The Buffalo Sabres have some decisions to make in the coming months about whom they would like to bring back from the franchise's worst team in its history.
General manager Tim Murray has 11 restricted free agents and seven unrestricted free agents to make decisions on in the next few weeks before free agency opens in the beginning of July.
Who will stay and who will go?
As widely reported, the Blues re-signed netminder Brian Elliott to a three-year extension, paving the way for former Sabres goalie Ryan Miller to hit the free-agent market in July.
This news immediately led to speculation of where Miller would land in a few months, including destinations that were discussed before he was traded this season such as Anaheim, Washington and Minnesota.
Realistically, you could sit here and poke holes in any and all destinations that are being floated around for Miller right now, but at this point it can and will only be speculation. Without a doubt, there will be a team in the NHL that signs Miller for a moderate term to start in net for them.
That team just won't be the Buffalo Sabres.
On Tuesday, Bucky Gleason of the Buffalo News essentially wrote a plea to general manager Tim Murray asking him to avoid re-signing Ryan Miller this offseason. In the article, Gleason speaks to how well Miller played this year for the Sabres and how he might be an intriguing option for Murray and his rebuilding team, but he opines that they should ultimately pass on his services.
Would the Sabres net be better off with Miller in it next season? Probably.
Does that mean Murray is considering bringing him back? No.
In free agency, mutual interest is important, and there is a strong argument to be made that no interest does or should exist between the Sabres and Miller.
Bob McKenzie of TSN Canada believes that Miller wants to play in California, specifically in Anaheim, in order to be close to his wife, actress Noureen DeWulf. However, Ross McKeon of the San Francisco Chronicle suggested on Monday that San Jose could be a good fit as well.
Anaheim may be a bit of a pipe dream, as John Gibson and Frederik Anderson have emerged as a scary tandem in net. However, San Jose is in need of some steady goaltending, especially after coach Todd McLellan's game of rotating goalies during their collapse against the Los Angeles Kings in this year's first round.
Beyond the California options, former Tampa Bay Lightning GM Brian Lawton reported a mere days before the trade this season that the Sabres wanted to re-sign Miller. Sure, the trade deadline is full of rumors and false information, but a former GM's word has to mean something, and if what Lawton said is even remotely true, one has to think Miller wanted out to begin with.
And that brings us to the other side of the coin: do the Sabres want Miller back?
The only murmurs of Miller's potential return have come as a result of Gleason's aforementioned article. This in and of itself is telling, because the lack of information in cases like this can be information enough.
Ryan Miller no longer fits the Sabres' plans, plain and simple.
Tim Murray is looking at a team right now that, assuming a Ville Leino buyout is forthcoming, will have about $37.5 million in cap space this offseason, per CapGeek, which is tops in the NHL. His blank canvas is upon him.
Could you make the case for the signing of Ryan Callahan or perhaps even the return of Steve Ott and Matt Moulson? Sure. They all would play a clear role on the team moving forward, and they would honestly help bring the team to the cap floor, which will likely be set at $52 million.
Yet the case is much harder to make for Miller.
The team is two to three years away from competing for a Stanley Cup, at best. Yes, they could squeak into the playoffs before truly competing for a championship, but they have a ways to go before even reaching that level. Miller probably has three to four years of high-level play left in him, leaving very little crossover between the two timelines, if any.
Signing Miller also means delaying the team's ability to determine whether or not they already have their future netminder, something Sabres fans were able to see a glimpse of at the end of this season with Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth, and then—thanks to an unbelievable stretch of injuries—Matt Hackett, Nathan Lieuwen and Connor Knapp.
Ignoring the team's position, Miller has been the subject of trade rumors for the last few seasons, with many thinking he would be moved last offseason. Yes, Murray replaced Darcy Regier, but he did end up trading Miller, so one could even make the point that he wanted to trade him more.
And the alleged attempt to re-sign him at the 11th hour should have little bearing on the notion of the team's willingness to move Miller. Re-signing a player only ups his value these days, just ask the Philadelphia Flyers.
Basically what it comes down to is the fact that the Sabres have been trying to part ways with Miller for some time, and now it makes less sense than ever to bring him back.
The Sabres aren't considering bringing him back now, because they probably never were.
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It's no secret: The Buffalo Sabres have a lot of work to do to become a Stanley Cup contender.
There is no one way for the Sabres to reach their goal of the Stanley Cup, but there have been plenty of teams that have turned it around from perennial lottery pick to perennial contender.
An examination of recent history allows two teams to stand out in this regard: the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins.
Chicago went from drafting first overall in 2007 to a Stanley Cup in 2010. It won again in 2013 and is in a great position to raise another banner this year.
The Blackhawks built their team by utilizing all avenues available to them. Yes, two of their biggest stars, Jonathan Toews (third overall in 2006) and Patrick Kane (first overall in 2007) came via high lottery picks, but they have found stars and solid role players in other ways.
Duncan Keith, a yearly Norris Trophy candidate, was drafted in the second round (54th overall in 2002), as was budding star Brandon Saad (43rd overall in 2011). Patrick Sharp came over in a trade with the Philadelphia Flyers. Marian Hossa was a coveted free agent when he signed long-term with the Hawks.
The core of these Blackhawks has been built over time and in various ways.
The other example many have talked about is that of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
For the Penguins, everyone points to the selection of Sidney Crosby first overall in 2005 as the beginning of their turnaround, but not even Sid could get the hapless Pens out of the basement during the 2005-06 season.
But Crosby wasn't the only high-end prospect on the team.
From 2002-2006, the Pens picked no lower than fifth (2002), and picked first and second twice. That stretch netted them Ryan Whitney (fifth overall in 2002), Marc-Andre Fleury (first overall in 2003), Evgeni Malkin (second overall in 2004), Crosby, and Jordan Staal (second overall in 2006).
To put it simply: The Pens were rewarded for their struggles.
That core, coupled with some experienced veterans, brought the Stanley Cup to Pittsburgh in 2009. The Pens have not ended a season─not including a lockout-shortened 2013─with fewer than 99 points since 2005-06.
However, all is far from well in Pittsburgh.
Following the team's disappointing second-round loss to the New York Rangers, Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported that Pittsburgh's owners were likely to fire coach Dan Bylsma in the coming days. General manager Ray Shero has already been relieved of his duties.
How did this happen to a team that seems to be in the top tier year after year?
The answer may lie in a Brian Burke press conference from two seasons ago when he was still the GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
In that interview, Burke was asked to comment on the "Pittsburgh model" for rebuilding a team.
"What's the Pittsburgh model? They [won] a lottery...and got the best player in the game. Is that available to me? Should we do that? Pittsburgh model my ass," he said.
Burke's words could not ring truer.
Beyond the guys they have picked at the top or the guys who have come from the trades they made with said top picks, the Pens have not done well in free agency, the draft or the trade market.
Kris Letang and Paul Martin are far from cornerstone defensemen, James Neal can't stay on the ice, be it due to injuries or suspensions, Beau Bennett is their best forward prospect by a long shot and even Fleury can't stop a beach ball in the playoffs.
This is the trap the Sabres cannot fall into.
Sabres GM Tim Murray is going to be busy in the next two drafts, especially scouting the top players. The second overall pick is a given this year, and next year looks like it will result in a similar outcome. Sitting back and thinking that will be enough is a grave mistake.
Sure, the potential of having Connor McDavid, who has been favorably compared to Crosby by Sportsnet, would instantly make the Sabres a much better team. However, to have him join the second pick this year and surround them with marginal talent is not going to bring a Cup to town.
Crosby and Malkin were able to push through when they had a stable full of role players supporting them, including younger players like Staal and Letang, and veterans like Bill Guerin, Sergei Gonchar and Petr Sykora.
The Sabres need a lot more than just two high-end talents in the draft to make them a Stanley Cup contender year in and year out.
It should be acknowledged that the Sabres have built a strong prospect pipeline without the next two drafts, recently taking the top spot in Hockey's Future's rankings. This is an advantage many teams in the same position do not have.
However, the purported Pittsburgh model is now shown to not only have its drawbacks, but to be a GM killer as well. Murray should feel great that he will be able to bring in a top-two talent this June, and potentially next June as well, but he has to ensure that he surrounds those players with talent as well.
Instead of the Pittsburgh model, he needs to take a good, long look at the Blackhawks over the rest of the postseason.
Follow me on Twitter for NHL and Sabres news all season long: @SwordPlay18.
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The Buffalo Sabres had one of the worst seasons in NHL history this season. In the midst of the firing of their head coach and general manager, a general manager search and the hiring and resignation of a president of hockey operations, the Sabres were busy struggling on the ice.
While a season like that is sure to enliven the offseason rumor mill, here are the Sabres' top storylines for their offseason.