A Realistic Look at The Sabres Potential Offseason

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I’ve been reading everything Sabre related on this site for a while now and I’m tired of disputing things in the comments. I’m gonna tell you what will and needs to happen and why all these ridiculous ideas will not work.

I’d love for us to make some changes and bring in some different players as well, but a lot of these crackpot ideas are just not possible.

Let’s start by telling you what will not happen this offseason:

 

1. The Sabres will not trade Derek Roy.

It’s obvious the goal for this offseason is going to be to make the team better prepared for a playoff run this season. 

While I don’t doubt we could get a good package for Roy, what are we going to get for him that will make us better right away? You won’t get a better scorer. You won’t get someone better in the faceoff. You won’t get a better value at $4 million. 

Maybe if you could get a top defenseman for him and clear enough salary to sign an adequate replacement center it would make us better. But it’s a lot more likely we’d be gaining salary while losing a consistent offensive player (and we are already short in that department). 

Any deal where we move Roy is likely only going to give us depth or long-term potential, neither of which makes us better this season. And after the player salaries we get back, how much money could we actually save?

$1-2 million? 

Now if you switched Roy’s and Vanek’s contracts there would be some benefits to this deal. But at only $4 million we aren’t clearing enough room where we can get back young impact talent and sign a free agent player who can be an important part of the team.

More importantly, you know Connolly will miss some time and basically every free agent capable of centering a first or second line will cost more than Roy on the open market and is probably out of our price range after we fill the defensive holes. 

The Sabres will be out of the playoffs again if we’re left with some combination of Gaustad, Hecht and Gerbe as our top 2 centers for any extended period of time when Connolly is out.

Also, Lindy loves Roy.

He made him the top center for team Canada at the worlds.  He was second on a star-studded team for ice time for forwards there. He also really picked up his play in the draw after the break.

Lindy won’t let him go. 

If there is one thing that Darcy and Lindy do well, it’s work together and he isn’t going to trade away one of the coach’s favorite players. 

 

2. The Sabres can’t easily cut payroll.

Lets go through every contract the Sabres have that is more than $2.5 million (other than Miller and his $6.25 million) and evaluate who we can and should explore trading. 

Thomas Vanek (cap number $7,142,857, five years left) is just too expensive to get fair compensation for in a trade. And besides, he’s had 36-plus goals three years in a row.

Roy broke 30 two years ago and Pominville did it three years ago. The rest of the Sabres’ roster (who has a chance at coming back) has a combined two 20 goal seasons, and both of those are still question marks (Stafford last year, who could leave as a restricted free agent, and Hecht two years ago, who was a non-factor last season). 

If we lose Vanek, our offense is back to the abysmal years from 1996 to 1999, when we couldn’t win a cup with what might be the best five-year period a goalie’s ever had.

Jason Pominville (cap number $5,300,000, five years left) had too bad of a season (especially defensively) to have enough trade value to be worth trading.

Honestly who can we get for him that has more potential and/or makes less and still produces to give us flexibility? Maybe a 35-year-old with a year or two left. But that isn’t in the best interest of the organizaiton. 

Pominville had 30 goal and 80 point seasons in the very recent past and finished strong last year (six goals, 12 assists, +7 in his final 13) so there is some hope it was just an off year (and I still blame some early offensive struggles on being stuck with Hecht).

If the Sabres were going to go out on the line and sign a big winger to replace him and then trade Pominville later (for a defensemen, draft picks or cheaper players) I wouldn’t have a problem with it, but free agency isn’t that deep at right wing. You mostly have guys that are too expensive (Hossa, Gaborik, Havlat), past their prime (Satan anyone?), or not a big enough offensive threat (we could always get Kotalike back). 

I have a bad feeling the one big offensive sign will end up being Brian Gionta. I’ll cry if they bring in another umdersized forward.

Tim Connolly (cap number $4,500,000, two years left) I think has potential to be traded if the right situation arises. He’s too much of an injury risk and we need a sure thing.

If a team who’s deep at center would trade some reliable player for the higher-ceiling Connolly, I think it would be in our best interest. Swapping him for a physical 50-60 point center could be a great move, but we would need to find the ideal situation (somebody three-deep at center).

Otherwise we gotta keep him and hope for the best.   

Derek Roy (cap number $4 million, four years left) I already talked about.

Jochen Hecht (cap number $3,525,000, three years left) is the one who in my opinion absolutely has to go. I don’t care if we get one draft pick from the last round and nothing else. I don’t care if we swap him for another disappointing player from another team.

I’d trade that contract for spare zamboni parts if there was a taker. 

He can’t score, he can’t win draws and he drags down his linemates. I really think the prolonged Hecht/Pominville pairing early in the season is the reason that Jason dropped so much this year, at least offensively.

Craig Rivet (cap number $3,500,000, two years left) is the captain, the leader and our most physical defensemen (the biggest hole our team has). We need to add physical defensemen who can provide leadership, not subtract it.

He also reportedly started his offseason workouts a month ahead of his usual schedule, so he should hopefully be able to avoid the injuries that nagged him this year.

Tony Lydman (cap number $2,875,000, one year left) is a keeper for me right now because of how the defense as a whole looks.

Right now all we have is Rivet (who is brittle), Tallinder (see below), Paetsch (who is best suited as a backup playing defense or the fourth line whenever needed) and then a bunch of guys with less than a year’s experience in Butler, Myers, Weber and Gragnani.

Lydman was pretty bad with the puck in our zone last year (although I think part of that was being stuck with Tallinder), but he played physical and led the team in hits and blocked shots. He’s likely gone by the deadline anyway, but we should keep him to start the year to give the youth more time to develop. 

Henrik Tallinder’s (cap number $2,562,500, one year left) time is up in Buffalo. My second must go along with Hecht. The defense needs to be rebuilt and he’s the first piece to go. You’ll find someone in need of multiple blue liners willing to give up something very small to take him on for a year.

When it comes to the rest of the players who have contracts for this year, Gaustad, Paille, Butler and Paetsch are all guys that have to stay.

The only player with a questionable contract is Gaustad, but he’s a good faceoff man with size and physicallity, which the Sabres lack. I’d prefer Ellis (an unrestricted free agent) over Mair, but the difference is probably negligible for a fourth line center. 

To summarize, Hecht and Tallinder are gone. Lydman will be gone by the deadline, but it’s probably better to hold him until you see how Rivet and the kids hold up. Pominville and/or Connolly could go if everything lined up perfectly, but those aren’t the most likely scenarios.

Scoring talent is just too thin on this team and you can’t give up players with that type of potentital unless you get someone similar back, which isn’t likely to happen with their quesiton marks.

 

3. There won’t be giant turnover this offseason, as I’ve seen suggested in many places.

 

Yes it would be nice to drop some of our dead weight and replace them with some more reliable veterans, but it isn’t feasible for our team. 

We aren’t a big enough market to spend up to the cap like some teams. We also have a core of six guys (Vanek, Roy, Pominville, Connolly, Rivet, Miller) who it isn’t really easy, smart or beneficial to move, making up about $31 million of our projected $52 million budget.

I’m expecting we keep the payroll the same as last year, which isn’t a given with the failing economy. 

That would then leave $21 million for the remaining 14 players, or $1.5 million a player, which isn’t much, especially when everyone wants to pony up more for a better backup goalie and keep the luxury of a player like Paetsch who wouldn’t play every day.

That also doesn’t include the money that is paid to Stafford (or a top line forward to replace him) and Spacek (or another defensemen to put in the pairing), both of whom are necessities.

We’d be lucky to only spend $7 million there, leaving $14 milion to spend on the remaing 12 players, or $1.3 million per player. 

I’ll show you exactly how hard it is to spend that below.

There just isn’t enough money for us to be Pittsburgh and fill out the roster with guys like Fedotenko, Sykora and Satan every offseason. We also don’t have the offensive depth to move those big contracts. 

Unless we can get two 20-goal scorers for the price of one of our top guys (which isn’t all that likely), it isn’t going to make the team any better right now.

 

4.  So what do we do this offseason?

First off, dump Hecht and Tallinder for whoever you can get. That saves $6 million and I’m assuming they get nothing that helps next season.

That leaves $40 million committed to 13 players (Vanek, Pominville, Roy, Connolly, Gaustad, Paille, Mair, Rivet, Lydman, Butler, Paetsch, Miller and Lalime).

Assuming we don’t have Paetsch starting and the payroll stays the same as last year, that means we have $12 million to spend on two left wingers, three right wingers, and three defensemen, including a winger with offensive talent to play in the top six and a top defenseman (Spacek or a replacement). 

Next we’ll sign restricted free agents Kaleta (obvious choice) and MacArthur.

MacArthur was good when he was with Stafford and Roy early and when he was with Pominville and Connolly late, he won’t be a star but give him a shot in the top six and he’ll score 50 points; well worth the money.

Each should only cost about $1 million (due to inexperience, injuries, slumps), leaving $10 million to spend on one left-winger, two right-wingers, and three defensemen.

Next we’ll go to Portland. 

Gerbe cleary deserves the spot as the last left winger. 

We’ll assume that one out of the group of Myers/Weber/Gragnani breaks camp in the third defensive pairing (or we resign Sekera). Without Sekera the two should cost about $1 million combined, leaving $9 million for two right wingers and two defensemen.

Here’s where we get into trouble.

We cut $6 million in payroll, we resigned our two cheapest restricted free agents, we promoted two players from the AHL making around the league minimum, and we haven’t touched any of our unrestricted free agents. 

We still have four empty roster spots, only $9 million to spend, and still clearly need a right winger to play in the top six, a defenseman for the top pairing, and probably a third line scoring threat.

Even if we move someone like Roy or Connolly, we only save $4-5 million, and would then need to try and fit two top six caliber forwards, a top defenseman and two more players into the payroll just to stick with the formula we had last year.

Ideally, I’d love to see us add a few million in payroll (and you could trade Lydman and resign Sekera for a little extra cash as well) and then have the space to both resign Stafford and Spacek and bring in Mattias Ohlund and Nik Antropov (I just really want to add size in the baddest way). 

I also think a line of Gerbe, Gaustad and Antropov would be hard to defend (and that is far from a typical Sabres line). It’s at least a third line that could bruise and gets its fair share of goals.

That’s not going to be the exact offseason, but I think it’s pretty accurate until we get to those last four spots to fill. 

Admittedly, the salary numbers for Kaleta, MacArthur, Gerbe and the rookie defensemen are probably off, don’t really know how entry level contracts work with players that aren’t called up yet, or what the market will be for the restricted free agents.

I’m more just pointing this out to show you can’t just say we need to sign a better backup goalie and some veterans on defense and the third line and expect the budget to work out, because it won’t. With Miller and Pominville getting giant raises this year and Stafford looking for his first big deal we’re already over last year’s salary before trying to addi any new players.  

Anyway lets hear what you have to say.

Does anyone disagree on my reasons for why players won’t/shouldn’t be traded? 

Is there any obvious trade partners out there that may be willing to trade a young player primed for a breakout who could help us right away?

The biggest problem to me is the only proven 20-goal scorers are Vanek, Roy, Pomminville and Stafford (although a healthy Connolly and MacArthur on the second line all year would both likely do it).  And then it’s a real possibility that Connolly gets hurt and Stafford signs elsewhere. 

Can we really trade Roy (or any of the big contracts) with that little offensive depth?

Most teams would probably want to base a deal around draft picks anyway. Wouldn’t that just be conceding the season before it starts? 

I just really don’t see our core players changing for a while, at least not unless we have some breakout players come up (Gerbe), making other guys become expendable. 

We are a legitimate playoff contender and trading any of our top guys jeopardizes that.  I think we are overreacting a little to missing the playoffs.

There are some issues and reasons for concern, but even with the doubts we’re still easily a six seed or better if Miller and Vanek are healthy. Our team also matched up against Boston, New York, New Jersey, and Montreal fairly well, while Pittsburgh, Washington and Philly are going to start having roster turnover from cap issues. 

One of the next few years we just need the cards to fall right. Good matchups, a well timed Miller hot streak and a little luck and we’re in the finals where anything can happen.

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