The dust has settled on Hockey Heaven, and apparently were still stuck between Hell and Purgatory, but are not quite Heaven yet.
Despite a ramp up on defense with Regehr and Erhoff, the Buffalo Sabres fell short of their goal of landing a number one center.
I can’t say that I didn’t expect that, the pool was not very big, and the price was going to be very high. When word came out that the Rangers were going to get the chance to match the offer, you had to think that Brad Richards was Big Apple or Bust.
At the presser where Darcy Regier announced the deal, he said they were done in free agency, having announced Leino as plan B – when it looked like we were priced out of Plan A. We will never know what scared the Sabres away from making a pitch for Brad Richards, whether or not they were tipped by the agent that it wasn’t going to happen, or if they realized that the contract was going to be too much too handle.
The culture has changed, that is for sure, but the Brad Richards sweepstakes has shown us that we are more than one simple off season away from being the destination for the top free agent in a particular class.
Taking a look at the roster, the Buffalo Sabres are set to do battle with a much different roster, but one that is a few pieces away from winning it all.
Ryan Miller is the key to this franchise, which will have to operate this year on a back out philosophy, unless Regier can manage to trade for a number one center and bolster the offense. There is no doubt that Ryan Miller is the face of this franchise at least until this contract runs out and free agency beckons to him.
Jhonas Enroth has proven that he can carry the backup load well behind Ryan Miller, stepping in on multiple occasions to win, something that the Buffalo Sabres and their fans have not been use too. Plan on the Buffalo Sabres getting him under contract, one befitting a rookie goaltender. In the Sabres favor is the fact that Enroth has such a small body of NHL work to bring to the bargaining table. Fortunately for Enroth, that body of work was simply outstanding this year. 14 games and nine wins are not to shabby. The next three years are going to be the key to whether or not he takes the reigns from Ryan or not. You can watch the Sabres drafts in the next year or so to figure out if we have the next anointed creaseman, or if he will suffer the same fate as Marty Biron, ever the backup never the starter.
Taking a look since the lockout, the Buffalo Sabres have not been deep enough, strong enough, or offensive enough when it comes to their blueliners. The week that just passed changed that drastically. No longer will Montador or Butler wear a Blue and Gold Sweater. Your top pair is set to be at Myers and Regehr. Your second pair has to be Leopold and Erhoff - a defensive pair that can have goaltenders looking behind them quite frequently. Rounding out the third pair you could see Sekera and Weber, with Gragnani playing the role of the seventh man out. You might even want to place Leopold with Weber and Erhoff with Sekera, to help season the young core of Buffalo’s defense. Not too shabby an upgrade.
This is where it gets a little tricky. No Sabres fan right now is distraught over the fact that Tim Connolly is no longer on this team. The Sabres are still pretty thin at center. Derek Roy remains the number one center on this team – which has been the problem for several seasons. Ville Leion steps in as number two, resigning McCormick gives you a fourth line center, with Gerbe and Gausted rounding out the pivot. Boyes acts interchangeably here, but I would anticipate him being moved in a deal to bring in a number one or clearing the cap ceiling.
Wingers is where it gets tricky, Pominville, Kaleta, Boyes, Stafford, Ennis, Vanek, Hecht and Kotalik are all NHL ready wingers. I don’t anticpate Boyes or Kotalik to be on the opening night roster in Germany, Boyes disappointed in the playoffs, and Kotalik is a by product of bettering out defense.
There is a long time between now and the end of the post season, and a number of changes could be made. I don’t think the roller coaster has ended just yet – its more like were the cute girl in the front seat that the carny is letting go around one extra time.