain restricted and unrestricted free agents this summer, but they also need to find a way to open up some cap room, and bring in one or two players off the free agent market.
Recent history tells us that Regier will likely stay put with his current guys, but I truly believe that he needs to take a different approach this offseason.
This summer marks the start of both Jason Pominville's and Tim Connolly's extended contracts and also most likely the start of Andrej Sekera's, Drew Stafford's and Pat Kaleta's deals, as they will also be extended by the team.
With these deals coming into place, the Sabres will be very limited when it comes to signing free agents this summer.
It has been widely rumored that the Sabres are trying to move current roster players such as Jochen Hecht, Henrik Tallinder and maybe even Derek Roy, in order to free up some cap space so they can bring in a player to fill one of their needs—top defenseman, depth,gritty, skilled forward.
Jochen Hecht, 31, C/LW; 2008-09 salary: $3.8 million
The Sabres have their hands tied with Hecht's four-year $15 million deal. Last season, the two-way forward mustered only 27 points (12G, 15A) and a -9 plus-minus rating. He can easily be replaced by a prospect player, and definitely by a depth forward acquired via free agency.
Managing only 27 points in 70 games, while playing mostly on a line next to Pominville and Connolly, is absolutely horrendous. The Sabres need more from players who are making $3.8 million per season.
If a team is willing to trade a draft pick in return, it would be a pretty easy decision to send Jochen packing. Its the contract that is the biggest issue. This offseason will be a successful one if Hecht is playing elsewhere next season. Sorry, Jochen.
Henrik Tallinder, 30, D; 2008-09 salary: $3.25 million
Tallinder is a little more tradable than Hecht. His contract is still too much for a player of his caliber, but after next season, he will become a free agent. At 6'4", 215, Hank has good size, and he is also a very good skater. He actually played forward as a young teen, before moving back to the blue line.
If Regier is actually trying to move Tallinder, than I think the Sabres may reel in some draft picks in return. I think there is still a 50/50 chance he may want to keep Tallinder around for the last year of his contract because Jaroslav Spacek becomes a free agent this summer also.
Clake MacArthur, 23, LW; 2008-09 salary: $522,00
Now you may be asking yourself, why is MacArthur even on this list? Well, he is a restricted free agent this summer, and I think the Sabres can reach a deal with him similar to that of Dan Paille's two-year, $2.2 million deal that was inked last summer.
MacArthur scored a career-high 17 goals last season, but was inconsistent to say the least, like most of the Sabres roster. But if the Sabres are looking for a top-tier defenseman—which I think they are (not of the Jay Bouwmeester caliber of course)—then maybe MacArthur is one of those players that can help bring him in via trade.
I am one of those people that think the Sabres are better off without MacArthur, but there are others that think he has a bright future in this league. Which he might. But I am willing to call up Nathan Gerbe, or Tim Kennedy from the minors and watch them give 110 percent each night, something MacArthur failed to do night in and night out.
Nathan Paetsch, 25, D/RW; 2008-09 salary: $800,000
Paetsch is another player whose contract expires at the end of next season. He is a player that can play both sides of the ice, both offense and defense, but is likely to remain on the blue line if moved to another team.
He is another player that could bring a late-round pick in return.
Adam Mair,30, C; 2008-09 salary: $775,000
With the emergence of younger players such as Pat Kaleta, Paul Gaustad and Matt Ellis, it almost looked as though Mair's role diminished on the team as a checking-line guy. Lindy Ruff almost used him in some cases in an offensive role, playing in between Ales Kotalik and Maxim Afinogenov for some portion of the season.
That is total opposite of the player he is.
With that said, if the Sabres want to go in a different direction and either try and bring someone in via free agency who can grind, but also score, than I think Mair is very much tradable.
Derek Roy, 25, C- 2008-09 salary: $3.5 million
Rumors. Don't you love them?
Well, I for one do not think the Sabres will move Roy unless they get a very enticing offer—which is not totally out of the picture considering the kind of player he can be when at his best—a top-pair defenseman is the only thing I would accept in return.
For the second season in a row, post Drury-Briere era, Roy led the Sabres in points. Last season he recorded 70 points (28G, 42A) in 82 games, which was a drop off from his 81 points in 79 games the year previous, but still very good nonetheless.
Two seasons ago he signed a six-year, $24 million deal, which is a remarkable bargain for a guy who is capable of putting up 80-plus points per season.
The biggest knack on him, though, is his size. At only 5'9", 185 pounds, he does not fill the need the Sabres have in the size department. Still, my final verdict on Roy is that he will remain a Sabre next season.
Trading Roy would be a major deal for a rather timid front office. Just don't see it happening, folks.
Free Agent Market
As far as the free-agent market goes, I can go on and on about the big-name free agent players that would immediately make a huge impact in Buffalo. In free agency, there are plenty of rumors lingering over every player and it's really hard to ignore all the speculation.
Moreover, I will try to be realistic, but I will also discuss players whom I think the Sabres should take a run at, but likely not sign. Make sense?
Jay Bouwmeester, 25, D; 2008-09 salary: $4.87 million ( Florida Panthers)
This past Sunday, Bucky Gleason of The Buffalo News played GM for the day. He, like most GM's in the NHL would love to sign the perennial all-star. Gleason stated that if the Sabres were able to get rid of some "dead weight" players, a.k.a. Hecht, Tallinder, the Sabres would have the cap room to sign Jay Bo.
Still, the guy will probably get upwards of around $6.5 to $7 million, and from the looks of it, the Sabres are way out of the running. The names in play are Philadelphia, Vancouver and Calgary. Rumors are swirling that Philly would be the likely candidate, but they would have to move some major cap room first.
The 6'4", 215 pound defenseman would make an immediate and long-term impact if the Sabres decided he was worth the dough. The Sabres' have lacked a d-man of Jay Bo's caliber for years.
He had 15 goals and 42 points last season for the Panthers, while also being one of the best defensemen in the league. In my opinion, Ryan Miller is a top-goaltender in the NHL, and the addition of a top-five defenseman would make him even better.
However, the Sabres would have to make room for his contract, and that would not be easy. If the Sabres really want Bouwmeester, then you would definitely see either Roy or Connolly moved.
Mike Cammalleri, 27, LW; 2008-09 salary: $3.6 (Calgary Flames)
Here's a player whose name I've been hearing in the Buffalo Sabres rumor mill. The winger had 39 goals and 82 points with the Flames last season. He reminds me a lot of Daniel Briere, very smart with the puck, but also has a knack to find the twine.
His 5'9", 185 pound frame, though, wouldn't exactly feel the Sabres need in the size department. Notice how I've really been big on the Sabres size issue. Well, it's kind of a big deal, at least in my opinion. However, I wouldn't mind seeing Reiger somehow get rid of Hecht and sign Cammalleri to a similar deal. The guy can snipe.
Brian Gionta, 30, RW; 2008-09 salary: $4 million (New Jersey Devils)
Like Cammalleri, Gionta's frame isn't very impressive. At 5'7", 175, he's actually smaller, but can still be a very good player in this league. With younger players like Travis Zajac and Zach Parise emerging in New Jersey, Gionta will likely find another home this offseason.
Well, for starters, he could possibly move back to the place he grew up in. The Rochester, NY native would probably be pleased with a contract in Buffalo. He made $4 million last season, but with his point production plateauing in recent years, it is very likely he could take less.
He recorded 89 points (48G, 41A) in 2005-06 for the Devils, but since then has averaged about 55 to 60 points per season. Gionta said he wishes to stay in New Jersey, but he has yet to receive an offer.
I wouldn't totally question Regier if he brought in either Cammalleri or Gionta. They both would fit in well offensively and with the salary cap. According to HockeyBuzz Eklund, the Sabres are very much a contender for either of these players. Perhaps both?
Mike Knuble, 36, RW; 2008-09 salary: $2.8 million (Philadelphia Flyers)
If I was Sabres' GM, Knuble is surely a guy I would love to bring in this summer. He is exactly a kind of player the Sabres would benefit from. At 36, he is aging, but everyone and their mother knows the Sabres lack veteran leadership. His size, and scoring ability would be a huge boost to the Sabres offense.
He scored 27 goals last season for the Flyers, and with rumors swirling in Philly about Jay Bo, it looks as thought Knuble's four-year stint as a Flyer has come to an end.
Mattias Ohlund, 32, D; 2008-09 salary: $3.5 million (Vancouver Canucks)
The next three free agents I will talk about all depend on what the Sabres do with defenseman, Jaroslav Spacek.
At 32, Ohlund can surely still play. He was one of the better d-man in Vancouver for the past few seasons and has averaged around 30 points per season in each of his 11 years in Vancouver. He's very reliable in his own end, and is capable of averaging 25 minutes of ice time per game.
Ohlund is definitely an option to fill Spacek's potential void on the blue line, but will likely demand somewhere around $3 million to $3.5 million per.
Marc-Andre Bergeron, 28, D; 2008-09 salary $1.69 million (Minnesota Wild)
If the Sabres were interested in Bergeron, it would be solely for his offense ability. Like Ohlund, he too can average around 30 to 40 points a season while playing the point. He has excellent puck-moving ability and is also a very smooth skater.
At 5'10", 200 pounds, he's not exactly small, but I strongly believe if the Sabres decided to part ways with Spacek, they may look to fill his void with a bigger, more stay-at-home defenseman.
Jordan Leopold, 28, D; 2008-09 salary $1.5 million (Calgary Flames, from Colorado)
Another free agent player that Eklund has rumored to have Regier's interest. Apparently Leopold has been a player of Regier's interest for quite sometime, seeing that he was rumored to be on his way to Buffalo at the trade deadline.
Leopold is a solid defenseman that can fill the void on the blue line at a very affordable price. He can play as a second-tier defenseman in Buffalo, and average close to 20, 23 minutes per game.
Free agent forwards Samuel Pahlson, Todd Marchant, Travis Moen and Brad May all could be in the mix as well. Like I stated earlier, one of the biggest needs in Sabreland, at least in my opinion, are with gritty, depth forwards who can play.
Brad May may be a reach, he's not exactly that type of player, but he's a fourth-line guy who isn't afraid to stick his nose in someone else's business if need be. He has a very memorable history in Buffalo ("May day, May day, May Day! Brad May!), but I don't see Brian Burke letting him go in Toronto.
Pahlson and Marchant would fit in great in Buffalo. Both have size and toughness, and can play center. Pahlson was a very vital addition to the Chicago Blackhawks at the trade deadline, and played a very important role for them in the playoffs.
Marchant is very similar to Pahlson, and is of great value in Anaheim. I don't think he'd mind returning to his hometown, but he has received a contract offer from Anaheim, per Orange County Register. He is yet to decline or accept that offer.
Well, we are just one week away from the beginning of NHL free agency, and just days away from the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, which will be held this Friday and Saturday in Montreal. Pretty soon we all can expect the mayhem that comes along with free agency. Possible trades, big named players being moved, and of course, rumors.
The Sabres can either continue to stick with their core players or they can dig a little deeper this offseason and make some major changes.
Though I wouldn't mind seeing a little bit of both, I strongly believe that the Sabres should try and trade Hecht and Tallinder, and bring in one or two free agents that could help the team reach the postseason once again.
I also wouldn't mind if Regier went really overboard, and brought in a player like Bouwmeester, Martin Havlat or Marian Gaborik, but hat's probably a little out of the question.
Either way, Sabres fans have become very impatient, as they should.
The fact of the matter is, Darcy Regier and Co. have been on the hot seat since the days of you-know-who, and this is the year they need to get it right, right? Sabres fans can only hope.
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