Buffalo Sabres: Why They Should (Mostly) Avoid the Big Names This Offseason


It goes without saying that the Buffalo Sabres need to improve to compete for the Stanley Cup. This is as obvious a fact as any, but there are plenty of ways they can go about doing it. 

One potential way to get better in a hurry is through trades and the free-agent market, both of which are about to open for business in the next few weeks with the Los Angeles Kings on the verge of winning their second Stanley Cup. 

And this offseason seems to have quite a few big names available for those willing to pony up, be it with money or players. 

But is that the best move for the Sabres?

At this point, the players purportedly available via trade have been game changers in years past. This article from The Hockey News gives a great overview of the guys that will see plenty of rumors floating around them all offseason. The article names guys like Ryan Kesler, Sam Gagner and Evander Kane who have had these types of rumors surrounding them for quite some time, and others like Jason Spezza and Joe Thornton who are relatively new to the party. 

Those available in free agency have been talked about much more, given that their availability is far more certain. Currently, the list includes former captains, former 40- and 50-goal scorers, Vezina winners and some potential hall of famers.

Given the types of names available, it would be very easy to look to scoop a few up and move on as a much improved team, but, again, is that the best move for the Sabres?

Simply, no.

You cannot deny that acquiring a talent like Kesler, Spezza or Thornton via trade, or signing Kesler, Gaborik or (re-signing) Moulson would help the team next year, but one or two of them will not be enough.

Looking at it from a purely statistical angle, which is by no means sufficient, the Sabres finished last in goals for, 25th in goals against, 29th in power-play percentage, last in shots per game and 28th in shots allowed per game.

One or two guys aren’t going to change that level of pathetic. This is a much bigger project than that. 

Tim Murray has said that this is not going to be a five-year rebuild, per ESPN.com, and Sabres fans seem to believe him when he says that, but that doesn’t mean that next year is going to be much different than this past season. 

And this is not an argument against the team getting better in order to draft Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel next year. 

This instead is an argument against getting marginally better in the short term while potentially limiting your ability to get better in the long term.

What’s meant by that can be summed up by two things.

First is the trade market surrounding especially Jason Spezza. In one of their most recent editions of the popular Insider Trading, TSN’s Darren Dreger, Pierre LeBrun and Bob McKenzie talked about the Kesler/Spezza market. All seemed to agree that the asking price would be high for both, with Vancouver asking for at least some futures and a NHL center, and Ottawa wanting a package including a NHL player, a first rounder and a top prospect for Spezza. 

Acknowledging a report today by the Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch that several teams have called about Spezza, with some indicating serious interest, one has to imagine that there is at least a chance that that price is met, despite the potential glut the veteran center market could have. 

But as good as Spezza has been in his career, he’s now 30 years old and has battled some significant injuries during his time. The Sabres have a window opening, but it probably will not be for two or three years, and will Spezza be the same guy he is now, then?

That’s quite the risk to give up a roster player, a first rounder and a guy along the lines of Rasmus Ristolainen, Nikita Zadorov, Joel Armia or Mikhail Grigorenko. By making that deal, you run the risk of Spezza becoming only a contributor by the time the team is better and sending away a couple huge pieces in getting the team there and beyond.

Adding to the trade discussion is the need to be hesitant in the free-agent market. 

Ryan Callahan has been the biggest name of late, but guys like Paul Stastny and Ales Hemsky have seen a bump in recent weeks as well. 

It should come to no one’s surprise that Callahan is looking at signing north of $6 million per year, and Stastny‘s impressive April has probably assured him a similar payday. 

No matter what those types of guys would do for the Sabres in the short term, that’s a lot of dough for someone you hope will become a role player in the next couple of years (as Stastny has become in Colorado). It would not be looked upon very highly in Buffalo if the Sabres were unable to sign a young, homegrown player because there’s $6 million on the books for a third liner. 

Now, is it a bad thing if Stastny or Callahan signs, or if Spezza or Kesler find themselves in the blue and gold? Of course not. They are all excellent players that will bring some much needed veteran talent to the Buffalo roster.

The contention is that these guys may not factor as much into the plan two to three years down the line, and the package given to get them or the money spent to land them will not look quite as good in comparison at that time. 

Now, there is one situation where it would make a lot of sense for the Sabres to make a move to acquire a veteran player, and that’s in a situation discussed by Pierre LeBrun in an ESPN column from yesterday. There, LeBrun spoke to Sabres general manager Tim Murray’s willingness to take on a cumbersome, veteran contract—likely to use a compliance buyout on—as long as it came with a first rounder.

That makes a lot of sense for obvious reasons.

The player acquired would not impact you in even the short term, aside from Terry Pegula’s wallet, and you would get a big piece in the puzzle for the future to build around.  

Beyond that, Murray needs to be very careful to balance the long-term potential with short-term success because, if he just arbitrarily adds pieces because they look good on paper, the impact could be felt the most in the long run, and not in a positive way.

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





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