After a tumultuous season that saw captain Jason Pominville shipped off to the Minnesota Wild and their defense corps gutted, the Buffalo Sabres are in for a good, old-fashioned rebuild. General Manager Darcy Regier remains with the team for an unprecedented 17th season, and is accompanied by now full-time head coach Ron Rolston. While much needs to be done to restore the team to contending form, I will focus on the Sabres' goals in the beginning stages of the process.

Here, I'll take a look at:

  1. Impending free agents (restricted and unrestricted)
  2. Possible moves in unrestricted free agency
  3. Possible trades
  4. NHL Draft prospects

Having traded defensemen Robyn Regehr and Jordan Leopold at the deadline to Los Angeles and St. Louis, respectively, the Sabres don't have that much in the way of unrestricted free agents. The team recently re-signed enforcer John Scott for another year, and forward Jochen Hecht finally called it quits. The team does have decisions to make on rearguards Alexander Sulzer and Adam Pardy, but, with all due respect, these guys don't factor too significantly into the team's future plans. 

That being said, the Sabres have some restricted free agents worth watching. Center Cody Hodgson will be due a bridge contract after a successful campaign in terms of offensive production. In addition, goaltender Jhonas Enroth, defenseman Mike Weber and forward Brian Flynn will each require pay raises of varying degrees. Enroth is perhaps the most interesting situation to watch, as he may be featured in a much more prominent role going forward.

In terms of unrestricted free agency, I wouldn't expect the Sabres to be too active. While they will have money to spend, I expect Regier to keep his wallet in his pocket unless he decides to use one of the two amnesty buyouts allowed by the new CBA (sorry, Ville Leino). If they do choose to spend money in free agency, though, I think they would be interested in the services of Detroit's Valtteri Filppula if he were to test the waters.

Perhaps the biggest issue for most Sabres fans, though, is the fates of Thomas Vanek and Ryan Miller. Both players have one year remaining on their contracts, and one has to wonder whether they are going to be around to see the rebuilding process to its completion. Count me among those who believe that Miller will be traded, most likely at the draft. Temper your expectations on possible returns, though, as the trade market for starting goalies is very weak these days.

On the other hand, I expect to see Thomas Vanek in blue and gold for at least the beginning of the season. He remains the most productive forward on a team that is, at the moment, very young and lacking in talent. While the market for Miller is small, I would speculate that 29 teams would be interested in Vanek's services. Darcy Regier won't be trading him for anything short of a big overpayment.

Finally, we have the NHL Draft. The Sabres have two first-round picks and two second-round picks to play with. With this kind of ammunition, they have the ability to move up for a player of choice or to sit back and select the best player available. Either way, the team has to be excited with their flexibility going into a strong draft.

While this subject bears more analysis than I'll be doing here, look for Regier to try to trade up into the top four picks in order to select one of the elite prospects that are available. If that were to happen, center Sasha Barkov, winger Jonathan Drouin and winger Valeri Nichushkin would be potential targets. If they stay put at the eighth pick, they will be able to choose from the likes of Swedish forward Elias Lindholm, center Sean Monahan or defenseman Darnell Nurse, the nephew of Donavan McNabb.

After an immense amount of promise at the beginning of the Terry Pegula era in Buffalo, management has realized that the team won't be able to win a cup anytime soon. Despite the disappointment, Sabres fans should take solace in the fact that they are, first of all, cognizant of that fact, and secondly, that they have the wherewithal to turn things around with relative swiftness. Thanks for reading.

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This will be a six-part series highlighting what the Buffalo Sabres' draft plans may be, including an individual look at all four picks the Sabres have in the top-50.

The Buffalo Sabres have one slight positive from their disappointing season: Their draft position. The 2013 NHL Entry Draft is chock-full of top-end talent and the Sabres have two picks in the first 16 (Nos. 8 and 16) selections in the draft. There is a huge opportunity for the Sabres to get two pieces that will help them over the hump in the near future. 

But they also need to be the right pieces.

The Sabres looked like they needed help everywhere at most times last season, but a few needs definitely outweigh some of the others.

The Sabres' biggest need is likely a sizable winger with a scoring touch.

On the roster now are Thomas Vanek, Drew Stafford and Marcus Foligno, but the futures of Vanek and Stafford are clouded at best right now. Joel Armia will have every opportunity to make the team in October, and at 6'3" he is exactly what they need, but he alone will not be enough. 

On the board in the top-50 that fit this bill include Valeri Nichushkin (6'3",195 lbs.), Anthony Mantha (6'3",180 lbs.), Michael McCarron (6'5",220 lbs.), and Jacob de la Rose (6'2",190 lbs.). Nichushkin could be the target with the number eight pick, but the likelihood that Sabres' general manger Darcy Regier will have to move up from the eight-spot to get him increases by the day.

Another huge need for the Sabres is a three-zone defenseman that can be paired with a more stay-at-home guy like Mike Weber. 

With the departures of Jordan Leopold, T.J. Brennan and Robyn Regehr, the Sabres' defensive corps have basically been reduced to some stay-at-home guys like Weber and Chad Ruhwedel and offensive zone guys like Christian Ehrhoff, Andrej Sekera and Tyler Myers. Myers, when playing well, has the best three-zone potential on the team, but last season saw Mark Pysyk emerge as the Sabres' best three-zone guy in a very short period of time. 

Names that Sabres fans will hear that fit this description are Darnell Nurse, Nikita Zadorov, Rasmus Ristolainen and Seth Jones, who is almost certainly going to be the first pick. 

The last major need for the Sabres is another playmaking center to add to Cody Hodgson and (potentially) Mikhail Grigorenko

Hodgson had a much publicized issue in the defensive zone this season, but he was exactly what the Sabres needed in the neutral and offensive zones. And while Tyler Ennis has played well at the pivot, he is not a long-term answer at center. The Sabres' prospect pool is not necessarily full of playmaking centers, with Grigorenko and Daniel Catenacci being the only ones likely to make an impact. Zemgus Girgensons and Johan Larsson have shut-down, third-line potential in the NHL and will likely not be a Hodgson-Ennis type of guy. 

Grigorenko is the dark horse here, and likely the reason a winger is the top priority. While he certainly did not have a Calder-worthy rookie season, he also was not afforded the opportunity to make the type of impact fans expected from the 12th overall pick last year. 

Names that the Sabres will keep an eye on here are Nathan MacKinnon, Alexsander Barkov, Sean Monahan, Elias Lindholm and Bo Horvat. MacKinnon, Barkov and Monahan will likely be gone prior to the eighth pick, but Lindholm and Horvat may be available as late as the 16th.

 

Follow me on Twitter for NHL and Sabres news all season: @SwordPlay18

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The Buffalo Sabres have re-signed John Scott to a one-year deal, bringing the bruising winger back for another year, according to Sabres.com. The deal is worth $750,000 according to Renaud Lavoie of RDS.

The 6'8", 270-pound Scott did not score a single point with the Sabres this year but certainly brought an increased physical presence to the fourth line. Scott played in 34 of the Sabres' 48 contests, racking up 69 penalty minutes in that time. 

Scott is certainly not a high-minute guy, having played less than 10 minutes in 31 of his 34 games. His highest-minute games were toward the end of the season when it was almost assured that the Sabres were going to be on the outside looking in on the Stanley Cup playoffs. 

So, while this may not be a step forward in terms of any rebuild, the Sabres certainly ensured that they would have their enforcer back for another season. 

With Scott's signing, the Sabres have six remaining free agents. Adam Pardy and Alexander Sulzer are unrestricted free agents and may sign with any team come July 1. Cody Hodgson, Brian Flynn, Mike Weber and Jhonas Enroth are restricted free agents, and any offer may be matched by the Sabres. 

While Pardy and Sulzer are essentially toss-ups as older, veteran guys who are not true top-four players, expect all four RFAs to be back next season with increased roles under Ron Rolston. 

 

Follow me on Twitter for NHL and Sabres news all off-season: @SwordPlay18. 


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The Buffalo Sabres and general manager Darcy Regier believe that last season's interim head coach, Ron Rolston, is the guy to lead them toward their goal of a Stanley Cup. His interim tag was removed on Tuesday and he was named the 16th bench boss in team history (via Sabres.nhl.com). 

There are many angles to this development, but likely the most important one is the inferences that can be made from the club retaining Rolston's services. 

The first, and probably the biggest departure from the status quo through the Regier-Lindy Ruff years, is the likelihood of the team being amongst the youngest in the league. Rolston was brought in as the AHL coach in what the Sabres touted as "Sabres University" and his role was stated to be that of a teacher.

If he's remaining with the Sabres, they must see his teaching chops as necessary, which suggests that the team is going to be extremely young next season. 

That isn't much of a stretch considering the position the Sabres find themselves in roster-wise before the draft. As it stands, the Sabres are likely to open up training camp with Mikhail Grigorenko, Marcus Foligno, Johan Larsson, Mark Pysyk, Joel Armia, Brayden McNabb, Corey Tropp, Zemgus Girgensons and Matt Hackett in the mix.

You could make an argument that as many as nine of these guys could make a serious push to make the opening-night roster, so having a teaching coach like Rolston may be more beneficial than a guy who is going to push systems on the young guys. 

Another inference that can be made is that the Ryan Miller-Thomas Vanek saga will be a fluid situation leading up to and potentially after the draft. 

Rolston leaned on Miller and Vanek toward the end of the season and has stated that both would remain with the Sabres "in a perfect world." Basically, this means that a coaching change will not be an impetus for getting rid of one or both of the team's stars, but it doesn't mean that they will not be shopped either.

Regier has stated his intentions to move up in the draft, likely from the eighth spot to somewhere in the top four. It's pretty safe to assume the Colorado Avalanche will not be moving from the No. 1 spot, as Seth Jones is likely too good to pass up.

Beyond that, the teams picking second through fourth—Florida, Tampa Bay and Nashville, respectively—could be looking to move down a bit given the right deal, which may involve Vanek or Miller. 

Lastly, fans can expect to see some growing pains next season. In keeping Regier, it seemed they felt they weren't too far away. Yet, by keeping Rolston, they may be acknowledging they are a bit further than you'd have hoped. 

Regardless, look for this to be a busy offseason for the Sabres, especially now that they have Rolston in place full-time.

 

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