Sabres Hockey Could Use Some Significant Changes


Jul. 1what a glorious day. The sun is shining, the wind is blowing, and being outdoors is the place to be. It’s Canada Day, so Buffalo’s neighbors to the north are all celebrating their country’s founding. Oh yeah, it’s also the start of NHL free agency.


Today marks the start of either spot-on or fatal changes to the rosters of hockey clubs all over the league. The latter has been plaguing the Buffalo Sabres for the past couple yearsdare I say it’ll happen again?


The chances, unfortunately, are probable. General Manager, Darcy Regier, wants to trade rather than sign free agents. It may take a while for anything to get done this summer because, according to Darcy, the market isn’t exactly set in stone yet.


Let’s first address what the Sabres covered in this year’s entry draft. Hard-nosed, gritty players were drafted by the blue and gold, and that is exactly what Buffalo needs (and what the fans have been screaming for). Players like Zack Kassian and Marcus Foligno are sure bets to make grounds in the NHL when their times come.


If the Sabres want to be a playoff contender in the 2009-2010 season, the management has to be honest with themselves. Major improvements are needed in every area.


The defense has been lacking for years. The offense is clearly missing a vital player or two. And the goaltending situation tends to be the significant difference in making the playoffs or not.


Buffalo has enough defensive depth to cart the unnecessary players out. Prospects like Chris Butler (a shoo-in), Mike Weber, and Tyler Myers are all players that can possibly fill the gaps. An experienced defenseman or two brought in via free agency or trade would complete sufficient balance between young and old.


A prospect like Tim Kennedy or Nathan Gerbe can add energy and prowess to scoring, or if Mathieu Darche is re-signed, leadership to the forwards.


Everyone knows the goaltending situation. Coach Lindy Ruff will lose faith in the backup goaltender and will overplay star goaltender Ryan Miller. That simply cannot happen if any team wants to make a viable playoff push.


Luckily, the chances of Maxim Afinogenov returning are slim to none. His flashy play has only hampered the Sabres offensive chances when he was seldom in the lineup the past two seasons. Luckily, he doesn’t want to return. That’s $3 million or so of salary cap saved. If he signs anywhere, it will most likely be the KHL, the safe haven of all Russian wash-outs.


Andrew Peters is another player that money shouldn’t be wasted on. Peters is a great guy, and he brings a lot of character to the dressing room and community, yes, but he only played 29 games last season. His services aren’t needed any longer since many players are willing to step up to the plate and defend their teammates whenever needed.


Take what would be given to Peters as a contract renewal and overpay Matt Ellis. A few teams might be willing to pay him that amount of money since Ellis proved himself as a grinder who can score with the right linemates.


Dominic Moore’s name hasn’t even been a blip on the radar. Moore should be given another shot because he led by example every time he stepped onto the ice in a Sabres uniform after he was traded here Mar. 4. He didn’t get off on the right foot; starting the season with the team could be a pleasant surprise.


Whether the two oldest defensemen on the team return is entirely up to Teppo Numminen and Jaroslav Spacek. Numminen has shown how he has aged and retirement could be up his alley. While Spacek will most likely test the free market since Regier only wants to sign him short term and Spacek is looking for the opposite. If Spacek and his booming shot returns, it will be for far too much money.


But considering Regier wants to mainly trade this summer, that should be discussed. The players on the chopping block are easy to identify.


Jochen Hecht is a possibility and for good reason. He played quite well two seasons ago and was just dismal this year. Yet, knowing the front office and their forgiving qualities, he’ll be given the opportunity to redeem his sub par season.


The once dynamic duo of Toni Lydman and Henrik Tallinder are also names being thrown around. If either stays, it will be Lydman because his shot blocking ability was useful, but if the rumors about Jay McKee are true, he’ll be moved along.


Nathan Paetsch could be added to a packaged deal due to his savvy with playing offense or defense.


San Jose’s Ryan Clowe is a restricted free agent Sabres fans would love to see on the roster. Too bad he was offered a qualifying sheet so the Sharks still retain his initial rights. The personnel would never have the guts to send an offer sheet over after what happened with Thomas Vanek two summers ago.


There is some hope this summer, though. By signing Tim Connolly to a contract extension and extending qualifying offers to up-and-coming stars Drew Stafford, Patrick Kaleta, Clarke MacArthur, Andrej Sekera, and Mark Mancari, the Sabres are proving they are willing to keep key players.


Mind-boggling changes to the roster will not be seen this summer. This is due to both finances and the management’s feeble attempts at making much-needed adjustments.


Just sit back, don’t fret, and hope that enough subtle changes are made to make it to the playoffs. And don’t think about how you’ll receive a higher quality level of entertainment from the Buffalo Bandits after buying season tickets for roughly the same price as a jersey.

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