Sunday the Buffalo Sabres said goodbye to arguably their most offensively prolific player since Pat LaFontaine and Alex Mogilny donned the blue and gold. 

This season has largely been a nightmare for the Sabres. Vanek was almost assuredly not going to re-sign given the state of the team. The Sabres and general manager Darcy Regier did what they needed to do and got some valuable assets for him. 

So where does the team go from here?

For all intents and purposes, the Sabres have two remaining players from the "old core" in Drew Stafford and Ryan Miller. Those two are in totally different positions right now, with Miller becoming a wanted commodity with a number of goaltending injuries across the league and Stafford enduring another tough season. 

Looking at the situation realistically, both Miller and Stafford could be in different cities very soon, and that may be the best move for the future of the franchise. 

The Sabres have put on the charade of a youth movement this season, but they have yet to fully commit to it. When Kevin Porter and Pat Kaleta play more minutes in a game than Mikhail Grigorenko and Johan Larsson, you are not committing to the youth. 

Say what you will about Grigorenko's purported lack of compete level, or whatever Ron Rolston is calling it today, playing Grigorenko less than ten minutes per game on the fourth line is not good for his development or for the team's chances of winning some hockey games. 

Yes, Porter has mercifully been sent down to Rochester in the past week, but that hasn't meant much for Grigorenko's playing time. He's seen his ice time decrease from over 16 minutes against the Florida Panthers, to less than ten minutes against the Dallas Stars on Monday. 

Will this change with Vanek gone? It should. 

Joel Armia and Corey Tropp are on their way back from injury and Tropp could play as early as this weekend. Both should be afforded that opportunity as soon as possible. 

This is especially true considering who they would be replacing in the lineup. Kaleta and John Scott have held more pugilistic roles the last two seasons, and after Scott's hit on Loui Eriksson the pair may be deemed two of the least liked players in the NHL

A team cannot afford to have its talented players, especially if they're young, in the cross hairs because of two fourth-line guys taking liberties with opposing players. Since his run at Brad Richards last year, Kaleta may be the most scrutinized player on and off the ice, and his ten-game suspension for a chicken wing to Jack Johnson's head is a good indicator of that. Scott, when he returns from what is sure to be a lengthy suspension of his own, will find himself in a similar position. 

No matter what you think of the suspensions and how deserved they were, they hurt the team as a whole in the short and long-term. 

In a perfect world, Tropp would see himself slotted in as a bottom-six player, likely in place of Kaleta. He's a much more talented version of Kaleta without the stigma he has attached to him. No debate needs to be had to justify an Armia for Scott swap when his hand gets right. 

This has already come to pass to some degree on the defensive side, with Nikita Zadorov and Rasmus Ristolainen joining Mark Pysyk as lineup regulars, with Zadorov likely staying beyond his nine-game grace period. 

So will the Sabres turn it around if they do this? No, but they're not winning games now, so why not go all-in on the youth to see what they have? 

Worst-case scenario is they add a top-three pick to their roster next October. 

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

 

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Before the Buffalo Sabres finished cleaning out the locker of Thomas Vanek and welcoming Matt Moulson, people were openly wondering when goaltender Ryan Miller would be traded. Just like Vanek, the 32-year-old Miller will be a free agent after the season and would likely bring a nice return for the rebuilding Sabres.

Miller carries a $6.25 million cap hit and despite a goals-against average north of three (3.13) and 1-9-0 record, his save percentage of .914 ranks him 14th among goaltenders with at least seven starts through Monday. The Sabres rank 29th in shots allowed per game (35.2), so a move to team with a better overall defense could result in better numbers for Miller.

Throw in the fact that Miller has reached the conference finals twice and was a goal away from winning gold for Team USA at the 2010 Winter Olympics, and it's easy to see why teams would consider him a valuable commodity for a stretch run.

According to Pierre LeBrun of ESPN/TSN, Sabres GM Darcy Regier doesn't have any offers for Miller right now.

"But having said that, Thomas is the only one that I had trade conversations with, with respect to our respective unrestricted free agents. So maybe it will get delayed and things will get pushed into the trade deadline, I don’t know." 

In other words, despite all the talk about Ryan Miller's future -- the goaltender is also a UFA after the season -- it doesn’t sound like anything is imminent. 

"No, all’s quiet right now," Regier said of trade talks for Miller. 

But we can speculate, and here are five most likely destinations from least likely to most likely that make the most sense for Miller to land between now and the March 5 trade deadline.

5. Washington Capital—The Capitals have two young goaltenders in Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth, and Holtby has proven to be a reliable starter in the playoffs. In 21 career postseason games over the past two seasons, Holtby has a 2.04 GAA and .930 save percentage. But he has limited experience as a starter with most of it coming during the lockout-shortened 2013 campaign. If Holtby can't get his game together (He ranks 20th in save percentage at .913) and Neuvirth fails to pick him up, Miller could be a nice short-term option in D.C. The problem is cap spacethe Capitals have less than $600,000 in room, according to CapGeekbut if GM George McPhee is compelled, he could find a way to make a deal.

4. Philadelphia FlyersIt wouldn't be a list discussing teams potentially interested in landing a goaltender if it didn't include the Flyers. The goalie position was a big question mark entering the season, but Steve Mason has been outstanding. His .930 save percentage ranks him in the top 10 in the league while his 3-5-0 record has more to do with the Flyers' 28th-ranked offense. A lot can change between now and the trade deadline, but even if Mason continues to play well, that may not stop GM Paul Holmgren from landing a goaltender with big-game experience. The Flyers have a shade under $4 million in cap space, which means they'd have to part with someone on their roster, or the Sabres would have to retain a portion of Miller's salary.

3. New York IslandersSure, they just traded Moulson and two draft picks to the Sabres for Vanek, but defense and goaltending are the real troubling issues for the Islanders. The 38-year-old Evgeni Nabokov (2.85 GAA, .908 save percentage) has seen his save percentage dip in every season since 2009-10. Islanders GM Garth Snow said in the wake of the Vanek/Moulson trade that the his organization was rich in young talentHockey's Future considers their prospects the fifth-best in the leagueso perhaps he could pry Miller from the Sabres near the deadline. Cap space isn't an issue for the Islanders, but owner Charles Wang's willingnessor lack thereofto add payroll could be an obstacle.

2. Tampa Bay Lightning—Under new coach Jon Cooper, the Lightning are looking less like the also-ran they were last season and more like a team that will contend for a playoff spot this season. They have a pair of young goaltenders with tremendous upside in Ben Bishop and Anders Lindback. The Lightning are winning with offense, averaging 3.36 goals per game, third-best mark in the league. But they are allowing 2.82 goals per game, which ranks 19th in the league. If GM Steve Yzerman doesn't see that trend change, he could part with Bishop or Lindback for the more experienced Miller. The Lightning have about $4.3 million in cap space, so it wouldn't take much to swing a deal.

1. Edmonton Oilers"This is the year" has been the cry for the Oilers for the past few years, yet they have not made the playoffs since reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2006 and are struggling at the outset this season. Goaltender Devan Dubnyk is far from the biggest culprit in the Oilers' 3-8-2 start, but his 4.01 GAA and .878 save percentage are ghastly. Now Dubnyk is dealing with an ankle injury, leaving career backups Jason LaBarbera and Richard Bachmann in net. According to Hockey's Future, the Oilers' have the third-best group of prospects in the NHL, so it wouldn't hurt GM Craig MacTavish to part with someone to land a bona fide No. 1 goaltender in Miller. Cap space is not an issue for Edmonton.

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Trading a star player is never easy for a team or its fanbase. The Buffalo Sabres and its fans learned this last trade deadline when captain Jason Pominville was shipped off to Minnesota for two prospects and two picks. 

Now it's time to get through it with Thomas Vanek

Vanek is one of the most prolific goal scorers in Sabres history, ranking fifth all time with 253 and 10th in points with 497. He has been a legitimate No. 1 center away from being a perennial 40-goal scorer for years. 

Now he has just that.

The New York Islanders bit the bullet and traded their version of Vanek in Matt Moulson, along with a first-rounder in the 2014 NHL draft and a second-rounder in the 2015 NHL draft for Vanek. 

Regardless of how big of a haul Vanek is for the Isles, the move is a decided risk for a young team that thrived on chemistry last season. Moulson and John Tavares would be amongst the league leaders in chemistry if it was able to be measured. Their chemistry was so well-regarded that many believed that Moulson's success was merely due to his playing with Tavares. 

But now Isles general manager Garth Snow is figuratively rolling the dice by bringing in Vanek to play on Tavares' wing. Snow is banking on immediate chemistry between the two All-Stars on one hand. He's also hoping that the Islanders are able to impress Vanek enough to sign him to a long-term deal. 

That notion is likely where the Sabres have come out on top in terms of the trade. The Moulson-Vanek parts of the swap will not be able to be truly evaluated for another couple of months, but the picks that came with Moulson have an immediate impact. 

As it stands right now, the Sabres now have two first-round picks and three second-round picks in the 2014 draft. A realist sees Vanek's departure and asks the question, "When is Ryan Miller's time?" One can assume that a first-round pick for Miller is a likely return, if not more, so that would leave the Sabres with three first-round picks if that scenario plays out.

Even beyond that, Moulson is not a lock to re-sign with the Sabres. If you haven't noticed, they're not the best team right now and may have another few years to get back on solid ground. If the Sabres determine that Moulson isn't likely to re-sign, he may become a trade deadline commodity, and given past deadline prices, another first-round pick is not out of the question. 

That means the Sabres could walk into the draft next year with four first-round selections. While this draft is not nearly as deep as last year's, there are a number of top-end players available, including Sam Reinhardt, a center playing with Kootenay of the WHL, and William Nylander, a center playing in a Swedish Pro League.

Given the Sabres' struggles early this season, a top-two pick seems to be more of an inevitability than a possibility. Getting one of Reinhardt or Nylander, plus three more first-round talents, will go a long way toward rebuilding this team. 

Bringing this back into the analysis of the trade, even if Moulson leaves, the Sabres will get a potential lottery first-round pick for a player that was highly unlikely to re-sign. On the other hand, the Islanders have given up two high draft picks and a top-three forward for a guy that reportedly has his heart set on a return to Minnesota. 

While it should not make a difference in his future with the team, Sabres GM Darcy Regier got a haul for a likely rental. This trade sets the Sabres up well for the future—words Sabres fans will have to get used to—but Regier should not be the one to create that future. 

However, that's a story for another day.

Today, the Sabres got a guy that scored two goals in his debut and two high picks for a team legend that had a foot out the door already. 

Could have been worse. 

 

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

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It wasn't as easy as he would have preferred, but Dallas Stars coach Lindy Ruff returned to Buffalo and got his first win against his former team, the Sabres, in regulation by a score of 4-3. 

Tonight was a game of progressions and runs.  It was sloppy, almost chaotic play on both ends early on. But each team improved its puck movement and limited turnovers as the game went on, and the scoring came in bunches.  

The Stars opened the scoring on Vernon Fiddler's shifty rebound goal just three minutes into the game. All of 27 seconds later, Matt Moulson buried a wrister top shelf over Kari Lehtonen's stick side to tie the score at one.  It was Moulson's first goal as a Sabre.

The turning point of the game was Steve Ott's double minor penalty for slashing and unsportsmanlike conduct against Dallas defenseman Sergei Gonchar. The Stars went on a four-minute power play, and finally cashed in on Alex Goligoski's snipe from the right circle, giving them a 2-1 lead.  

Just over a minute later, Tyler Seguin joined the scoring party after taking a nice pass to the left circle from Erik Cole.  His soft wrister beat Sabres' goalie Ryan Miller on his glove side and Dallas took a 3-1 lead into the first intermission.

Jamie Benn's one-timer on a pass just above the crease from Tyler Seguin, gave the Stars a seemingly insurmountable 4-1 advantage ten minutes into the second frame.  But the last ten minutes of the second period belonged to the Sabres.  

Steve Ott put his own one-timer past Kari Lehtonen on a Buffalo power play, cutting the Sabres' deficit in half.  Four and a half minutes later, Matt Moulson scored his second goal of the night on a difficult backhand over Lehtonen's glove side, while falling down.  His goal brought the Sabres within one shot of tying the game going into the second intermission.

The third period was a stingy defensive one for Dallas, and a desperate offensive attack for Buffalo. The Sabres had several chances to tie the game, but Stars netminder Kari Lehtonen rose to the occasion and stopped enough pucks to pull out the win for his team.

Per ESPN, the Stars out shot the Sabres 29 to 25, but were out hit 30 to 20.  With the loss, the Sabres are still winless at home this season, and drop their record to 2-11-1.  The Stars move to 5-5-1 on the young season. 

The Stars will play the tail end of a back-to-back tomorrow night in Montreal against the Canadiens. The Sabres will resume play on Thursday night on the road against the struggling New York Rangers.

 

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Shock waves reverberated through the state of New York on Sunday evening, as news spread that Thomas Vanek had been shipped from Buffalo to Long Island in exchange for Matt Moulson and a pair of picks.

While comment threads on bottom-feeding social media sites are filled with "NOOOOOOOO!" and "FIRE DARCY NOW!" posts, smart (and patient) Sabres fans know that this is just another piece of the puzzle that will build the team back toward the top of the Eastern Conference.

Like it or not, Vanek was going to be an unrestricted free agent at season's end. And fifth-best goal scorer in Sabres history or not, he was going to take his talents elsewhere for the 2014-15 season. The worst thing that a general manager can do is listen to fans' requests to romanticize such players, holding on to them and then seeing them slip away for nothing come July.

(A repeat of the Drury/Briere debacle of July 1, 2007, might end with the city burnt to the ground.)

With the 2014 first-round pick and the 2015 second-round pick acquired along with Moulson in Sunday night's deal, the Sabres now have nine picks in the first two rounds of the next two drafts. 

Speculation that more high picks may be on the way began almost immediately, following the announcement of Sunday night's trade.

And this doesn't even consider what picks and/or prospects could be acquired if Ryan Miller is moved before the trade deadline, allowing Jhonas Enroth to ascend to the starting position he has shown he can handle.

General manager Darcy Regier told fans in the offseason that there would be suffering.

A 2-10-1 start with little hope for improvement this season is definitely suffering. But the horizon—perhaps the distant horizon, but the horizon nonetheless—shows brightness.

A decade ago, the Pittsburgh Penguins strung together several years of top draft picks.

They took Ryan Whitney in 2002, Marc-Andre Fleury in 2003, Evgeni Malkin in 2004, Sidney Crosby in 2005 and Jordan Staal in 2006. In 2009, they were raising the Stanley Cup.

Certainly, that's an extreme case.

It takes an experienced and calculated hand to turn top picks into future on-ice success. Regier's draft history has been a little better than 50-50. But the more chances he gets at it, the better the hope for a hit.

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Right now the Twittersphere is abuzz with a potential Buffalo Sabres-Edmonton Oilers trade that, as of right now, may have both teams swapping their entire rosters. 

While that is a bit sensationalized, the notion that the rumors of this trade have grown in scope in the past couple of days is not. What started as a "the Sabres would be interested in the beleaguered Nail Yakupov" has now morphed into a trade potentially involving both Thomas Vanek and Ryan Miller. 

But what does seem to be consistent is that the Sabres are interested in Yakupov, who has seemingly fallen out of favor with the Oilers' first year coach Dallas Eakins. 

Yakupov, the first overall pick in the 2012 draft, was the Oilers' third straight top overall pick used on a forward, with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins going first in the 2011 draft and Taylor Hall going tops in the 2010 draft. While RNH has had his struggles staying healthy, Yakupov is the only one seen as a potential misfire by the Oilers.

When he was drafted, Yakupov was seen about as can't miss as it gets. Some even felt he was the best prospect coming into the NHL since a guy named Crosby. Since then Yakupov has shown flashes, but has not lived up to the hype. 

Last season Yakupov scored 17 goals in 48 games playing mostly on the second and third lines. He also finished fifth in the Calder Trophy voting, including 11 first place votes. 

These days, the future doesn't seem so bright. 

Yakupov has been a healthy scratch twice in the young season and many have questioned his lack of a team game, including little to no interest in playing defense. A Russian Olympic scout has even said he doesn't think Yakupov has a future in the NHL (via SI.com) because he has zero ability to play without the puck. 

So, naturally, enter the Sabres. 

Theoretically, a potential deal between the two sides involving Yakupov and Miller makes sense. The Oilers need goaltending desperately and the Sabres' RW prospect pool is relatively shallow. 

Realistically, the price for Yakupov is likely to be much higher than Miller alone. That in and of itself should be enough to deter Darcy Regier, but he is a desperate man right now and desperate men do desperate things. 

Yakupov, if he meets his potential, would be a sure-fire 40-goal scorer and a huge boon to the Sabres' future. Adding him to the list of Joel Armia, Corey Tropp, Justin Bailey and Zemgus Girgensons bodes well on paper, but losing Yakupov to his own ego, and then likely the KHL, is not good for the Sabres' long-term plans. 

That likely means that any trade for Yakupov would have to include more from the Oilers to hedge a potential Yakupov flame out, which inherently means more from the Sabres. That notion is likely where the blockbuster rumors have originated from. 

But the biggest dampener on all of this talk? Ryan Miller's no-trade list almost certainly has Edmonton on it. Without Miller, this speculative trade likely doesn't work, unless Jhonas Enroth is on the move, which is unlikely. 

So, if there is anything the Sabres faithful should take out of this, it's that the Sabres' struggles will lead to a lot of this sort of buzz throughout the season. 

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

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On Tuesday night, Nick Kypreos of Sportsnet in Canada reported news that, for lack of a better term, delighted the members of the Buffalo Sabres fanbase.

The NHL Insider for the Canadian sports network reported that the Sabres would "ultimately make the change" from current general manager Darcy Regier to a new face, like Pittsburgh's assistant GM Jason Botterill or Penguins front office member Tom Fitzgerald. 

Now, less than 24 hours after making his initial comments, Kypreos seems to be changing his tune a bit after the team released a statement saying that there was "zero truth to the report" via WGR 550-Buffalo Wednesday morning.

In his spot Wednesday afternoon with Sportsnet's Hockey Central at Noon, Kypreos said he didn't intend to make it sound like a move is imminent, or going to happen at all. 

"I never said that this is happening," Kypreos said on the show as transcribed by Dave Davis of Kukla's Korner. "That's an insider that basically talks about things that we're hearing and what's out there.  I think that people are under the impression that I was reporting that this was gonna happen, and that was not the case."

That last portion of the quote is where the backtrack truly comes to fruition. Kypreos clearly stated that the move would ultimately happen, but now he's stating that he never said the move was going to happen. 

It's not unusual to see a team come out and deny a rumor and insider reports, but to see the man who reported it immediately then rescind what was stated is a bit unusual. Maybe it was simply a case of Kypreos wording his message wrong, or maybe the report is just a fallacy. 

Whatever the case may be, it's best for Sabres fans to take anything they hear about the future of the team's GM with a grain of salt. There have been enough rumors and reports over Regier's 16-year tenure with the organization that nothing should truly be believed until a move is made official. 

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The Buffalo Sabres were expected to be bad this season, but no one could have expected a 1-6-1 start to the year. Because of the more than inauspicious start to the season, many are questioning just how much longer the team will go before a change is made.

If a report from Sportsnet in Canada is to be believed, a change could be brewing sooner than expected for the team just south of the Canadian/U.S. Border. According to Nick Kypreos, Sabres general manager Darcy Regier is once again on the hot seat, and it's much hotter than in the past.

The network's NHL insider said that the team would ideally like to wait until Christmas to make a decision on Regier's future, but that a decision could come much sooner due to the team's start.  

Kypreos stated that the two names he's hearing right now as potential replacements for the longtime Sabres GM are Jason Botterill and Tom Fitzgerald of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Botterill, who played for the Sabres from 2002 to 2004 during Regier's tenure, is the Assistant GM in Pittsburgh. Fitzgerald is also a member of the Penguins' front office. 

The reason for the interest of the two in Pittsburgh is due to the team's connection to the franchise. Current team president Ted Black and senior advisor Ken Sawyer both worked for the Penguins before coming over to the Sabres after Terry Pegula purchased the team in February 2011. 

Another name that floated by the Sportsnet insiders was Rick Dudley who currently serves as an assistant GM in Montreal. Dudley was the head coach in Buffalo for a little over two seasons from 1989-1992.

Buffalo, which won its first game of the season on Tuesday against the New York Islanders in the form of a 4-3 shootout win, has seen immense criticism from the local media and fans for its play thus far.

With major decisions about impending unrestricted free agents Ryan Miller, Thomas Vanek and Steve Ott looming, it may not be a bad idea to make a decision soon in order for the new GM to get adjusted before the trade deadline comes around, which is where the final decision will likely be made as to what the team does with those players. 

 

 

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When your team is 0-6-1, you know that it's had its fair share of struggles. It would be impossible to pinpoint one aspect of the Sabres' young season and call that the problem.

The whole team is the problem.

Still, there are a number of people and areas of the team that are responsible for this wretched start to the season. Despite a clear lack of proven talent compared to their opponents, the boys in blue and gold should not be getting whooped on a daily basis.

Here, we'll take a look at some of the parties to blame for the miserable start. If a few of them can get going, then maybe there's a glimmer of hope for a respectable season.

Begin Slideshow

When the Buffalo Sabres traded away team captain Jason Pominville at last April's NHL trade deadline, the feeling was that it was the beginning of a massive overhaul of the roster.

The team traded Pominville, Jordan Leopold and Robyn Regehr as part of its movement to begin the ushering of a new, younger Buffalo roster. Of the big three—Pominville, Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek—who were expected to be moved as part of the rebuild, only the former captain was dealt. Now Pominville returns to Buffalo for the first time as a member of the Minnesota Wild in what’s sure to be an emotional night for the man who spent nine years with the Sabres.

“It was weird coming in through the same door you usually go in, and having to go left instead of go right to go to the locker room was a little different,” Pominville said after the Wild’s morning skate in Buffalo on Monday, courtesy of Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News. “It’s good to be back, a lot of great memories, a lot of good times. Just excited to get the game going.”

Pominville, who was dealt to the Wild for goaltender Matt Hackett, forward Johan Larsson and a first-round and second-round draft pick, understands exactly why the Sabres did what they did when they decided to trade him; he knows it’s part of the business.

“I don’t hold anything against the organization or anything like that,” he said. “I’m just happy to be where I’m at now and looking forward to get this game played.”

Vanek, who is Pominville’s former line mate, knows that the game is going to be emotional for his former teammate, but downplayed it a little during the day.

“Who?” a smiling Vanek said.

The 29-year-old free agent-to-be admits that while tonight may be a little weird for him, he thinks it will affect Pominville more so than the Sabres.

“I’ve been here for a while, and I’ve seen a lot of teammates leave,” Vanek said.

NOTE: Quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted

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