Buffalo Sabres fans are divided.
In one camp, they want to see head coach Lindy Ruff and general manager Darcy Regier out on the street, dragging their bags out of town on the 90.
The other camp is squarely behind Ruff and Regier and believes that the road to the Stanley Cup will be paved by their leadership.
It certainly is not a cut and dry case. Ruff and Regier have won a lot of games for the Sabres. They've also lost a lot.
Regier and Ruff began their tenures in the 1997-1998 season and took a, well, less than stellar Sabres team to the Eastern Conference Finals, losing to the Washington Capitals. The next year, the Sabres were in the Stanley Cup, losing in Game 6 in infamous fashion to the Dallas Stars.
Since then, the results have been a bit of a roller coaster ride. After two early round exits, the Sabres missed the playoffs for the three seasons preceding the 2004-2005 lockout. Then the two magical Drury-Briere led seasons that saw two Eastern Conference Finals berths and a Presidents Trophy, and then two more playoff misses. Now, after two heartbreaking first round losses, Sabres fans had to endure a close playoff miss, with a late season charge falling just short last season.
The microscope has been on Regier since both Chris Drury and Danny Briere left after the 2006-2007 season. Regier was hammered by the Buffalo media for not locking at least one of them up. Tom Golisano was a Buffalo savior after the Rigas' declared bankruptcy, but he wasn't very loose with his pocket books.
After losing your co-captains, it's hard to rebound from that, and the team didn't. Some will say it still hasn't.
The fact of the matter is, Regier has operated on a tight leash for most of his tenure. Never mind the tight budget; Larry Quinn was a minority owner. Quinn was general manager kryptonite.
Many have speculated that the departure of Drury and Briere was Quinn's fault. Yet that hasn't eased the Regier criticism in the least.
But here is the reality. Regier is one of the most shrewd traders and judges of talent in the league.
These trades speak for themselves: Chris Drury for Rhett Warrener and Steve Reinprecht. Danny Briere for Chris Gratton.
How about the two very recent examples: A first round pick for Paul Gaustad? Alex Sulzer, who will be a top four defenseman for the Sabres next year, for Marc-Andre Gragnani, who is playing on a two-way contract in Carolina next year.
He has also drafted Tyler Myers, Ryan Miller (in the fifth round), Jason Pominville, Thomas Vanek, Tyler Ennis, among others.
All in all, he has done a lot with very little.
That makes it Lindy Ruff's job to take that talent and win some hockey games.
Led by Briere and Drury, the 2005-2006 team and the President's Trophy winning 2006-2007 team had not shortage of talent. But the 1998-1999 team that went to the Stanley Cup is a completely different story.
Miroslav Satan scored 40 goals, but that team was led by the stellar goaltending of Dominek Hasek. Beyond those two players, Buffalo's talent was led by players like Donald Audette and Curtis Brown.
Long story short, Ruff has taken teams that had no business competing, aside from their all-world goaltender, to the Stanley Cup.
A lot was said about his style of coaching earlier this offseason with the Derek Roy incident, with many of the media wondering if his "tough love" style was growing stale in the locker room, especially with the longest tenured players like Vanek and Pominville.
The realization is, however tough Lindy may be on the players, he has never failed to get them to leave their hearts on the ice. Even in failure, as with this season, the team battled like crazy; clawing for every point they could get. The Sabres were a scary team heading into the playoffs because no one wants to play a team like that in the first round.
And there is also criticism about his system. It's extremely complicated and requires players to be responsible for a bevvy of potential players, areas of ice, etc., depending on what is transpiring in play.
This is definitely what slowed down players like Ville Leino and Cody Hodgson from having a profound impact on the team from day one, especially in the defensive zone.
But the system is also what allows players like Vanek and Pominville to thrive, not to mention the stellar play of Myers and Christian Ehrhoff in the second half of the season. It opens ice that normally shouldn't be open, and that is evident when all cylinders are churning, as they were from February on.
Simply, what it comes down to is this: Ruff and Regier have consistently turned something out of nothing, and as fans we shouldn't expect any less from them.
The calls for their departure are understandable, but the question of who would replace them is a telling one. In reality—and those of you saying Mike Keenan should quit the whole business of watching hockey—there is no one better to replace them.
And it doesn't seem like Mr. Pegula is one to take a flier on an unproven general manager and/or coach.
If the Sabres start off slow this season, the witch hunt may have some teeth, but until that happens, Darcy and Lindy have shown they can get the job done. And, yes, getting the job done equates to a Stanley Cup. But the team is getting exciting again, and the potential is there, and some will argue they should have won one already (be it in 1999 or 2006).
Potential isn't always telling, but the team should like where it's headed, and Lindy and Darcy have earned the right to steer the ship for a little while longer.
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Let's play devil's advocate.
The Buffalo Sabres have made some minor and one huge move since the draft at the end of June, and for many it has been encouraging.
The additions of John Scott and Steve Ott bring the physical presence on the team to a whole new level. Adam Pardy gives the Sabres even more defensive depth.
But for some of you, it's not enough. So let's explore the options the Sabres may have moving forward to make even more substantial changes to the roster as it stands today.
(Note: These options are ranked from most likely to least likely in my humble opinion. Also, these are "devil's advocate" scenarios; I'm not necessarily advocating for any of these moves, just discussing their possibility and their consequences.)
1. Bury Cody McCormick and Matt Ellis in Rochester and Let Pat Kaleta Walk and Play the Youngsters
Last season, the Sabres' fourth line was a revolving door due to the extensive list of injuries that plagued the team for much of the season. However this season it looks as though Cody McCormick, Matt Ellis, Pat Kaleta and Corey Tropp have the inside track to play the energy role for the Sabres this season.
But the reality of the situation is the cupboards are starting to get too full.
With the additions of Mikhail Grigorenko and Zemgus Girgensons, the Sabres' offensive prospects have taken a significant jump in comparison to the league as a whole. The expectation is that these kids will have every chance to make the team, putting the pressure on the current fourth-line players to show their stuff.
McCormick is probably the most talented of the bunch. He plays well in the offensive zone and is stingy in the defensive zone. He tends to be too high energy at times and gets caught out of position, but that is to be expected in the role he is playing. He'll never score you 20 goals, but a 10-goal season wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility. He also adds some grit to the team that has been sorely needed in seasons past.
Yet McCormick had his offensive struggles last season, dropping from a solid 20 points in 2010-2011 to a lackluster four points last season. Secondary scoring was a huge issue for the Sabres in the November to January slump they found themselves in and you need more than four points out of your fourth-line center.
Ellis is one of the toughest Sabres to hate. He is constantly going a million miles per hour and is an excellent forechecker. It's hard to ignore that. Yet, when Ellis gets the puck on his stick it's hard not to think about Heath Ledger in the Dark Knight describing himself as a dog chasing cars: "I wouldn't know what to do with one if I caught it." The same holds true with Ellis and the puck. So while his high energy play is a shot in the arm for the team, his offensive play leaves a lot to be desired.
Kaleta is a harder sell.
Sabres fans love his sandpaper play, while opponents hate it. He's the guy you love hearing opponents complain about. He has the hometown pedigree. But the fact remains that he has not played more than 63 games in any of his five full seasons as a Sabre.
His pest role has taken a toll on him both physically and offensively. Last season there were times where he looked like he was just running around trying to plant someone into next week. He took too many bad penalties and is now squarely in the sights of Brendan Shanahan after his four-game suspension in November of last season. The addition of Steve Ott also makes him even more expendable.
So the trade-off here would be energy for production, in theory.
Girgensons signed his entry-level contract last weekend, forgoing his collegiate career at the University of Vermont to begin his pro career earlier than expected. Lindy Ruff complimented the 14th overall pick in this year's draft on his "man body," saying he has the physical makeup to succeed at least in the AHL with Rochester next year.
Darcy Regier stated to the media that entry-level contract talks are ongoing with Grigorenko, so the likelihood of him signing soon is quite high. The top-three talent dropped to the Sabres at pick No. 12 at this year's draft and has electrified fans with the potential of finally having a number one center.
Corey Tropp showed last season in his 34 games that he was ready for the NHL. Playing solid minutes on the fourth line, and even spending time on the second line with Cody Hodgson and Thomas Vanek, Tropp showed he can be the high energy guy that Ellis and McCormick are, but with more offensive talent.
As stated before, the Sabres lacked in secondary scoring for much of the 2011-2012 campaign. The addition of some offensive talent on the "fourth" line would be an immediate boon to those numbers.
This is not even considering Luke Adam who showed a lot of offensive promise playing with Jason Pominville and Vanek for the first 15 games last season.
With a more offensively skilled "fourth" line while not giving up much size, Lindy Ruff would be able to roll all four lines in all or most situations, keeping the other lines fresh and utilizing the team's depth to pressure the opposition with every line. As it stands now, you hope for a big hit or for Kaleta to draw a penalty.
Offensive production is not in the expectations of any Sabres fan for them, but it could be.
2. Trade Jordan Leopold and Andrej Sekera
If there was one major area that was affected by injuries last season, it was the defensive corps for the Sabres.
Christian Ehrhoff, Tyler Myers, Andrej Sekera, Mike Weber and Brayden McNabb all missed significant time during the year, creating a rotating back end for the team.
So, in order to create some more depth, Darcy Regier traded Marc-Andre Gragnani for Alex Sulzer at last year's trade deadline, and added Adam Pardy and John Scott (who may double as a wing) during the offseason.
What this has effectively done is create a logjam like no other at the defensive position for the Sabres.
At first glance, the top four is pretty well settled. Tyler Myers, Robyn Regehr, Christian Ehrhoff and Jordan Leopold will form two combinations, with Mike Weber, Andrej Sekera, Alex Sulzer and Adam Pardy fighting for the fifth and sixth spots.
But it's not that simple.
Ehrhoff and Sulzer played remarkably well together last year, and it can be assumed that the German connection will be reformed next year.
Myers and Regehr would likely be the other top pairing, as they seemed to gel quite well through the second half of last season.
That firmly places Jordan Leopold as the fifth defenseman.
Despite the positives you may think are associated with that, there are plenty of negatives.
First, it creates a potential pairing of Sekera and Leopold. That is one mistake-prone pairing. Sabres fans' patience would be tried on a nightly basis by all the defensive zone turnovers and bad neutral zone play.
Second, and most importantly, it does not allow any of the young players to get any experience, assuming no injuries.
Brayden McNabb and TJ Brennan (who just re-signed for another year) played admirably as rookies filling in for injured teammates. McNabb was especially impressive, using his 6'4" frame to play a physical brand of hockey in the neutral zone and adding eight points.
Brennan only played 11 games to McNabb's 25, but still notched a solid even plus-minus and added a goal.
The Sabres recently came to terms with Mark Pysyk, their first round pick in the 2010 NHL draft, and Jerome Gauthier-Leduc, their third-round pick in the 2010 NHL draft.
Pysyk captained the Edmonton Oil Kings to the WHL Championship this season and plays a defensive style of hockey that will complement Myers and Ehrhoff's offensive style immensely. Very strong in the defensive zone, Pysyk normally would have the opportunity to make the Sabres roster opening night.
Gauthier-Leduc is an offensive dynamo for the Rimouski Oceanic of the QJMHL, scoring 28 goals and netting 74 points in 62 games this past season. His offensive abilities will remind Sabres fans of Brian Campbell during his days with the club. Gauthier-Leduc has strides to make defensively, but, similar to Erik Karlsson, he is not a liability on the blue line.
Basically, as it stands, Rochester is going to have some very talented defenseman playing there this year. McNabb, Pysyk and Gauthier-Leduc seem locks to be holding down the back end in Rochester, and will likely be joined by Brennan.
These kids deserve a chance.
Leopold has one year left on his deal at an extremely affordable $3 million. Sekera is signed for three more years at $2.75 million per year (via CapGeek.com). They can be moved for more young prospects, or potentially for another top six forward (especially center).
That would allow McNabb and Brennan especially a chance to compete for a roster spot this season and can usher in a "new core" that many Buffalo fans have been clamoring for since the beginning of last season.
3. Trade Jason Pominville, Thomas Vanek and Any of the Remaining "Core Players"
Expanding on the "new core" idea that has been thrown around by the Buffalo media: Why not trade it all away?
Sounds ridiculous I know. And it is.
Arguably one of the worst ideas in the history of man.
But, hey, why not?
Pominville and Vanek have had their chance and they were unable to deliver, so why keep them?
(There are plenty of reasons to in fact keep them, but again, playing devil's advocate here.)
Most people would include Drew Stafford and Ryan Miller in this category as well.
In a trade, they would likely net some nice prospects and even a few top six forwards. It would be an instant reboot of the system. Start it all over with new, young players. Derek Roy is out, why stop there?
Pominville is the captain. It's hard to trade your captain because your value of him is surely inflated in comparison to the league, but the rumor sites have had him involved in the Bobby Ryan talks with the Anaheim Ducks. (Again, hardly a great source.)
Vanek has his doubters in Buffalo, and will always have them. Maybe a change of scenery will help both teams involved? Vanek would also arguably fetch the highest return, so it would help the team in some respect. (I have written about why this is not a good idea, however.)
Stafford is an enigma. Thirty-one goals one year, 20 the next, and about half of them came once he started on a line with Tyler Ennis. His inconsistencies would not get much in return, especially with a $4 million price tag for the next three years.
Miller is the last of the remaining "core." He has been inconsistent the past two years, but showed at the end of last year that he is still the all-world goalie Sabres fans know and love. He only has two years left at north of $6 million, so that would be tough to move to anyone that is close to the cap, but he would have a lot of value. Enroth has shown he can play well, so maybe it's his time?
So, all in all, the Sabres will likely make none of these moves. Grigorenko starting on the Sabres roster is the most likely, probably coming in at around 60 percent of actually occurring. But it's not totally crazy to think about what could happen if they did decide to drop dynamite on the roster.
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Dominik Hasek wants to make a comeback.
And why not? Players return to the NHL from international leagues all the time. Most of those players aren't 47 years old, however.
Hasek reportedly is interested in returning to the NHL. He last played professionally for Spartak Moscow in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), where he led the league with seven shutouts. That was in 2010-2011.
The fact that the Sabres declined isn't really a shock. With Ryan Miller and Jhonas Enroth in goal, the Sabres are pretty well off.
Ritch Winter, Hasek's agent, is confident his client will be in the NHL next season.
“He will play,” Winter told ProHockeyTalk. “There is no option. He will play and he will excel and he will do all of the things he can do."
Dominik Hasek's nickname just about says it all about his 16-year NHL career: "The Dominator" earned that title with stellar play during his peak years with the Buffalo Sabres.
Hasek has 389 career NHL wins, 81 shutouts, a 2.20 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage.
The guy has talent, but he also has age—or to put it more kindly, experience. And, while the Sabres aren't convinced he can play at the NHL level again, other teams apparently are.
Winter says "about a half dozen" NHL teams have inquired about the Czech goaltender.
Hasek was always known for his work ethic and training regimen, but is he ready for another vigorous NHL season? If he is ready, who is going to take that chance?
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Last week I stumbled upon something interesting in the Twittersphere.
Now say what you will about the source of the information, but it does make you wonder if Thomas Vanek's time as a Sabre is ending.
Vanek has been a divisive player since he arrived in Buffalo after the lockout. He was widely disparaged in the Buffalo media after being benched for the stretch run of the 2005-2006 playoffs. His 43 goal season in 2006-2007 was attributed more to his linemate Danny Briere than his goal scoring acumen. He is so widely thought to be a "lazy" player that there is even a Twitter account dedicated to it.
Yet, at the same time, one cannot overlook what Vanek has brought to the table in terms of production since he started with the team.
It is also unfair to criticize him for his salary. Many seem to forget that Vanek was the target of Kevin Lowe's ridiculous offer sheet after his 84-point season in 2006-2007. Yes, Vanek would have been making a good amount of money, but certainly not the $7 million-plus per year he's currently earning. And after the loss of both Briere and Chris Drury that offseason, Darcy Regier couldn't afford to lose another star from the team.
Of course there's always the "we would have had four first round picks from the Oilers" argument. Assuming Vanek didn't change the Oilers' fortunes drastically in the last four seasons, the Sabres would have had the chance to draft Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, two of the most gifted young players in the league. But that argument is inherently flawed due to the fact that Vanek may have drastically changed their fortunes. So, beyond the fact that the Sabres would have had four more first rounders, it's all speculation.
But regardless of what your opinion of him may be, Vanek is one of the most talented Sabres, if not the most talented.
Yes, his play is notoriously streaky, but he can impact a game like no other Sabre by taking harmless looking plays and turning them into highlight reel goals. There were times last season when a debate would erupt as to how close Vanek would get to 50 goals. He also co-championed the Sabres through the first half of the season with Jason Pominville.
Then he "disappeared." He looked slow, and he wasn't his usual ominous presence in front of the opposition's net. Many have pointed to his midseason shoulder injury, in addition to various other ailments, as the reason for his decline in the second half. Others have gone to the usual lazy and streaky arguments.
So the question is now starting to be asked: Are Vanek's days numbered?
Conventional wisdom says no.
Vanek will always have a seat reserved in the infamous Lindy Ruff doghouse, but given the amount of time the two have spent in a player-coach relationship, that will always be the case.
And Vanek is one of the team's oldest (as in years with the team) and most talented players. It's certainly hard to say goodbye to that type of player.
Sure, Derek Roy was just traded and he certainly fit the same bill, but his situation was different. Roy blatantly called out Ruff on locker room clean out day; Vanek has never done anything like that, and he has handled the media scrutiny extremely well.
Roy is also a completely different player in both style and physique than Vanek. Roy is a shifty playmaker that tends to shy away from the rough areas of the ice. Vanek is a power forward, always trying to get to the net and always battling in the corners. Roy is 5'8, 185 lbs. Vanek is 6'2, 210 lbs.
The organization as a whole, as proven by the drafting of centers Mikhail Grigorenko (6'2, 190 lbs.) and Zemgus Girgensons (6'1, 185 lbs.), is trying to move away from the smaller, skilled front line as a whole. Tyler Ennis and Cody Hodgson fit that bill, and do not need any more company. Roy was becoming obsolete, something that cannot be said about Vanek.
But despite all that, Regier seems hell-bent on landing a top centerman and Vanek may be the only movable piece to get that done.
Paul Stastny certainly fits that bill, and he may be Colorado's Vanek as the Colorado media has acknowledged theirs and fans' frustrations with his "up and down" play the last few seasons. (I have even written about how much Stastny makes sense for the Sabres)
However, a straight-up swap of Vanek for Stastny is not what the Sabres need right now. Vanek scores goals. He simply needs a center like Stastny or Cody Hodgson to get him the biscuit. Paired with Vanek, Stastny would easily reach 50 apples. Vanek is the exact reason why a number-one center is so important - he needs someone to get him the puck on a regular basis.
Are there potential deals that would work that involve Vanek and Stastny? Sure. But they would have to sweeten the pot considerably to have the deal make any sense for Buffalo.
Stastny certainly has the potential of a number-one center, but he needs to play with players like Vanek to reach that potential. His demotion to the third line this year behind Matt Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly surely impacted his production.
With Vanek in Buffalo, the top three lines would be incredibly deep allowing for Stastny to succeed with pretty much any pair of wings.
So, while Vanek's name may be thrown around in potential trades, and while there may be a deal out there that could spell the end of Vanek's time in Buffalo, expect to see him in the blue and gold next season.
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Ok, let's address the preliminary thoughts many of you may have before even reading this first.
One, it is true that no one knows for sure whether or not Buffalo is on Rick Nash's fabled list of teams he wants to go to. But, in honesty, no one seems to know for sure of any team that is on the list.
Sure, there may be a "confirmed" list floating around, like this one from the Columbus Dispatch, but one has to wonder whether or not Nash will be asked to expand that list once Scott Howson, the Blue Jackets' general manager, gets a package he likes.
Two, this is not my moment to smear Rick Nash's name as many bloggers have done. The guy is an all-world talent who has been stuck on a meddling team for too long. Putting up his goal totals playing with Kristian Huselius and R.J. Umberger is quite the feat.
Basically, the moral of this story is: Scott Howson is nuts. Insane. Crazy.
At the trade deadline, the price for Nash was said to be extremely high. You may need to sign some scrubs from free agency to fill the empty spots on your roster high.
The New York Rangers were said to have offered the best package at the time, but it has been reported by Yahoo! Sports that Howson's asking price was Brandon Dubinsky, either Ryan McDonagh or Michael Del Zotto, either Derek Stepan or Carl Hagelin, Chris Kreider and a first-round pick.
You're kidding right? To roughly translate—that's two top-six forwards, a top-pairing defenseman (and a potential future Norris winner if it was McDonagh), a top-ten prospect in the entire league and a first rounder. For one guy.
But everyone seemed to give Howson some benefit of the doubt. He held the cards. He had the leverage. Sure, Nash wanted out, but there were less than 20 games left and the draft and free agency were prime moments to actually pull the trigger.
So why not ask for something ridiculous, and hell, if you get it you're an Ohio hero. If not, regroup and come back at the draft and still get some solid return.
Wow did we ever overestimate Scott Howson. I'm sure 15 or more teams have called about Nash and it's been surprisingly quiet on the "who does Howson want from X team for him?"
However, the one slight insight the hockey world received was from Darren Dreger on Twitter on Thursday afternoon. Dreger reported that Carolina was out of the Nash derby because the "price was too high."
How high do you ask?
Jeff Skinner high. At that rate one only has to assume he was asking for both Staals too. You may be hard pressed to find five general managers in the NHL who would trade Jeff Skinner for Nash straight-up.
So, diatribe aside, this is exactly why the Sabres cannot get involved in this fiasco.
Would Nash be a wonderful addition to this roster? Absolutely. Yet, it's setting up to a point where he'd be playing for a team that's as gutted as the Blue Jackets.
With the Sabres being floated around as having interest in Nash, it has certainly gotten the attention, both good and bad, from the Buffalo faithful. Yet, the discussion seems to be focused more on what Nash can do for the team and not what the Sabres would have to give up to get him.
In order for the Sabres to land Nash, one would have to assume Tyler Myers' name is being floated around. Tyler Ennis and Cody Hodgson are likely also being looked at (knowing full well that Darcy Regier has said both are not going to be moved). The Sabres' top flight prospects obviously aren't safe, so include Joel Armia, Mikhail Grigorenko, Brayden McNabb and Marcus Foligno in that discussion.
At what point are you not only mortgaging the present, but the future as well?
And, granted, any discussion of a package the Sabres would be putting together is complete speculation. But given Howson's track record since the trade deadline, how can you assume it's not ridiculous?
Beyond that, Nash isn't even the right piece to the puzzle. With Thomas Vanek, you basically have two of the same player—crafty around the net, but can score from anywhere and is extremely effective with his body in the corners and in front of the net.
He is not a No. 1 center. He's not even Bobby Ryan.
If there is ever a time for Sabres fans to be happy about Regier being frugal, this is it. Of the players listed above, would you be OK with even a package of three of them leaving for Nash?
Is Nash an all-world talent? Yes.
But, should you give up your entire farm team for one player? No.
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The Buffalo Sabres have been rumored to be interested in Anaheim Ducks winger Bobby Ryan since the early part of this past season, and with the Ducks openly shopping the offensively gifted star, the Sabres must strike in order to become a contending team.
According to Bucky Gleason of the Buffalo News, the Sabres are trying to put together a competitive offer for Ryan, and they may be one of two teams in the running for his services. The other is the Philadelphia Flyers, who many believe are the front runners due to the fact that Ryan grew up in nearby Cherry Hill, N.J.
It will all come down to which team is able to offer more, and while it is unclear precisely what the Ducks are looking for in return, the Sabres have several top-notch prospects and NHL-ready youngsters that could be of interest to Anaheim.
After missing the playoffs amid plenty of hype last season, Buffalo clearly entered the offseason looking to make some noise.
Many considered the Sabres to be the winners of this past offseason as they managed to sign Ville Leino and Christian Ehrhoff, as well as trade for Robyn Regehr, but a slow start doomed them as their late rally fell short.
Owner Terry Pegula is willing to spend money and make the moves necessary to transform the Sabres into Stanley Cup contenders, and acquiring Ryan is the type of big trade that the organization needs.
The biggest complaint from Sabres fans over the past few seasons has been that there is a lack of size and toughness on the roster. Buffalo's brass has addressed that so far this offseason in drafting both Mikhail Grigorenko and Zemgus Girgensons in the first round.
Also, the Sabres signed enforcer John Scott and traded long-time whipping boy Derek Roy to the Dallas Stars in exchange for pesky forward Steve Ott and defenseman Adam Pardy.
Now that the Sabres have gotten some bigger, grittier forwards to go with their skill players such as Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville and Tyler Ennis, it's time to get a guy who has both qualities.
Ryan is a perfect example as he can light the lamp as evidenced by his four consecutive seasons with 30 goals, but he is also 6'2" and 216 lbs., and he won't get pushed around or intimidated.
The Sabres really struggled to score early last season, but a late-season surge caused them to finish in the middle of the pack in terms of goals per game. Buffalo has plenty of promising young forwards such as Ennis, Cody Hodgson, Marcus Foligno and Grigorenko if he makes the team immediately, but an established guy who has already reached his potential, such as Ryan, would do wonders.
Buffalo is absolutely stacked on defense as it has 11 blueliners that could potentially play in the NHL this year. With that in mind, the Sabres ought to make an effort to deal from a position of strength. The Ducks signed Sheldon Souray and Bryan Allen in free agency, but they dealt Lubomir Visnovsky and could still stand to improve in that area.
You have to give up something of value to get something of value in this league, so the Sabres may be best served offering promising rearguard Tyler Myers. The 6'8" behemoth burst onto the scene as a rookie, but he hasn't progressed as many had hoped.
Buffalo has Brayden McNabb, a potential replacement waiting in the wings, so it would be a sensible move if Anaheim were to be interested.
Failing that, the Sabres could offer a package featuring Hodgson as the centerpiece. Buffalo acquired him at the trading deadline for Zack Kassian, and while Hodgson didn't blossom immediately, he showed a ton of promise. The Ducks have a hole at No. 2 center and they may think enough of Hodgson to deal Ryan for him.
Whatever the case, the Sabres need to continue adding to their offensive artillery in order to get goaltender Ryan Miller some support. If that means giving up a promising player or players in order to land Ryan, then Buffalo has to take a leap of faith.
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According to Bucky Gleason of the Buffalo News, the Sabres are interested in making a deal for the 25-year-old former No. 2 overall pick:
The Sabres are still interested in making a deal for Bobby Ryan and were trying to put together an offer that would satisify [sic] both sides. A source close to Ryan confirmed to me today that Philadelphia also is interested and would be the more likely landing area for the Ducks' winger.
Philadelphia being pegged as the more likely destination for Ryan is disheartening news for the Sabres' front office and fans, but we have learned to take free-agency reports with a grain of salt.
The fact of the matter is that nobody truly knows exactly what will happen until pen is put to paper and a deal is inked.
Philadelphia would benefit from Ryan's services, but they hardly need him. Last season, the Flyers had three right wingers atop their points list.
Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell notched 93 and 67 points, respectively, to lead the team. Jaromir Jagr finished third with 54 points, but his future as a free agent remains unclear.
Peter Laviolette's squad scored the second-most goals per game last season (3.2), and have plenty of pieces in terms of young firepower to get by without Ryan.
Buffalo, on the other hand, is substantially more desperate for a player like Ryan.
Right winger Jason Pominville led the team with 73 points. Drew Stafford, who also plays right wing, registered 50 points to finish third on the squad.
The Sabres need the one final piece to turn their team into a serious contender after missing the playoffs by three points last season.
There were only three players on the team last year who scored either 20 goals or registered 30 assists. By contrast, the Flyers had nine players who reached either total.
When teams become desperate for a player that will put them over the top, they often make a deal ahead of other not-so-desperate teams.
This is a situation that should pan out that way if the Sabres want to avoid missing the playoffs next season.
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Ladies and gentlemen, Sabres general manager Darcy Regier has done it again.
Regier sent town pariah Derek Roy to the Dallas Stars for centerman Steve Ott and defenseman Adam Pardy on Monday evening and ended the speculation as to whether or not Roy would be in a Sabres jersey next season (via Sabres.com).
Speculation has been swirling around Roy since the beginning of last season and reached a fever pitch at the NHL trade deadline this past February. It has been no secret that Roy and head coach Lindy Ruff had not been on the same page the past few years, with Roy's erratic playing style earning him the ire of Ruff both publicly and privately.
By the end of the season, Roy's role on the team was made irrelevant by the amazing chemistry of Cody Hodgson and Thomas Vanek and the Drew Stafford - Tyler Ennis - Marcus Foligno line. This led to a very public attack on Lindy Ruff in the team's locker room cleanout interviews and also to Buffalo fans calling for his exit.
So Regier has delivered as he did at the trade deadline with Cody Hodgson.
With Ott, the Sabres get something they are sorely lacking: toughness up the middle. Ott is the definition of an agitator and racked up no fewer than 135 penalty minutes in his seven full seasons with the Stars.
Ott is also an adept faceoff man and fills a hole left by the departure of Paul Gaustad when he went to the Nashville Predators at the trade deadline. According to Kevin Snow, a member of the Buffalo Sabres New Media staff, Ott won almost 56% of his faceoffs last season, an excellent number for a full-time center.
So what does this do to the Sabres' lineup?
First, assuming the status quo, it takes the pressure off of Cody Hodgson and/or Tyler Ennis and enables them to play against the opposing team's top lines. Ott will handle those duties and will handle them well. This opens up the ice for the speedy playmakers and gives them even more of a chance to succeed.
Second, it makes them tougher. Yes, this has likely been overblown by most Buffalo sports pundits, but it is an objective fact. Derek Roy did not care much for the dirty areas of the ice. Steve Ott will live in those places. He is a pest in the best sense of the word and will make playing against the Sabres a little tougher than it was last year.
That being said, let's not get ahead of ourselves. Yes, coupling this acquisition with the signing of John Scott last night is a clear message to the Boston Bruins that it'll be harder to push them around on a nightly basis, but that doesn't (and shouldn't) change who the Sabres are.
The Sabres will still be an up-tempo team that wants to play two-way hockey. If anything, Ott is a more talented version of Paul Gaustad; he is a grinding center that can play the penalty kill, win faceoffs, shut down the opposing team's top line and occasionally put a goal in here and there.
What isn't Steve Ott? He certainly isn't the guy that's going to run around and scrap with Shawn Thornton, Zdeno Chara and Milan Lucic every Bruins game (nor do I blame him).
Ott also is not the first line center that the Buffalo fans have been clamoring for since the departure of Chris Drury and Danny Briere. He does, however, open up the ice to give Ennis or Hodgson the opportunity to become that guy.
So where do the Sabres go from here?
According to the @HockeyyInsiderr on Twitter, Buffalo is still firmly in the Bobby Ryan sweepstakes. This is somewhat surprising seeing that many believed Roy to be the centerpiece in a package going back to Anaheim, but that likely means Ennis is the new focal point of the Anaheim brass.
Realistically, I do not see Darcy trading Ennis, but he has surprised us before.
The addition of Adam Pardy is also nothing more than a defensive depth move, but it could also signal the departure of a defenseman in a trade to Anaheim or another club for another piece. With the likes of Brayden McNabb and Mark Pysyk rising up the ladder for the Sabres, Pardy's inclusion into the deal is certainly curious, possibly signaling an immediate need for a depth defenseman.
Overall, this is a great step for the Sabres next season. Ott gives them a piece they did not have and it removes Derek Roy from the equation, which may, more than anything, become more of an addition by subtraction move.
What makes it even more exciting is that Darcy may not be done yet, leaving Sabres fans to wonder what other changes are to be made in the upcoming days. Once Zach Parise's decision has been made, the teams in on Nash and Ryan will likely make their big pushes, so, as it has been since the clock struck zero in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup, all eyes are on Parise.
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It is that time on the NHL calendar where rumors are rampant, every fan is a general manager and every NHL team is trying to make the right move to propel them straight to kissing the Stanley Cup.
This time last year the Buffalo Sabres were making as big a splash as anyone. Sure, the New York Rangers came away with the biggest fish in Brad Richards, but the Sabres showed that the shackles were removed from Darcy Regier's wrists.
First came the blockbuster trade that saw Robyn Regehr, Ales Kotalik and a second-rounder head to Buffalo in exchange for Chris Butler and Paul Byron. Regehr was the hard-nosed, shutdown defenseman the Sabres have not had since Jay McKee.
Next came the acquisition of Christian Ehrhoff's rights.
This was a potential gamble, as Darcy was possibly giving away a fourth-round pick for nothing, but they were able to sign Ehrhoff to a 10-year, $40 million deal that solidified the back end for years to come.
Finally came the Ville Leino signing.
After losing out on Richards, Darcy looked to the next best option in Leino, signing him to a six-year, $27 million contract. Leino's puck-possession style of play and ability to play center (although he played wing in Philadelphia) made it an extremely sensible signing (ignoring how drastically he was overpaid, of course).
Evaluating those moves a year later is another article for another day, but needless to say, the Sabres need to do more this year after a dreadful December and January and missing the playoffs.
It's no secret that this year's free-agency pool was decidedly thin after Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, so Darcy may have to work the phones to get a deal done.
Here are three moves I think the Sabres reasonably can make to get them back into the upper echelon of the NHL this upcoming season.
1. Trade for Paul Stastny
For those of you who have snooped around (and believe) the hockey rumor mill, this has been a trade that has been discussed many times by Darcy Regier and the Colorado Avalanche's general manager Greg Sherman.
The thought process is as follows: The Avalanche have three potential No. 1 centers in Matt Duchene, Ryan O'Reilly and Stastny. Duchene and O'Reilly are both 21; Stastny is 26. Duchene was just swindled by Sherman when he signed a two-year, $7 million contract a few weeks ago. O'Reilly's contract is up, but as a restricted free agent, he will make something in the neighborhood of Duchene. Stastny makes $6.6 million per year with two years left on his deal.
Basically, the Avalanche have the luxury of trading away Stastny because of the talent behind him. That gives the Sabres an opportunity to pry him away from them at a reasonable price.
But the move would make a lot of sense for the Sabres and the Avalanche.
It would most likely take an established top-six forward, a younger defenseman and a pick or a prospect to land Stastny—a price well worth the return.
Here's the logic behind that claim: The Sabres, since the shift of Tyler Ennis from wing to center at the end of last season, have two 22-year-old, highly skilled centers that have No. 1 potential in Ennis and Cody Hodgson.
Derek Roy's erratic style of play and complete inability to play against the other teams' top lines have made him irrelevant in Buffalo. The addition of Stastny immediately gives the Sabres three top-six centers, with all three able to either grow into the No. 1 role (in the cases of Ennis and Hodgson) or to take it over immediately (in Statsny's case).
Overnight, this would create one of the deepest scoring teams in the NHL, reminiscent of the Briere-Drury-Roy pivot lineup the Sabres sported in 2006-2007.
The potential cons of this deal?
First, is Stastny's salary. $6.6 million is a lot of cash—plain and simple. The move would necessitate salary going in the other direction, which makes players like Derek Roy (with one year left at $4 million) and Andrej Sekera (with three years left at $2.75 million per) likely candidates for the move.
Second, Stastny's production has dropped the past two seasons, but that is more likely due to the increased ice time Duchene and O'Reilly have seen than to a drop off in his abilities. But after scoring at just about a point-per-game clip in his first four years, Stastny has notched 57 and 53 points the last two years. While not necessarily first-line numbers, he has scored at least 20 goals in each of his five full seasons (he only played 45 games in 2008-2009 due to injury), and a center that can notch 20-plus is an asset.
Lastly, this has been discussed ad nauseum for years on the NHL rumor sites. Say what you will about the rumor mongers that run them, but if a trade is being discussed, they typically get wind of it. One has to wonder how hard Darcy has tried to pry Stastny out in the past.
2. Give Mikhail Grigorenko Every Opportunity to Make the Team on Day One
The Sabres showed their meddle last week at the NHL draft in Pittsburgh by drafting Mikhail Grigorenko with the 12th pick overall.
A lot of questions surrounded Grigorenko, from the stereotypical ones about his work ethic to the outlandish ones about his real age ("Is he 20?"), but one thing that was clear was his talent. Nevertheless, with the questions swirling, Grigorenko dropped from a top-three pick to the Sabres at 12.
In his first year in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League playing for NHL legend Patrick Roy's Quebec Remparts, Grigorenko potted 40 goals and 85 points in 59 games plus 10 points in 11 playoff games, despite battling mononucleosis at the time.
In a nutshell, Grigorenko has the ability to become the big, highly skilled center the Sabres have lacked since the days of Gilbert Perreault.
NHL pundits do not throw around Evgeni Malkin comparisons lightly, but this kid garnered a number of them in the months leading up to the draft. To put it simply, the kid can play.
Historically, the Sabres under Lindy Ruff have employed the "work your way up the ladder" strategy with their prospects. That has changed in the past few seasons, with Tyler Myers, Tyler Ennis, Brayden McNabb and Marcus Foligno getting their chance with the big club well before anyone would have thought.
Grigorenko certainly has the level of talent Myers displayed early in his Sabres career to make a push to make the team on day one.
Will Lindy let the kid show his stuff?
Assuming status quo, there is an excellent chance Grigorenko will get the same nine-game tryout Myers aced in 2009.
If the Sabres do not think he is ready, they can send him back to Quebec to get another year of juniors experience without the first year of his three-year contract kicking in. However, if he is ready, the Sabres have an 18-year-old talent that could make any trade talk regarding a No. 1 center irrelevant.
At his introductory news conference, the running joke was that Grigorenko would wear his hometown hero Alexander Mogilny's 89 for the Sabres. I don't think Sabres fans would mind seeing another 89 lighting up the scoreboard in the years to come.
3. Trade for Bobby Ryan
This potential move comes with hesitation.
The Sabres have been linked to the Ducks and Ryan since last November. The worry is that it will take a king's ransom to get Ryan out of Anaheim. But, despite the hesitation, it is clear the move would be great for the Sabres.
With Zach Parise still on the market (as of noon on July 2), some may ask why not make a D-Day like push for him?
Parise is indeed a game-changer. He's a leader who can score and distribute as well as anyone else in the league. It just seems that Darcy is a bit gun shy after opening up the wallet for Ehrhoff and Leino last summer.
If Darcy was to sign Parise to the nine- or 10-year deal at the price he's likely looking for, including the $24 million in signing bonuses over the next two years, his tenure as the Sabres GM has just found its new, and likely final, focal point. If Parise were to underachieve, it would mark the end of Darcy as we know it (and the end of the wonderful parody Twitter account @FakeDarcy, too).
Therefore, Ryan seems like the "safer" play. He's 25 and has not scored less than 31 goals in any of his four full seasons in Anaheim.
While Ryan is not a center, he would instantly gel with Cody Hodgson. If Thomas Vanek could create any kind of chemistry with him, a Ryan-Hodgson-Vanek line would be lethal.
There are three huge potential issues with going after Ryan that need to be addressed, however.
First, despite all the upside, the fact remains that he has played with Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf the past few years, which has certainly helped his production. How great is he going to be when he is removed from that line?
Second, he has been clear in wanting to go to Philadelphia since word of his desire to leave Anaheim leaked. He's a New Jersey guy, and the assumption is he wants to play near home. While he does have three years left at $5.1 million per year, that may be all the Sabres would be able to keep him for.
The third and biggest potential con to making this trade would be what would need to go to Anaheim in exchange. It was reported that a trade was all but done last November that would have sent Ryan Miller to Anaheim for Jonas Hiller and Ryan, but then the Milan Lucic incident happened. Would you be willing to make that trade again after Miller's last 30 games and Hiller's apparent inability to stop a beach ball last season? Most would probably say no.
So what would it take to get Ryan?
Darren Dreger reported on July 2 that it would take a "number of pieces," including a second-line center. Derek Roy may fit this description, but it more likely means Tyler Ennis plus other considerations. Given his play after returning from injury last season, that will be a tough pill to swallow for many Sabres fans.
When all is said and done, the Sabres need to make some move this offseason. A top-six forward will completely change the dynamic of the team, creating three scoring lines almost instantly. But which move will Darcy make?
We can only hope last summer doesn't make him gun shy this summer.
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