Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Keys to the Sabres Transition Plans

February 28th was supposed to mark the dawn of a new era in Buffalo Sabres hockey.  A change in how the GM's office operates, an altered view point from Darcy Regier's desk, but now that day came and went.  Melodrama aside, what we saw from Darcy Regier and the Sabres' front office yesterday, and the days before it, was a fundamental shift in philosophy in the organization's standard operating procedures.  It started with the acquisition of Brad Boyes; the penultimate goal a Stanley Cup.

The Newest Buffalo Sabre: Brad Boyes
You heard it in his comments leading up to the deadline; you heard it echoed in the Buffalo News and blogs; the Sabres were buying, the shackles off, the checkbook only needing a signature.  So what are the next steps towards building that Stanley Cup Champion the city of Buffalo was promised?  Ingenuity, objectivity, and patience.

Let's start with ingenuity.  GM Darcy Regier has shown his prowess before in finding the right fit for his roster (under far different constraints than now).  As Bucky Gleason noted, taking on a contract like Brad Boyes would never have happened BP (Before Pegula); take for example the trade that brought Daniel Briere to the Sabres.  Regier shifted a heavy contract in Chris Gratton to the desert for the undersized but shifty Briere; shipping out salary while bringing in talent.  He's now in a situation where he's able to, if required, to take on salary without giving up his own assets.

In that regards I believe we may see the Sabres active in shopping for restricted free agents on and around the draft.  There are going to be a number of kids available, for the right price, based on other teams' salary cap issues or non-willingness to commit to a prospect.  Do I think offer sheets are a possibility? No, not really.  It's not his style after Kevin Lowe's potential poaching of Thomas Vanek.

But I do think there will be guys like Zach Bogosian of Atlanta, Ryan Callahan in New York, Setoguchi in San Jose, Michael Frolik in Chicago, even a Zach Parise in New Jersey, all of whom could be had based on their potential raises and cap inflexibility with their current franchises.  Regier has stated he wants to bring on long term assets, not rentals and 1 year veterans.  A RFA deal could be route he takes towards reaching that goal.

The problem of course is Darcy Regier's ability in looking at his current assets objectively and realizing that to get one must give.  Many of Darcy's prior moves BP have always been hamstrung financially and he's always had an unwillingness to part with his prospects.  The Sabres have always been a home grown team; that reliance on the draft and building a core through it, in theory, can be tempered by Pegula's willingness to spend.

As long as Regier is capable of looking at a deal and realizing the worth in the move.  In today's NHL no GM can fleece their 29 compatriots in each and every deal; you can only make your roster better one player at a time.  Would Regier ever have the cojones to pull off a deal like the one between Colorado and St. Louis? Like the one between Dallas and Pittsburgh? Before Pegula no, I don't think he would, nor would he consider it.  It's these kinds of adroit moves that keep franchises moving forward; deals that Regier may need to look in to.

Finally, patience.  Regardless of what the fans may clamor for; regardless of what the Buffalo News may suggest; there's no reason to overpay or pull the trigger on a deal that doesn't move the franchise forward.  Look at the 2011 unrestricted free agency crop; who realistically fits the needs of this Sabres team?  There certainly is the temptation to make that immediate splash; to put your stamp on the franchise; to let the rest of the League know that you mean business.  But in no way, shape, or form does that mean overpaying in a weak free agency class.

Honestly; in terms of UFA's available July 1st, who would you set your sights on?  Right now CapGeek estimates $18.558 million in salary cap availability for next season. Assuming Connolly, Grier, Niedermayer and Lalime are gone, while re-signing, with modest raises, Steve Montador, Cody McCormick, the Sabres will have perhaps $16 million for the RFAs and other signings.  Let's assume the Sabres re-sign Stafford ($4), Sekera ($1.5), Enroth ($1.5), Gerbe ($1.5), and Weber ($2); that takes them to $5.5 million in cap space availability.  Add in Zack Kassian's entry level deal and you're looking at around $4 million in cap space.

The need? Well; the roster flexibility amongst a lot of Sabre forwards is unique, allowing Lindy Ruff the ability to mix and match his lines.  Jochen Hecht can play LW or C.  Tyler Ennis the Same.  Newly acquired Brad Boyes can play RW or C.  Cody McCormick has played all over the 4th line this year.  So do the Sabres need a 2nd line LW to allow Hecht to be more comfortable in a 3rd line checking role?  Do they go after another C and keep Ennis on the sidewall?

As for defense; assuming Montador and Sekera are re-signed, and they let Butler walk, they'll go into 2011 with 6 signed D.

So looking back at that free agent crop; who is there that sticks out at you as a true fit for this roster? Brooks Laich? Ville Leino? Curtis Glencross? Jamie Langenbrunner? Joni Pitkanen? Christian Ehrhoff?  Truly slim pickings in the UFA bunch.  Is there a single free agent worth overpaying for?  That's the call that will drive Regier through the Summer as he tries to revamp this franchise into a true contender.

As for me?  This is what my starting lineup would look like come October 2011.

Thomas Vanek
Derek Roy
Drew Stafford
Tyler Ennis
Brad Boyes
Zack Kassian
Jochen Hecht
Jamie Langenbrunner
Jason Pominville
Cody McCormick
Todd Marchant
Pat Kaleta
Tyler Myers
Shaone Morrisonn
Kevin Bieksa
Jordan Leopold
Steve Montador
Mike Weber
Ryan Miller
Jhonas Enroth

Paul ByronAndrej Sekera

Yes; I'm trading Paul Gaustad for something, anything. He may be the only guy on the roster that can win faceoffs with regularity, but that's all he can do. I would rather have Jamie Langenbrunner, with his intangibles and experience, centering the 3rd line than what Gaustad currently brings.

I'm also trying to bring in a Kevin Bieksa type defenseman, seemingly not in the plans for Vancouver if not for their penchant for injury at the blueline, he could potentially be pried away.

I have Kassian making the starting lineup; why? He's the bang that the little skilled forwards need. Pairing him up with the likes of an Ennis and Boyes; both highly skilled guys with a penchant for avoiding the corners; the physical Kassian is exactly the type of player that they need to play alongside.

As for Todd Marchant, that's the veteran type presence that Ruff and Regier love to bring in.

Is this a cup contender?  No, probably not.  That'll take patience and a deft hand to make that happen.
Fact: BanginPanger is not meant as an insult to the one and only Darren Pang, nor do I claim to be him. The views and opinions presented on BanginPanger are of my own, and no other namesake of the site, the NHL, Buffalo Sabres, Washington Capitals, or anyone else.