Okay, before all the Buffalo Sabres fans jump down my throat and call me the Anti-Christ, hear me out. If Jim Balsillie was awarded the Phoenix Coyotes and subsequently allowed the move to Hamilton, it could become a Buffalo Sabres fans dream.

Here's why.

Let's look at a few aspects of the Buffalo Sabres organization as a whole and just see what could be improved. The Sabres ownership is primarily run by two people, Tom Golisano and Larry Quinn. Quinn is the managing partner and minority owner of the Sabres. Golisano is the money and power, so to speak. Nothing pertaining to money spent does not happen without Tommy G putting his stamp of approval on it first. 

Some may look at this and say, "Okay, Ron, big deal. Every team has an owner that has a say in team's operation."

Yes, very true, but how many teams have multiple owners that have no hockey background as the Buffalo Sabres have? Quinn, a real estate and land developer by trade, has been with the organization multiple times and honestly has shown little in the way of forward thinking with this team since the day he his second term.

Golisano, on the other hand, is a self-made billionaire of a business called Paychex. Again, no hockey background to speak of. But one thing Golisano does possess is a second-to-none business sense. He understands the value of a dollar and knows what it takes to make money. That being said, how does Balsillie moving a team to Hamilton make the Buffalo Sabres' fans happy?

The NHL is a business—just like anything else. It thrives on planting a butt every 12 inches in an arena. With the current state of the local and national economy, some teams have made cutbacks to ensure that they will stay viable through the hardship. But a guy like Balsillie comes along and gets awarded the Coyotes franchise that moves close to Buffalo with a promise of $150 million in improvements.

One can only think that a man like Balsillie who has a voracious appetite about getting a team would not accept anything less than success from his franchise. That alone may force the Buffalo Sabres brass to sit and take a long hard look at what they have done and which direction this team is headed.

As Quinn said, a team in Hamilton could be a big hit to the Buffalo Sabres franchise, in terms of attendance. Well, I guess Quinn and Golisano would have to work that much harder to make sure the product on the ice is a quality one in which thousands of people would sell their right arm to attend.

Buffalo Sabres fans are starting to get sick of status quo from this team. The bottom line is that winning fixes problems and sells tickets. The Sabres have been lucky over the last two seasons to have as many fans attending their games as they do; the lack of a quality product will soon cause regular attendees to shy away from buying tickets and find better ways to spend their hard earned money.

Even worse, the casual fans that can either only afford to go once in a while or only care to go once in a while will turn away completely from overspending to attend a game that fails to entertain anyone besides popcorn vendors.

This is big business, but is nothing more than K Mart trying to compete with Wal-Mart for the tough-to-earn consumer dollar. And like any other business, you can only take so much ringamoro before you shop elsewhere. Balsillie would make this team sharpen their collective pencils and actually force them to show they care about the fans and not just the profits they claim they do not make. Please let Balsillie get that franchise. I have a sneaking feeling Sabres fans, in the end, will be much happier.

Okay, before all the Buffalo Sabres fans jump down my throat and call me the Anti-Christ, hear me out. If Jim Balsillie was awarded the Phoenix Coyotes and subsequently allowed the move to Hamilton, it could become a Buffalo Sabres fans dream.

Here's why.

Let's look at a few aspects of the Buffalo Sabres organization as a whole and just see what could be improved. The Sabres ownership is primarily run by two people, Tom Golisano and Larry Quinn. Quinn is the managing partner and minority owner of the Sabres. Golisano is the money and power, so to speak. Nothing pertaining to money spent does not happen without Tommy G putting his stamp of approval on it first. 

Some may look at this and say, "Okay, Ron, big deal. Every team has an owner that has a say in team's operation."

Yes, very true, but how many teams have multiple owners that have no hockey background as the Buffalo Sabres have? Quinn, a real estate and land developer by trade, has been with the organization multiple times and honestly has shown little in the way of forward thinking with this team since the day he his second term.

Golisano, on the other hand, is a self-made billionaire of a business called Paychex. Again, no hockey background to speak of. But one thing Golisano does possess is a second-to-none business sense. He understands the value of a dollar and knows what it takes to make money. That being said, how does Balsillie moving a team to Hamilton make the Buffalo Sabres' fans happy?

The NHL is a business—just like anything else. It thrives on planting a butt every 12 inches in an arena. With the current state of the local and national economy, some teams have made cutbacks to ensure that they will stay viable through the hardship. But a guy like Balsillie comes along and gets awarded the Coyotes franchise that moves close to Buffalo with a promise of $150 million in improvements.

One can only think that a man like Balsillie who has a voracious appetite about getting a team would not accept anything less than success from his franchise. That alone may force the Buffalo Sabres brass to sit and take a long hard look at what they have done and which direction this team is headed.

As Quinn said, a team in Hamilton could be a big hit to the Buffalo Sabres franchise, in terms of attendance. Well, I guess Quinn and Golisano would have to work that much harder to make sure the product on the ice is a quality one in which thousands of people would sell their right arm to attend.

Buffalo Sabres fans are starting to get sick of status quo from this team. The bottom line is that winning fixes problems and sells tickets. The Sabres have been lucky over the last two seasons to have as many fans attending their games as they do; the lack of a quality product will soon cause regular attendees to shy away from buying tickets and find better ways to spend their hard earned money.

Even worse, the casual fans that can either only afford to go once in a while or only care to go once in a while will turn away completely from overspending to attend a game that fails to entertain anyone besides popcorn vendors.

This is big business, but is nothing more than K Mart trying to compete with Wal-Mart for the tough-to-earn consumer dollar. And like any other business, you can only take so much ringamoro before you shop elsewhere. Balsillie would make this team sharpen their collective pencils and actually force them to show they care about the fans and not just the profits they claim they do not make. Please let Balsillie get that franchise. I have a sneaking feeling Sabres fans, in the end, will be much happier.

This is the fifth and final submission in a series of articles about the greatest underdog venues in U.S. pro sports. The criteria is simple: small-market towns, communities that get no respect, that personify the under-rated, that constantly challenge the giants of the world, and/or that have suffered some terrible devastation but are rebuilding.

There is the oft-quoted excerpt from A Chorus Line: "..to commit suicide in Buffalo would be redundant."

If you're from Buffalo you either love the line and quote it as Gospel, or you hate it and find yourself arguing against it explicitly and implicitly in every conversation you have with people who are not from Buffalo.

As I wrote in my B/R article, Why I'm a BFF (Bills Fan Forever), Being from Buffalo is like being Jewish. It's not just a place to live or to have moved from, it is the experience of being not only in a place but of a place. It's more theological and psychological than it is geographical. It's a strange combination of identity, self-esteem (individual and collective) and culture that are all interwoven into the landscape, architecture, climate, and experience of the place.

If you belong to the professional social networking site, Linked In, you will notice a disproportionate number of groups for Buffalo expats (natives and long-time residents who currently live away from Buffalo). Their comments and discussions-- about Buffalo sports, politics, events, and shared  history-- resemble what one might expect to find in a chatroom of the Jewish diaspora.

There's just something different, deeper, intrinsic and unshakable about being from Buffalo that I have not observed in people from other mid-sized or larger cities (with the exception perhaps, to a somewhat lesser degree, of people from other towns on our Top 5 List).

The late, great Tim Russert is a perfect example of a Buffalo expat. He'd been gone for most of his adult life. He'd lived in New York and Washington. He'd become one of the top two or three journalists of his generation. Yet, he owned an apartment in Buffalo, went back there most holidays, wrote a book about growing up there, and always ended his program "Meet the Press" with a cheer for the Bills or the Sabres when they were in season.

The continued fanatical following of the Buffalo Braves, an NBA franchise that lived in Buffalo for eight years and has been the Clippers for 31 years, is another example of what I'm talking about. Far from dying out, this obsession with Buffalo's NBA team continues to grow. The most recent manifestation of that is the release of a new coffee table book, "Buffalo, Home of the Braves," featured in my B/R article of the same name.

So what is this about?

Like Cleveland, but even more so, Buffalo as a city, a region, and a people, gets no respect, is constantly being stereotyped by weather, by blight, by various Rust-Belt images, and is often parodied as culturally primitive and crass. And...

It's sports teams have, like Cleveland's but even more so, lived lives of extended desperation, frustration, and (like Browns I) abduction.

The Cavaliers have nearly missed the NBA finals numerous times, and lost the final round once. The Bills have nearly missed the Superbowl several times and managed to lose it four consecutive times, two of those times as the favorite.

And that's only half the story. The Sabres have made the Stanley Cup Finals twice in their history and each time lost gallantly played and heartbreaking series.

The Bills could have won their first superbowl except that Scott Norwood, who up to that point was the most reliable kicker in the NFL, went wide right on a chip shot. Now the term "Wide Right" is considered profanity in Buffalo.

The Sabres went six games against the Dallas Stars in their most recent Stanley Cup Finals and eventually lost game six near the end of the third overtime (thus having played a double-game, on a controversial non-call when the "winning goal" was made from "in the crease" (another localized profanity).

The rule was eliminated the following year, but at the time it should have been called and might have extended Buffalo's life long enough to play (and win) a seventh game.

And that's just sports.

Buffalo, unlike sister Rust Belt cities like Pittsburgh, Milwaukee to a lesser degree, and even Cleveland, has experienced all too little revitalization since its smoke belching factories were shut down.

Yes, there's been some cosmetic improvement in the inner city. The ugly, smelly factories are mostly gone. Some new building has occured in their stead, and  downtown.

A charming cultural district has emerged. There are world class museums, especially the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, great restaurants, a world class orchestra (Buffalo Philharmonic, once directed by Michael Tilson Thomas and still going strong).

The University at Buffalo (flagship of the State University of New York system) remains a leading center of academic pursuit and scientific research.

A medical research center is emerging that when complete will rival the Cleveland Clinic (a little irony there?).

As a tourist destination Buffalo's Metro Area includes the entire Niagara Region on both sides of the border. In fifteen minutes from downtown Buffalo you can be standing on the brink of the Horseshoe Falls absolutely mesmerized by one of the natural "Wonders of the World." There are four and five star hotels, casinos, music and theatrical venues along with tourist traps, wax museums, and the rest.

Not only is Buffalo misunderstood and underappreciated for its current strengths, it is almost completely unknown for its golden era when it was a leading American city.

It's position on the Erie Canal, Lake Erie, and its access to hydro-electricity (more on that later) made Buffalo a leading port and manufacturing hub as well as a financial and cultural center.

At the turn of the previous century Buffalo was home to more millionaires per capita than any city in the United States. The mansions in which these industrial giants and financiers lived are still well preserved on Delaware Avenue in a neighborhood called "Millionaires Row."

Proximity to Niagara Falls and hydro electricity made Buffalo the first city in the world to be fully electrified. The Pan American Exposition (e.g. World's Fair) was held in Buffalo to show off electricity.

One permanent building from the Expo remains as the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society (History Museum). Across a reflecting lake in beautiful Delaware Park is the equally classic lines and columns of the Albright-Knox.  

A beautiful system of parks and traffic circles designed by Frederick Law Olmstead (architect of Manhattan's Central Park) is still well maintained.

But does anyone outside of the Niagara Region know any of this? Of course not. They know snow, blight, chicken wings and underdog sports teams.

That's why once from Buffalo, always from Buffalo. That's why Buffalo and Buffalonians have an Avis Complex (from the old Avis commercial, we're number two so we try harder). That's why the souls of Buffalonians past and present will languish in a perpetual purgatory in this world and the next until the Bills or the Sabres win a World Championship.

Yes, as much as Buffalo has bragging rights beyond the sports world, there's this sense in which the religion that is Buffalo-ness (compare to the religion of being Jewish and tied to the land of Israel) is centered on the sacramental exploits of its major league teams. In the Buffalo psyche nothing will be enough to vindicate, redeem, and liberate the city and its souls unless or until one of the teams is on top of the world.     

This is the fifth and final submission in a series of articles about the greatest underdog venues in U.S. pro sports. The criteria is simple: small-market towns, communities that get no respect, that personify the under-rated, that constantly challenge the giants of the world, and/or that have suffered some terrible devastation but are rebuilding.

There is the oft-quoted excerpt from A Chorus Line: "..to commit suicide in Buffalo would be redundant."

If you're from Buffalo you either love the line and quote it as Gospel, or you hate it and find yourself arguing against it explicitly and implicitly in every conversation you have with people who are not from Buffalo.

As I wrote in my B/R article, Why I'm a BFF (Bills Fan Forever), Being from Buffalo is like being Jewish. It's not just a place to live or to have moved from, it is the experience of being not only in a place but of a place. It's more theological and psychological than it is geographical. It's a strange combination of identity, self-esteem (individual and collective) and culture that are all interwoven into the landscape, architecture, climate, and experience of the place.

If you belong to the professional social networking site, Linked In, you will notice a disproportionate number of groups for Buffalo expats (natives and long-time residents who currently live away from Buffalo). Their comments and discussions-- about Buffalo sports, politics, events, and shared  history-- resemble what one might expect to find in a chatroom of the Jewish diaspora.

There's just something different, deeper, intrinsic and unshakable about being from Buffalo that I have not observed in people from other mid-sized or larger cities (with the exception perhaps, to a somewhat lesser degree, of people from other towns on our Top 5 List).

The late, great Tim Russert is a perfect example of a Buffalo expat. He'd been gone for most of his adult life. He'd lived in New York and Washington. He'd become one of the top two or three journalists of his generation. Yet, he owned an apartment in Buffalo, went back there most holidays, wrote a book about growing up there, and always ended his program "Meet the Press" with a cheer for the Bills or the Sabres when they were in season.

The continued fanatical following of the Buffalo Braves, an NBA franchise that lived in Buffalo for eight years and has been the Clippers for 31 years, is another example of what I'm talking about. Far from dying out, this obsession with Buffalo's NBA team continues to grow. The most recent manifestation of that is the release of a new coffee table book, "Buffalo, Home of the Braves," featured in my B/R article of the same name.

So what is this about?

Like Cleveland, but even more so, Buffalo as a city, a region, and a people, gets no respect, is constantly being stereotyped by weather, by blight, by various Rust-Belt images, and is often parodied as culturally primitive and crass. And...

It's sports teams have, like Cleveland's but even more so, lived lives of extended desperation, frustration, and (like Browns I) abduction.

The Cavaliers have nearly missed the NBA finals numerous times, and lost the final round once. The Bills have nearly missed the Superbowl several times and managed to lose it four consecutive times, two of those times as the favorite.

And that's only half the story. The Sabres have made the Stanley Cup Finals twice in their history and each time lost gallantly played and heartbreaking series.

The Bills could have won their first superbowl except that Scott Norwood, who up to that point was the most reliable kicker in the NFL, went wide right on a chip shot. Now the term "Wide Right" is considered profanity in Buffalo.

The Sabres went six games against the Dallas Stars in their most recent Stanley Cup Finals and eventually lost game six near the end of the third overtime (thus having played a double-game, on a controversial non-call when the "winning goal" was made from "in the crease" (another localized profanity).

The rule was eliminated the following year, but at the time it should have been called and might have extended Buffalo's life long enough to play (and win) a seventh game.

And that's just sports.

Buffalo, unlike sister Rust Belt cities like Pittsburgh, Milwaukee to a lesser degree, and even Cleveland, has experienced all too little revitalization since its smoke belching factories were shut down.

Yes, there's been some cosmetic improvement in the inner city. The ugly, smelly factories are mostly gone. Some new building has occured in their stead, and  downtown.

A charming cultural district has emerged. There are world class museums, especially the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, great restaurants, a world class orchestra (Buffalo Philharmonic, once directed by Michael Tilson Thomas and still going strong).

The University at Buffalo (flagship of the State University of New York system) remains a leading center of academic pursuit and scientific research.

A medical research center is emerging that when complete will rival the Cleveland Clinic (a little irony there?).

As a tourist destination Buffalo's Metro Area includes the entire Niagara Region on both sides of the border. In fifteen minutes from downtown Buffalo you can be standing on the brink of the Horseshoe Falls absolutely mesmerized by one of the natural "Wonders of the World." There are four and five star hotels, casinos, music and theatrical venues along with tourist traps, wax museums, and the rest.

Not only is Buffalo misunderstood and underappreciated for its current strengths, it is almost completely unknown for its golden era when it was a leading American city.

It's position on the Erie Canal, Lake Erie, and its access to hydro-electricity (more on that later) made Buffalo a leading port and manufacturing hub as well as a financial and cultural center.

At the turn of the previous century Buffalo was home to more millionaires per capita than any city in the United States. The mansions in which these industrial giants and financiers lived are still well preserved on Delaware Avenue in a neighborhood called "Millionaires Row."

Proximity to Niagara Falls and hydro electricity made Buffalo the first city in the world to be fully electrified. The Pan American Exposition (e.g. World's Fair) was held in Buffalo to show off electricity.

One permanent building from the Expo remains as the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society (History Museum). Across a reflecting lake in beautiful Delaware Park is the equally classic lines and columns of the Albright-Knox.  

A beautiful system of parks and traffic circles designed by Frederick Law Olmstead (architect of Manhattan's Central Park) is still well maintained.

But does anyone outside of the Niagara Region know any of this? Of course not. They know snow, blight, chicken wings and underdog sports teams.

That's why once from Buffalo, always from Buffalo. That's why Buffalo and Buffalonians have an Avis Complex (from the old Avis commercial, we're number two so we try harder). That's why the souls of Buffalonians past and present will languish in a perpetual purgatory in this world and the next until the Bills or the Sabres win a World Championship.

Yes, as much as Buffalo has bragging rights beyond the sports world, there's this sense in which the religion that is Buffalo-ness (compare to the religion of being Jewish and tied to the land of Israel) is centered on the sacramental exploits of its major league teams. In the Buffalo psyche nothing will be enough to vindicate, redeem, and liberate the city and its souls unless or until one of the teams is on top of the world.     

What if the Buffalo Sabres could have won just two more games on the year, and barely stolen the eight seed from Montreal? Lets take a look.

Should the Sabres have taken the eight spot in the Eastern Conference (they missed by two points) they would have had to face Boston in the first round. Boston ran over Montreal in a sweep, outscoring the Canadiens 17-6.

The Sabres saw the Bruins a total of six times in 2009, and the Sabres took the series by winning four and only losing two. The Sabres also outscored the Bruins 21-14.

Could Buffalo have beaten the Bruins?

Well, they might not have beaten them, but if I was going to predict it, the Sabres would have beaten the Bruins in seven games, or at least gave a better series than Montreal did.

Now, should the Sabres have won that series against Boston, they would have had to face Washington in the quarterfinals (remember, they re-seed with the worst seeded winning team playing the best seed who won available).

Don't get me wrong, Washington is a great team, led by Alexander Ovechkin, but their goaltending is weak. Simeon Varlamov did play well for the Capital against the Penguins, but his defense gave up too many opportunities that Pittsburgh capitalized on, and in the end it came back to hurt them.

The Sabres could have beaten the Capitals in my eyes. If Buffalo could have been firing on all cylinders, and brought that proud feeling to the fans back in town, then they could have moved on to the Eastern Conference finals in six.

Now, we get to the semi-finals for the Eastern Conference. The Sabres would have been playing the Pittsburgh Penguins. Buffalo split the four-game regular season series with Pittsburgh, losing in regulation 5-2, then in overtime at home 4-3 on a goal from Malkin.

The Sabres won their two games in the season against them both by scores of 4-3, but all four of those games were back before the trade deadline in December.

Sadly, the Sabre train would end here, as I wouldn't see the likes of our youth pulling out four games against Malkin, Crosby, Fleury, Orpik, Staal, Guerin, and Sykora. I would say Penguins in six, as I give us wins both at home.

But, let's just keep dreaming (as if we aren't all ready) and say that Buffalo won again, and went to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1999. Oh, what a season!

They would end up facing Detroit (unless somehow the Blackhawks can muster out a series win as they are all ready down three games to one), a team that they couldn't beat in the regular season, losing all three match-ups.

Maybe a little intensity could get them past the Wings and onto the team's first Stanley Cup ever, but it just wouldn't seem likely to beat the cup reigning workforce. Detroit would have won in either five or six.

How can I predict all this stuff? I can't. I'm just giving all us Sabres fans out there a little thought, and a barrier to how bad our season ended. Hey, there's always next year, huh?

After the Buffalo Sabres finished off their second-straight disappointing season, managing partner Larry Quinn said the team would conduct a "thorough evaluation" to determine the reasoning for the team's downfall.

Just a week removed from that statement, it was announced that both General Manager Darcy Regier and Head Coach Lindy Ruff would be retained.

Now, weeks later, Sabres faithful are pondering what will happen next this offseason. It is obviously painful to watch the NHL Playoffs, especially when the team you root for isn't one of the 16 teams battling for Lord Stanley's Cup.

The Sabres should make plenty of offseason moves to ensure their fans improvement in the 2009-10 season. I mean, why not? I'm not saying the team needs to rebuild by any means, but last season after almost expectantly missing the playoffs after the Drury-Briere folly, Regier and Co. followed suit by having a pretty mediocre summer, trading for captain Craig Rivet.

Yes, Rivet was a decent addition. Heck, the team was reluctant enough to slap the "C" on his chest just weeks after his arrival.

And let's not forget how the front office reworked a few deals to keep core players around for years to come. Ryan Miller, Jason Pominville, Jochen Hecht, Paul Gaustad, and Daniel Paille all signed new deals a year ago. At the time we applauded their persistence to get deals done, and it seemed as though most fans were appreciative of a rather busy offseason.

This time around, the Sabres have a lot more work to do. They should not settle for minor changes. The team has missed the playoffs for two straight years since winning the Presidents' Trophy three seasons ago.

Regier has to make the decision on six unrestricted free agents and five restricted free agents. Some easier decisions than others, obviously, but a busy offseason nonetheless. Also, fans are hoping "other" changes will be made, via trade, or by making additions through free agency, or promotions within the organization. 

Since this has been a very popular topic among you Bleacher Creatures, I decided I'd join in the guessing game.

I am going to try and be as realistic as possible, but also I will try to discuss all the possible scenarios the Sabres may be evaluating as we speak. In a three-part article, I will discuss the Sabres' free agents, both restricted and unrestricted, possible free agents the Sabres may target, possible players on the trade market, and also prospects within the organization, who may be on the brink of becoming stars in the NHL.

 

Unrestricted Free Agents

Maxim Afinogenov, 28, RW; 2008-09 salary: $3.5 million

Probably the easiest decision this offseason for the Sabres is to part ways with the Russian speedster. Just three years ago he led the team in points halfway through the season before a wrist fracture put him in the press box. Since then he has been more than a disappointment. He had just 48 points in 104 games in two seasons, and spent plenty of time as a healthy scratch during that time period.

Bon voyage, Maxim.

Andrew Peters, 28, LW; 2008-09 salary:$550,000

I read other day that every NHL team needs a fighter. Well, in the Sabres' case, Andrew Peters would be that guy right? He played 28 games last season averaging a little over four minutes of ice time and accumulating 80 PIMs.

This is probably as useless of hockey player I have ever seen. I have a hard time believing Peters even has a spot on any NHL team. The league has run out of room for the traditional goon. And besides, the Sabres should have plenty of guys who can fill the void in the fighting department. Craig Rivet and Paul Gaustad will do just fine.

Dominic Moore, 27, C; 2008-09 salary: $900,000

When Moore was acquired via trade from Toronto, most people, including me thought that he was going to be brought in as a rent-a-player. The Sabres acquired Moore late on deadline day for a second round pick acquired from an earlier trade involving Ales Kotalik and the Edmonton Oilers.

Moore had 41 points in Toronto before coming to Buffalo and many thought that he would come in and contribute in the points department. Well, in 18 games with the Sabres he was only able to record a goal and three assists.

It has been rumored upon his arrival that he was asking for a hefty raise in Toronto, which was one of the main reasons he was traded. Depending on what the Sabres do with some other players, it might be best to let Moore go.

He is a third-line center at best, and with guys like Gaustad, Adam Mair, and Matt Ellis already on the roster, there might not be any room for a player of Moore's caliber. But like I said, it depends on what the team does.

Matt Ellis, 26, LW-C; 2008-09 salary: $475,000

Ellis was one of the surprises this season after being picked up off waivers from the Los Angeles Kings. Ellis stepped in right away after some key injuries sidelined Gaustad and Jochen Hecht earlier in the year. Watching Ellis was a bit refreshing. He was one of those high motor guys that you knew was giving 110 percent for the logo on the front of his sweater. In 45 games, the fourth-liner finished with 12 points (7G, 5A).

Ellis is your traditional depth forward, and a guy that would be very cheap to keep around. But last season I became a little weary of the talent drop off between the top two lines and the bottom lines. The Sabres almost looked like they were running two fourth lines for the majority of the season.

I am not bashing on Ellis, but I think they were a little stacked with players of his talent level. Yes, guys like Ellis are much needed, but with Gaustad, Moore, Mair, Paile, Pat Kaleta, and even Nathan Paetsch on the roster, you kind of have to narrow that group down a bit, right? There's a 50/50 chance Ellis is a Sabre next season.

Teppo Numminen, 39, D; 2008-09 salary: $1.1 million

What can you say about Teppo? Such a great career. In 19 seasons he played almost 1400 games, recording 637 points. Everyone in the league was aware of Numminen's story coming in to last season.

He played a total of two games in 2007-08, spending most of his time recovering from his second heart surgery in as many years. At the start of last season, he was back and ready to go. He played the majority of the first half of the season, but after all-star break it seemed as though his age was catching up to him. Not only that but there was a young stud emerging on the Sabres' blue line by the name of Chris Butler. In 57 games, Numminen contributed 17 points (2G, 15A).

In all likelihood, the veteran defenseman has played his last game in a Sabres uniform. He has publicly stated he is unsure about a return next season, but said that if he did he would want to play in Buffalo. Chances are he will hang up the skates.

Jaroslav Spacek, 34, D; 2008-09 salary: $3.3 million

Out of all the unrestricted free agents the Sabres have to deal with this offseason, Spacek is the toughest decision. The Sabres' blue line struggled last year, and had a number of dumb mistakes and defensive-zone meltdowns. Not only did the Sabres have trouble in their own end, but they also had trouble moving the puck out of their zone.

Spacek signed a three-year deal just over $9 million a few seasons ago. He was brought to Buffalo not only to be a sound, physical defenseman, but also to contribute in the points department. He has been a mainstay on the point on the power-play for the Sabres, and his shot and passing ability has been a key attribute to an above-average unit the last three seasons.

Last season, Spacek recorded 45 points in 80 games, though he struggled earlier on in the season. He finished tied for fifth in points with Drew Stafford. In the last two seasons Spacek has totalled 44 points on the power-play alone.

One of the Sabres' biggest needs this offseason is on the blue line. The Sabres are in dire need of a big, physical, gritty defenseman, but also a puck-moving, offensive defenseman.

Depending on what Regier's plans are to bolster the defense, Spacek may be around next season at a rather reasonable price. At $3 to $3.5 million I think the Sabres could keep him around. If he can contribute 40 to 45 points, it may be worth it. If the Sabres do not re-sign him, they will need to fill the void he will leave on the power-play.

 

Restricted Free Agents

This is where the real fun begins. Well, sort of.

The real fun would be going out and signing or trading for different players, but that doesn't happen too often in Sabreland. The Sabres have tougher decisions regarding their restricted free agents.

Drew Stafford, 22, RW; 2008-09 salary: $984,000

The Sabres looked to Stafford last season to be one of the top point producers on the team. Early last season we were accustomed to seeing Stafford paired with Thomas Vanek and Derek Roy on the team's top line. His season started off very slowly, and was bounced around to various lines.

Like most of the Sabres last year, he struggled, and at times he went many games without scoring a goal. He was, however, very productive in the months of January and February, only to fall off the score sheet when the team needed him most.

Stafford was drafted 13th overall by the Sabres in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. The 6'1", 200-pound winger has great hands and play-making ability. He was inserted into the lineup early in his career in the 2006-07 season where he played 41 games and tallied 27 points. Just two season later he was playing on the top line.

Last year he reached the 20-goal mark for the first time in his career, finishing with 20 goals and 25 assists. His inconsistencies were as troublesome as some of the higher profiled players such as Vanek, Roy, and Jason Pominville.

Because of his potential, I see Stafford getting extended. Somewhere around a two-year, $5 million deal sounds sufficient. He has nowhere to go but up, especially playing alongside a player such as Vanek. He is capable of scoring 25 to 30 goals a year, while adding a physical aspect to his game. At $2.5 million per, that would be a bit of a bargain. But he has to perform.

Clarke MacArthur, 23, LW; 2008-09 salary: $522,000

MacArthur came out of the starting gates very quickly last season. In the first two months, MacArthur had six goals. But after a hot start, MacArthur went 17 games without finding the back of the net. This awful stretch forced Lindy Ruff to make him a healthy scratch on a few occasions.

He lacked the intensity and passion that was needed to play the game at a high level, and many, including his coach, questioned his motivation. This is MacArthur's biggest question mark.

MacArthur finished the season with a career-high 17 goals and 14 assists. He was bounced around anywhere from the fourth line to the top line, and towards the end of the year he was playing alongside Tim Connolly. MacArthur again went on a tear at the end of the year when he scored five goals in the final eight games.

To me, he is a player the Sabres could do without. He is capable of producing points, and even coming up with a few goals now and then, but his inconsistencies are far too great to overcome. However, he might turn out to be a player the Sabres are willing to trade.

If the Sabres decide to make a qualifying offer, it will likely be in the ballpark of $1.25 million per season.

Patrick Kaleta, 22, RW; 2008-09 salary: $500,000

The Sabres know what they will be getting when they extend Kaleta this summer. The 5'11", 195-pound winger is developing into the Sabres most feared hitter. He plays a lot bigger than his size, and is just one of the few high-energy guys on the Sabres roster.

The only knack on Kaleta is his offensive ability. Yeah, a fourth-liner usually doesn't score 20 goals anyways, but he is sometimes one dimensional. 

If he worked on his offensive game, both his stick handling and passing ability, he could develop into a very useful two-way player. He has good speed, and is usually very responsible in his own end. Ruff played him on numerous occasions on the penalty kill because he was very good in getting in the shooting and passing lanes.

The Angola, NY native will likely make around $750,000 with his new deal. If he can stay healthy, which was a problem last season, he is very effective. Kaleta played in only 51 games last season due to a couple injuries, including a neck and head injury.

Andrej Sekera, 22, D; 2008-09 salary: $659,000

Like Kaleta, I believe Sekera will be a full-time Sabre next season. Many fans became sick and tired of seeing Sekera make mistakes last season, and that is understandable. But in reality, it was his first full season as a top-six defenseman in the NHL. Cut him some slack. The Sabres' defensive unit as a whole wasn't very good to begin with. The last thing Sabres' fans should be doing is laying it all on a rookie.

When Brian Campbell was traded a year ago, Sekera was already seeing some playing time. His offensive style drew comparisons to Campbell's, thus being the reason why some thought of him as Campbell's replacement last season.

Sekera is a very smooth skater, and is very good on making outlet passes to his forwards. He is more of a positional defenseman but he does not shy away from the physical aspect of the game.

Halfway through the season I think he did an above-average job in his own end, and at some point, I thought he was one of, if not the best defenseman in Buffalo. But his game dropped off. He began to make dumb mistakes, costing his team goals.

Even towards the end of the season, Ruff had to scratch him for a few games. He publicly said he had no confidence in his game. It happens. Young players get flustered, and usually that is when a savvy veteran comes into play, but leadership wasn't very plentiful in the Sabres' locker room last season.

Sekera has a great deal of potential, and maybe someday he will turn out to be that Campbell-like player some are saying he could be. He can quarterback the power-play, and use his offensive ability to his advantage.

His deal will likely be around $1.25 million per, but no greater than $2 million. He is young. Give him time to develop. I expect him to be much better next season.

Mark Mancari, 22, RW; 2008-09 salary: $522,000

Mancari is more of a prospect right now, but he may be a player the Sabres will look to step in and play next season.

The 6'4", 225-pound winger played only three games last season, but during that short span he showed a lot of energy, grit, and one heck of a slap shot.

Mancari was selected to the last two AHL All-Star games. Two seasons ago he won the hardest shot contest at the AHL skills competition with a 102.8 MPH slap shot. Zdeno Chara's hardest shot was recorded at 103.1 MPH.

During his time time in Portland/Rochester, he has been among the team's top scorers. Last season he had 67 points (29G, 38A) in 73 games for the Pirates. He was mostly seen playing alongside two other well-known prospects, Nathan Gerbe and Tim Kennedy.

Out of all the Sabres' prospects, Mancari might be the most NHL ready. He has tremendous size and strength, and of course, a great shot. Mancari will probably be re-signed for about $700,000 per and should be battling for a roster spot next season.

If he can play with the toughness and grit the Sabres lack, while also producing points, there is no doubt he will be in a Blue and Gold sweater next season. One can only hope he can play at his true potential.

 

Recap

There is no doubt that Sabres management will have plenty of tough decisions when it comes to re-signing their free agents this summer. Not only do they have to deal with their own current free agents, but they also need to play the field, and see what else might be out there to suit their needs.

If they re-sign their restricted free agents to qualifying deals, they will be very limited in cap space. The Sabres will lose a lot of cap room when Connolly's and Pominville's contracts go into effect this summer. This is one of the main reasons why the Sabres may look to explore the trade market.

Players such as Jochen Hecht, Daniel Paille, Clarke MacArthur, Henrik Tallinder, Nathan Paetsch, Derek Roy, and Toni Lydman could all be part of that bunch. The most advantageous scenario for the Sabres would be to trade Hecht and Tallinder, but after all, hockey is a business, and a deal would need to be made. 

Nonetheless, I will explore these possibilities in my next article. I will discuss the possible trade market the Sabres may offer and also go over why I think these players could be traded.

I will also discuss the players the Sabres may want to look at in free agency.

Note: Contract information was obtained from nhlnumbers.com

I could sit here and write fifty-billion articles on what the Sabres need to do this offseason, so why not just put it all out there at once? This could get fun...

 

DEREK ROY- [keep] I would like to see what he can do for the next two years. He is signed on for four more seasons, so I would like to see what he can do for us in those years. We can then see what is value is in 2011.

JASON POMINVILLE- [Questionable] If this is the guy we need to get rid of in a trade to acquire some SERIOUS draft picks, or a top notch guy in a package, then by all means trade him. He only had 20 goals last year and needs to produce for the city of Pominville, or they will all be poor and out of jobs.

THOMAS VANEK- [keep] This is an obvious keep unless you're some crazy fan that wants to deal him for fifty picks and a goalie. He is the center of our franchise and is needed to make a playoff run in the near future.

TIM CONNOLLY- [keep] Timmy, we all love you man, but if you can't play more than 60 games in a season, its not worth keeping your $4.5 million-a-year contract. He played in 48 games last year and notched 47 points, so he can put points up, but he needs to stay healthy if he wants to stay another year.

JAROSLAV SPACEK- [keep] Try to sign this guy. He is a unrestricted-free-agent, but he did say he wanted to come back to Buffalo and play, so we could possibly get him for little money. He was our  leading scorer on defense last year could repeat those numbers should we sign him this off-season.

DOMINIC MOORE- [questionable] How can you seriously play two whole months without knowing you broke your wrist? Nonetheless, he produced only one goal and three assists as a Sabre.

At the same time, he totaled 13 goals and 32 assists last year. He is good on the draws and is a great penalty killer, so having him could help immensely. We should try to sign him, but we could see him walk out for the best offer, which could be as high as $3 million.

DREW STAFFORD- [leave] Drew put up decent numbers last year but couldn't find the scoring touch enough in the clutch. It seemed to me that he scored in games when the Sabres were in control, but couldn't bury his chances when they were down late. He isn't consistent, and that could come back to bite him in the end.

CLARKE MACARTHUR- [leave] Let's face it, he is never going to be a top six winger, so why wast our time on him. He is still young at 24 and put up 31 points last year, but that wont cut it. He is the one who sees the boot in my eyes.

PAUL GAUSTAD- [keep] Paul Guastad is probably the only guy, other than Mair and Kaleta, on the Sabres who plays with heart night in and night out. He is a fan favorite in Buffalo and doesn't have to score a 60 point plus year to be considered good.

He just needs to win face-offs, provide enforcement, and hit to live up to his role on our club. He is a keeper for sure.

JOCHEN HECHT- [leave] Please let Hecht go. He doesn't help our team at all. Its funny to think that just two years ago he had 50 points. Since he wont help our team, let him go.

DANIEL PAILLE- [keep] Since management has already signed him this off-season, it looks like we won't be seeing him go anytime soon. This is good because he announced his marriage date just a week ago.

I personally like Paille. He is young, fast, and a very gritty guy who can take the body and crash the net well. I predict him to be a future captain or co-captain, so I like the re-signing of him by the Sabres.

CRAIG RIVET- [keep] He was last years captain. Rivet doesn't need to score a million points. He needs to enforce his role as a strong checker and look out for our smaller guys to fulfill expectations. However, a 40 point season would be lovely from a guy like him.

TONI LYDMAN- [leave] I am sick of watching Toni stand around the front of the net pivoting in circles whenever the opposing team has the puck in our zone. Toni needs to either find a new team or just retire and go into coaching. Either way, the Sabres should definitely let go of him.

MAXIM AFINOGENOV- [questionable] Max needs a BIG year. This could be a make or break year for him regarding his career. If he can't step up big and get another 60+ point year, we should let him go or package him up. The only reason I believe he is still here is due to his $3.5 million tag, which can't sell his 20 point season.

ADAM MAIR- [keep] Mair is a great guy who isn't afraid to get in someone's face. He even walks into other teams' dressing rooms and starts fights with their players and staff! He is good at what he does and understands his role, which is being a rigid fourth line center.

I like Mair and hope the Sabres find a way to keep this guy, which could be hard with enforcers like Kaleta, Guastad, Paille, Mair, and Peters on the roster.

ANDREJ SEKARA- [keep] Andrej played great during his second year with over 35 games played. He produced 19 points last year from the point and is still developing in a faster league, so we haven't seen him in full effect yet. We could see him play better next year.

TEPPO NUMMINEN- [leave] No one  notified Teppo that it isn't 1987 anymore. He still rocks the mullet and believes he can produce consistently at age 40. We need to become serious if we want to make a playoff run and keeping this guy around doesn't cut it. 

HENRIK TALLINDER- [questionable] He played most of last year paired with Lydman, ruining his stats. I admit that his play has declined, but I also believe he can turn it around in 2010 and produce more for this team.

PATRICK KALETA- [keep] Kaleta plays fierce hockey and competes harder than any player in the NHL. He may not hit or pick fights with the right guys at the right time, but you can always expect him to be checking and creating chaos and disruption with the other team every night, which is why I would like him to stay.

The Buffalo Sabres need a big upcoming 2009-10 year if they want to keep the fan base from completely vanishing.

Ever since the president's trophy team of 2007, the Sabres haven't come close to hoisting Lord Stanley, or even making the playoffs.

Should the Sabres have another train-wreck year, things could get crazy in Buffalo.

The Sabres need a playoff year. Plain and simple, no way around it, it's already set. The Sabres need to make the playoffs in order to satisfy the fans.

Not only that, the team needs to be playing in the postseason for many other reasons. One would be retaining current head coach Lindy Ruff's job.

Ruff is currently the longest-serving head coach in the NHL. Ruff is a great head coach, and knows how to run a team. The problem isn't Ruff—it's the players that are put on the ice night in and night out for this team.

The management of the Buffalo Sabres needs to bring in better-skilled guys if they expect Ruff to do something this year. Larry Quinn and Darcy Regier need to bring in guys that are as skilled as Chris Drury or Daniel Briere, who left the team just two seasons ago.

If the team can manage to bring in three to four guys who can perform, they should be able to make a playoff run that resembles their past glory.

Another reason this team needs to make the playoffs is for the fans.

The fans are dying for a playoff run, and should the Sabres not deliver again, we could see many hop off the bandwagon. The reason the Sabres still have many fans is due to the two deep playoff runs just three years ago. Many of those fans still support the Sabres, but this could be the last year we see them in the crowds.

The Sabres need to make the playoffs now, and should this not be the year again, Buffalo could see many fans, as well as players leave. Buffalo could end up being on the other half of the best teams in the NHL again.

Marc's new weekly top ten! Each week He will count down the top ten of whatever is on his mind! This week, he counts down the ten worst mascots in the NHL! Will your team be the team that holds the worst mascot of the NHL? Click to find out! All of the mascots were chosen by me, and it is my sole opinion on the topic. (Note that none of the Mascots paid or bribed me with extra tickets, or popcorn in the making of this article)

When the Buffalo Sabres host the Toronto Maple Leafs, it's safe to say that about one-fourth of the building is filled with screaming (mostly drunk) Leaf fans, most, if not all, of which make the 100-mile trip to Buffalo.

 

Now, with one of the greatest rivalries in hockey, imagine if a team moved right in between them. Literally.

 

Co-CEO at Research in Motion, the developer for the well known BlackBerry wireless solution, Jim Balsillie now is trying to move the Phoenix Coyotes into southern Ontario, possibly Hamilton.

 

The problem with this is that the NHL has legal rights on the team, and argue that even if Balsillie was to purchase the team from Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes, the NHL would still have the ability to have the full say in where they are located.

 

Should the Coyotes be moved to Hamilton, the only building that would satisfy  NHL regulations would be Copps Coliseum, where the current AHL farm team to Montreal, the Hamilton Bulldogs, play. The arena is almost twenty-five years old, and would need some serious upgrades if it wanted to satisfy an NHL crowd and players.

 

Also, how would Montreal feel if the bulldogs shared a home with the Hamilton (insert team name here). While on that topic, what would the new team be called anyway? The Hamilton AutoBots, BlackBerries, or even better, the Ball sillies. Get it? Obviously I'm just poking fun at the idea, but should a team come to Hamilton, if you really think about it, no actual team names make sense for that area.

 

Besides, the average yearly income for the city of Hamilton is steady, around $35,000. That surely wouldn't be enough to support an NHL-caliber team. Especially with where the economy is right now. 

 

Another thing, isn't Hamilton a bit close to Buffalo and Toronto to build a franchise there? If you look at a map, Buffalo to Hamilton is about 70 miles, and Toronto to Hamilton is only 40 miles away from each other. In my opinion, the three cities are way too close. 

 

A more realistic location would be in London. The cities have similar populations, and it is in the middle of lower Ontario.

 

Should the team move to Hamilton, how many Sabres fans would we lose? In reality, close to none, as very few die hard Sabers fans make the 45-minute drive to the HSBC Arena every game. But should a team move there, the danger of losing our team to a bigger market team if Balsillie lets his franchise grow, we could see some changes over a longer period of time.