In six days Sabres defenseman Andrej Sekera is slated to meet for salary arbitration. “Rej” has played 233 regular season games and 8 playoff games. When the report hit, Sekera’s agent was still looking to lock down a long-term deal with the Sabres, but it’s getting down to crunch time here. And the way it’s looking, I’m picking the 71st overall pick from 2004 to be the odd defender out.
I’m going to lay it out plainly. The Sabres have made their defense better by leaps and bounds. I could go on about how Robyn Regehr is going to solidify the blue line, but Scott over and Buffalo Sabres Nation did a fantastic job of it. Then they went out and landed Ehrhoff, albeit with an enormous contract, and just like that the top four defenders have been completely redefined.
When the playoffs started, the top defensemen on this team were Tyler Myers, Jordan Leopold, Andrej Sekera, and Steve Montador. By dropping bomb’s like Ehrhoff (94 points and a plus-55 over the last two years) and Robyn “Sidney Crosby Says I’m Tough To Play Against” Regehr into the mix, there wasn’t room for a hard-working-but-prone-to-brain-farts Monty (congrats on that 4 yr/$11M contract though [Cap Geek]). There isn’t room for Shaone Morissonn’s complete lack of presence, and he’s probably going to find himself in the AHL. Then we get to the rest of the core.
Leopold’s a proven veteran, and Tyler Myers is a prodigy. But then there are three guys left to fill two spots. So I want you to think about the following:
- Mike Weber led the team in hits last season with 158.
- Marc-Andre Gragnani led the team in the playoffs with 7 points in 7 games.
- Andrej Sekera set an NHL record last season by being the first defender to score 10 points during a 5 game point streak.
If Buffalo keeps all of these players, two of them will be third-pairing defenders and one of them will be a healthy scratch.
I’m sorry, but something’s got to give here. Mike Weber re-upped with the club and will have a cap hit of $950k the next two seasons (Cap Geek). With the Sabres up against the salary cap (I know we’re not used to that), with $11.02 million spread between three players, and with Tyler Myers coming up on free agency next season, they simply cannot afford to have big money sunk in to third pairing defenders and a guy who won’t even see the ice most nights.
Now, if they sign Gragnani (who has not filed for arbitration) they’re still going to have to dump some salary down to Rochester to get under the salary cap (probably two guys whose names rhyme with Motalik and Korissonn)…and that’s the guy that’s not looking at $2 – $3 million. Honestly, Sekera had a great year, and we’ve seen how arbitration can award players who’ve had one single great year (also known as the Clarke MacArthur Memorial Award).
We’ve also seen the Sabres reject arbitration awards from Tim Kennedy and J.P. Dumont, both of which were players that had a decent reputation with the club and there were intentions on keeping. The fact is Darcy Regier chooses which players have some sway and which don’t. Whether it’s the right stance to take is up to you, but right now the pressure is on Sekera.
Once this week is over the pressure will be on Gragnani, one way or the other. Since he didn’t file for arbitration, I’m betting he’s hoping that Sekera’s deal is too rich for the Sabres to take. With Andrej off the team, Gragnani is looking at a spot on the team while the promising likes of Dennis Persson, Drew Schiestel, T.J. Brennan, Mark Pysyk, and Brayden McNabb (who I will always picture as Donovan’s little brother) fight like dogs for the seventh spot. If the Sabres come to terms with Sekera before arbitration, though, that could affect Gragnani’s leverage.
Hindsight being perfect, I was a big advocate of packaging Sekera’s trading rights to acquire a needed piece of this team (like a center, for instance). His inconsistency made him the odd man out, especially once the D was bolstered. I’m not going to harp on what they should have done because blah blah blah look how smart Guy From The Future is.
For more great commentary on the Sekera arbitration, check out Black & Blue & Gold’s post.
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