The final grade on the Buffalo Sabres' 2011 free-agent signings remains incomplete because of the lockout. Christian Ehrhoff and Ville Leino are both coming off subpar seasons, but then again so is 95 percent of this team's roster. So will Buffalo's free spending last year hurt them down the road?
The answer is yes, even though there are a lot of undetermined factors still left to play out.
When a new CBA is finally signed, will the cap come down as much as the NHL wants it to?
And will the league be able to punish teams guilty of circumventing the cap under the previous CBA's terms?
If the season started today, the Sabres' cap number would be more than $4 million over the forecasted figure (around $60 million). That would mean the Sabres would have to face losing a significant piece of the puzzle just to get under that dollar ceiling.
This dilemma can be directly attributed to their signing of Leino, for whom many felt Buffalo grossly overpaid. Six million dollars in the first year to score eight goals and 25 points is impossible to justify.
So is giving a guy a six-year deal for $27 million after he has career highs of 19 goals and 53 points.
The Sabres had already made two splashes before the beginning of free agency on July 1 last summer. They had traded for Robyn Regehr as well as for Ehrhoff's rights, which they turned into a controversial 10-year, $40 million deal that we'll touch on shortly.
The big fish, though, of that thin UFA class was Brad Richards.
Although the Sabres were thought to be in the running for him, he ended up picking New York over LA when he signed with the Rangers.
With him off the market, Buffalo overreacted.
They had improved the defense but had come up empty at adding any scoring. And so they settled for Leino.
So, if the Sabres are faced with making a move to get under the cap once (or if) the season starts, there is absolutely no chance they will find someone to take on Leino at $4.5 million a season.
That means they'd have to look at unloading someone like Drew Stafford or Andrej Sekera. Come summer of 2013, will they have the cap room to go after the likes of Cory Perry or Ryan Getzlaf?
As for the other big-name acquisition last offseason, Ehrhoff's contract may also hurt the Sabres in the near future. However, it wouldn't be for the same reasons as Leino's.
Buffalo signing Ehrhoff to the deal we mentioned earlier isn't the problem. Four million dollars a season for a defenseman of his caliber is a bargain in today's NHL.
The issue is with the front-loading that we've seen in numerous other contracts league-wide.
Now, for whatever reason, Gary Bettman and Co. seem intent on holding teams accountable for something they allowed to happen. Every single one of these contracts has to be approved by the league, so in essence they were complicit in allowing these teams to cheat the system.
Marian Hossa, Roberto Luongo and Henrik Zetterberg all signed deals that were heavily front-loaded. Yet the NHL chose to make an example of Ilya Kovalchuk and the New Jersey Devils.
Greg Wyshynski of Yahoo! Sports thinks that the Sabres and several other teams may be next:
What this provision does is punish not only the teams that circumvented the cap during the "hey, EVERYONE'S doing it" days, but also the teams that tried to sneak in under the wire before the CBA expired: Shea Weber's 14-year contract, matched by the Nashville Predators after it was handed out by Ed Snider; Zach Parise and Ryan Suter's 13-year deals that drop significantly in 2022; and going back to last summer, Christian Ehrhoff's preposterous contract with the Buffalo Sabres in which he earns $6 million in the last four years and $34 million in the first six.
The provision he speaks of would put these teams on the hook for a cap hit every year of the deal, even if the player leaves or retires. For instance, if Ehrhoff retires after the seventh year of the contract, the Sabres would still see his $4 million hit for the following three seasons.
Whether this attempt by Bettman to wipe the egg off of his face is successful or not remains to be seen.
What we do know, though, is that the Sabres free-agent decisions in the summer of 2011 may slowly come back to haunt them.
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The Amerks have been the beneficiary of plenty of NHL-level talent during the ongoing labor strife, and, despite their recent struggles, the team has been extremely competitive.
Here is a list of some Amerks players you may or may not know, but with whom should familiarize yourself for when the lockout comes to a resolution—whenever that may be.
Note: This article is part of a top-10 countdown of the Buffalo Sabres' top prospects. In order to be considered a prospect, the player has to be eligible for the Calder Trophy this season, which means they cannot have played more than 25 games in the NHL in any season prior. This removes Corey Tropp, Luke Adam, Jhonas Enroth and Cody Hodgson from contention.
The Buffalo Sabres found themselves in a position they never felt possible at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft: In the position to draft Mikhail Grigorenko.
Grigorenko was slated as a sure thing top-five pick for most of the 2011-12 season, ranking up there with Nail Yakupov, Alex Galchenyuk and Ryan Murray, all of whom went in the top three. An extremely talented pivot with size and obvious hockey IQ, Grigorenko seemed like a slam dunk to go early in the draft. He was even compared to Evgeni Malkin by a number of scouts.
But then came the questions.
There were knocks on his desire to play in the NHL given his obvious KHL connections. There was also a lot of talk on his hustle and even whether or not he was really 20 years old, and not 18.
But his coach in the QMJHL, NHL legend Patrick Roy, never has questioned his hustle or desire to play in the NHL, and he cited mono as the reason for Grigorenko's lethargic play in the later part of the season last year.
Despite all the knocks, Grigorenko still finished with 85 points in 59 games, which is extremely impressive for a major junior rookie.
So after being drafted 12th overall, Grigorenko seems to have returned to the QMJHL with a chip on his shoulder.
After being overshadowed in the offseason by the undrafted talent in the league, including 2013's top-pick candidates Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin, Grigorenko has taken over the league.
In 30 games, Grigorenko has 29 goals and 50 points, good for fourth in the league. His play also has the Quebec Remparts on top of the TELUS East Division with a 22-8-1 record.
When the NHL gets around to playing again, Grigorenko has certainly made a case for his nine-game tryout. The general school of thought is that Grigorenko will have the inside track on the Sabres' third-line center spot, but that will depend on how well his QMJHL dominance translates to the NHL level.
Grigorenko has the ability to be one of the most talented Sabres ever. Sabres fans certainly hope those Malkin comparisons are accurate.
Here's a recap of the rest of the countdown:
10. Jake McCabe
9. Connor Knapp
7. TJ Brennan
5. Mark Pysyk
2. Joel Armia
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The Buffalo Sabres' history is full of blockbuster trades that have included the likes of Pat LaFontaine, Dale Hawerchuk and Danny Gare. Yet the blockbuster trade is not necessarily the one that works out best for a team in the long run.
Sometimes, it's the marginal trade that ends up building a contender for years to come because sometimes that sixth round pick is Pavel Datsyuk.
A trade in the NHL has the potential to be groundbreaking no matter who or what is going either way, and the Sabres have been able to pull off both the blockbusters and the small trades since their inception in 1970.
Here are the five best trades in Sabres history.