The off-season is about to get intense. The Boston Bruins are still celebrating their Stanley Cup victory, Vancouver has mostly cleaned up its second Game 7 Loss Riot in as many finals visits, the entry draft is this Friday, and July 1st is right around the corner. On top of all that, a substantial salary cap increase means this off-season could see a lot of moves as many teams have working room to improve.
Cap Increase -
Well, the first order of business is that the NHL Salary Cap has increased to $64 million, and the salary minimum is $48 million. That incredibly substantial increase puts the Sabres $19 million under the salary cap, and in fact the team is over $3 million below the salary floor. That means there is a lot of room for roster changes, but this comes with a price.
Some teams are well below the league minimum. The Florida Panthers, for instance, are actually an NHL team despite evidence to the contrary, and they are only on the books for about $18 million. That means they’re going to have to do a lot of work to get to the league minimum. This also gives teams with hefty free agent contracts, such as New Jersey’s Zach Parise or San Jose’s Devin Setoguchi, quite a bit of wiggle room.
- Dan’s little side note: remember the lockout? The NHLPA has learned nothing. -
Still, the Sabres having $19 million is nothing to scoff at. Honestly, the Drew Stafford deal looks much better in this light, and the team should be able to comfortably re-sign any free agents they want (cough cough Gerbe, Enroth, Sekera, Weber, Gragnani, McCormick, Montador cough) and have plenty of space to go shopping for that elite center and top 4 defenseman. Obtaining those players in this wild market, however, is going to be tricky. But the room is there for them to make the deals. Locking up next year’s free agents like Myers, Ennis, and Gaustad is feasible too…but one thing at a time.
Entry Draft -
If there’s one beat reporter whose word I listen to, it’s Paul Hamilton. His insight on the draft this year is that there isn’t a franchise player to be had, and the league is likely to only get a handful of NHL-ready players out of the mix. The Sabres are drafting right in the middle at number 16 overall. The value of this pick is so/so, but if they can package it with a good prospect and a pick in next year’s draft, it could be fodder for a needed puzzle piece (such as a center).
That being said, Darcy Regier is solid at the draft. It might be slim pickings by the time it gets to Buffalo’s pick, so perhaps the best way to make that pick count the most is to gamble it away on a player who is already in the league. Which brings me to…
Trade Rumors -
Chris and I agree. This might be a great year to trade for a top center. Brad Richards is out in front as the best free agent center on the market, and his 2010-11 cap hit was $7 million. Congratulations to Mister Richards, he is about to win the “UFA At the Right Time” lottery, and there are several teams looking to pay what they can for his abilities. It is entirely possible that the Sabres could sign him, and he would be a definite improvement over what the team has, but that’s an arms race that would easily backfire. Brad Richards is probably a Top 20 center in this league, and he would be able to challenge Derek Roy as the top center on this team, but the bidding war that would ensue is not worth it when you consider what else is available through trading.
I’m not the kind of guy that wants a huge trade every year. But the plethora of good prospects, the salary cap increase, the gamble of the draft this year, and the team’s need makes this a year where it could be very beneficial. The trick is that a trade for an elite center is going to hurt. Teams don’t want to give up a play making or goal scoring player down the middle. So be prepared for the Sabres to trade away a high end draft pick, a good prospect, and perhaps a fan favorite player before July 1st. Probably before the Entry Draft, if they’re trading away a pick…which they should.
But as I’ve pointed out before, trading away a lot to get an elite center looks bad or great only in hindsight, provided that center shows up and plays good hockey. I was one of the people who laughed when San Jose traded three players for Joe Thornton. Then the Bruins traded away Sturm, Stuart, and Primeau and the Sharks have had an elite center that has broken 100 points twice, 90 points once, and 80 points twice in 6 years. Not too shabby, even if Boston rebounded and did everything right to win the Cup this year.
Now, what do the Buffalo Sabres have to trade exactly? Strip away current free agents (whom they could still sign and then trade, of course) and the obvious answer on the team is Patrick Kaleta. I would be amazed (but happy) if anybody traded for Jason Pominville or Jochen Hecht, I would be in heaven if somebody took Shaone Morrisonn. Meanwhile Drew Stafford just got re-signed while Paul Gaustad, Jordan Leopold, Derek Roy, Brad Boyes, Tyler Ennis, and Tyler Myers are the core of this team. Perhaps the Sabres could find a market for the rights to Jhonas Enroth, but I’m still leaning toward Kaleta bringing a nice value on the trade market. Package him with one or two of the Sabres good prospects and a first rounder, and this could make for an exciting time indeed.