The Buffalo Sabres are last in the Eastern Conference. They have three games in hand on the Carolina Hurricanes, but catching them would require winning a game…something that seems to be an unrealistic goal these days. The Sabres are 2-7-1 in their last 10 and have been outscored 23-7 in the first 5 games of a road trip. Their 12 straight road losses are a franchise record, which hurts so much more in Darcy Regier’s first “gloves off, no self-imposed salary cap” year.
According to SportsClubStats.com, the team has a 0.5% chance to make the playoffs. It would require a truly epic string of wins, combined with tire fires in other cities. It is very safe to say that there will be no post-season in Buffalo this year. While I am not a guy that ever says, “We need to trade somebody!” (well, I do…but I’m usually being hyperbolic or making fun of those people) it has come to a point of inevitability. So, who absolutely needs to go?…
For most people, the first answer is “Darcy Regier,” followed closely by “Lindy Ruff.” I hate the argument that they’ve been here for 14 years and haven’t won a Cup, as I take it on a year-by-year basis. That being said, I do believe this year is grounds for Darcy’s dismissal, as I believed the Drury-Briere mishap was, as I believed the Brian Campbell trade was, and so on and so on. No, this piece is about players. Specifically, four players that are a Must-Trade in my humble view.
People are saying the names of Derek Roy and Drew Stafford (myself included) and even Ryan Miller and Tyler Myers. If a trade for one of them comes along, and it makes the team better, then I’m all ears. But they are all on the team next year. The guys I’m looking at as Must-Trade are in the last year of their contract, and keeping them will not help this failed season. Finally, unlike the other players in the last year of their current contract (Paul Gaustad, Patrick Kaleta, Tyler Ennis, Colin Stuart, and TJ Brennan) I absolutely guarantee these four are not coming back next year.
Goose might be a Sabre next year if he takes a pay cut. Ennis might get extended or re-signed due to his youth and upside, much like Brennan. Kaleta might get a contract for league minimum, thought it is doubtful. Stuart is happy to have a job and might very well take another minimum-salary position. No, the following four players are guys that I guarantee will not be back next season. If they are re-signed, I will eat my words and own up to them, because I am saying right now that they will not wear the Blue & Gold after this year. Management needs to get something for them before they walk in July.
Why won’t he be back? – Lindy Ruff likes him. Darcy Regier likes him. He’s been a part of this organization for a long time. That all being said, he’s a 34 year old player who missed a boatload of games this season with a concussion. He has never scored 25 goals, he cannot be a consistent top line center, and he has a cap hit $3.525 million.
Look, I’m okay with Hecht because he’s…well, he’s okay. He’ll do. The Pegula Era is one where “good enough” will not be “good enough,” and after this season’s failure the team is not going to settle for the mediocrity that Hecht can represent.
Now, I feel like he’s the most likely candidate to prove me wrong. Maybe he’ll pull a Rob Niedermayer and sign next year for about a million. The thing is, I’m certain he could find a team that isn’t familiar with his style to pay him two mil. The Sabres have seen enough of him that they won’t match that. If he doesn’t retire or suffer another concussion, I’m calling it that he’ll be gone next fall. So before he walks out the door, this management needs to get something for him.
Great, but what can they get? - Hecht’s cap hit is heavy compared to his production for the regular season, this is true. However, teams gunning for the playoffs will pay a price for depth. Every year, teams pay big trade prices for veteran players who make too much money but are in the last year of their contracts. Hecht can play center, he can play wing, he’s a good defensive player, and he’s been there before. He’s played 59 playoff games and scored 32 points. Teams want that kind of player if they’re looking for a deep run.
Centers are hard enough to come by. Look at a team like Pittsburgh or Nashville…they’re each in 6th place right now and they both have the cap space. If the trade deadline comes and they’re floating around the same spot, they’re going to look for someone to bolster the forwards, and a player like Hecht sticks out.
Depending on injuries to other teams and the jockeying for playoff positioning, I’d safely say the Sabres could get a second round draft pick for Jochen Hecht.
Why won’t he be back? - Look, I defended Boyes a lot this last off-season and early on this season. Maybe because I’d heard WGR personalities write him off and say such boneheaded things as “cut Boyes.” But even with missing games from injury, his 3 goal, 11 point performance so far this season has been an absolute joke. Maybe that’s because of the constant line juggling, maybe that’s because Lindy Ruff wants him to play a different style…I don’t know. What I do know is that this year has absolutely torpedoed his career.
Boyes has a cap hit of $4 million. He got traded from the St. Louis Blues when he had 41 points at the trade deadline. This year it will be a miracle if he has 20 points by then. The man has got to know he is taking an enormous pay cut from any team that chooses to sign him this off-season, and he will likely blame the Sabres system for that. The Sabres, meanwhile, will blame him for not producing. You won’t see Brad Boyes in a Sabres sweater again, and they’d be foolish to hold on and just let him go for nothing.
Great, but what can they get? - Alright, so nobody’s going to be hunting for Brad Boyes at the deadline. No one is going to be banging down Darcy Regier’s door, hoping they can get the guy who can’t stay in Buffalo’s top 6 forwards. BUT, again, the playoffs are about depth. How many times has a team looked red hot in the playoffs, only to be broken down by injuries? The answer is “half the teams, every year.”
The Sabres can get a third round draft pick for Boyes. Yes, a third. If you think that’s too high, think like the GM of another team. Here’s a guy that scored 40 goals once, who is having an awful year, whose contract you only absorb for a couple months. If he doesn’t pan out, you lose a third. If he does pan out, you’re the genius that added a scorer to the Florida Panthers (3rd in the East, $24 million in cap space) and got them past the first round. Consider that the Panthers are third from the bottom in the East in scoring (only 120 goals for…one place ahead of Buffalo). They will be adding depth to make a run, and the Sabres should be the team adding to it.
Why won’t he be back? - Simple. Christian Ehrhoff took his job, which made Gragnani take Andrej Sekera‘s job as “team whipping boy,” which bumped Sekera up to Steve Montador‘s old job of “holy crap I’m a veteran now lolwut!?”
Gragnani was touted as the “best passer in the system” the last couple seasons, but really exploded on to the scene in last year’s playoff series with Philadelphia. Grags had 7 points in 7 games which, by the way, led the team in that series. He was a special teams specialist, excelling on the power play, and giving the Sabres an offensive boost. He got a one year, $.55 million deal as an audition to the big club.
Of course, the Sabres signed Ehrhoff to a 10 year, $40 million deal. Oh, and Ehrhoff excels on the power play. He also plays the penalty kill. He also plays half the game in ice time, along with Tyler Myers, and has been to the Stanley Cup Finals. In fact, he’s played 73 playoff games to Gragnani’s 7 game experience.
Yeah. That German tek Grags’ jerb. Now he’s been a healthy scratch for much of the season, and when he’s been on the ice fans and media blame him for every tiny mistake and giveaway. Add in to that the emergence of Brayden McNabb and I just don’t see room on this roster for young Gragnani. You think maybe he’s regretting not hitting the open market when he was red hot?
Great, but what can they get? - Let’s see…a player that can play defense or forward who is a special teams specialist and has proven playoff point performance, and whose cap hit is under a million dollars. Hmm…
You’re out of your mind if you don’t think the Sabres could get a second round draft pick for Gragnani. Why? Upside, upside, upside. Not only would a team be picking up a defender that could boost their special teams (a BIG need in the playoffs), but they would get first contract negotiation rights as he is a Restricted Free Agent after this season.
So think about a team like the New Jersey Devils, who are in 7th place currently and whose power play is a pitiful 14.3%. Or consider the New York Rangers, who are somehow on top of the East with a 14.5% power play (all PP stats from NHL.com). You think these teams would want a little injection for a run at the Stanley Cup? I do. With a month to go before the trade deadline, you’ll see GM’s across the league tinker and toy to get just the right chemistry and performance out of their team, and Gragnani could be an excellent addition to a team, without making too big of a splash as to disrupt their cohesiveness.
Why won’t he be back? - Is this a real question? Look, I’m not blaming the Sabres for completely replacing Morrisonn. He was supposed to take the place of Toni Lydman as a hard-hitting, stay-at-home defenseman. After five full seasons with the Washington Capitals, the Sabres signed him to a 2 year, $4.15 million deal to fill a gaping hole in their defense. The result was Morrisonn playing 62 games for the Sabres last season, scoring 5 points and getting benched when he was healthy.
Between the emergence of Tyler Myers, the signing of Christian Ehrhoff, the trade for Robyn Regehr, and the play of younger defensemen with smaller cap hits, Morrisonn hasn’t been able to get called up once this season. Simply put, the Sabres completely replaced him. He’s been outclassed. And as WGR’s reporter Matthew Coller found out, he’s not exactly thrilled about it (paraphrased):
Coller: Well, you scored a goal on the power play for the second straight game, do you feel your offensive game is coming along?
Morrisonn: Not really. I played on the power play in juniors
Coller: How about your leadership role on the team? I’ve talked to your coach and teammates, they all seem to feel you’ve done a nice job working with some of the younger players…
Morrisonn: Everyone’s a leader on this team
Coller: So, then you feel like your recent play could help you find a better situation? Maybe in the NHL?
Morrisonn: Obviously…. Is that it?
He sounds thrilled to be in the AHL. I bet he just can’t wait to re-sign with the Sabres for a fraction of his salary this off-season.
Morrisonn’s walking out the door in July. He’s probably going to be holding up a middle finger when he does it. So rather than have him sit in the minors until then, Sabres management needs to pull the trigger and send him somewhere. Anywhere. For any price. Any whatsoever, based upon the simple principle that anything is better than nothing.
Great, but what can they get? - Morrisonn’s had an awful year, he’s been waived, and now he’s spent a year in the minors. His price is going to be rock bottom, but it will still be there. Yet again, let me say that teams are always looking for depth in the post-season. If the Sabres had a snowball’s chance in Hell of playing in May, they’d likely hold on to him. Just because if a freakish accident happens in the playoffs (such as, for instance, losing 4 of your top 6 defenders…) a team wants to be able to call up a player who has been in the NHL before.
Morrisonn’s been there. Not for one or two, but six seasons he’s been there. Have no doubt that teams want that kind of insurance, even if it’s a last-case-just-in-case scenario. Morrisonn’s price will be low, but he absolutely can be moved. Couple that with the fact that he absolutely will not be back next season, and there is no excuse for not taking what they can get for him.
So…what can they get? I’ll shoot low. Way low. I shot high for Hecht and Gragnani, so I’ll go all the way down to a seventh round draft pick for Shaone Morrisonn. Which is something. Which is more than nothing, which is what they’ll get when he leaves this summer.
So there’s your four players that have got to be moved this trade deadline. Those are my absolute guarantees for who will not be back next year, and mixed with the reality that they are not going to be in the playoffs solidifies the team’s need to get something for bodies going out the door.
Ancillary benefits of moving these players includes freeing up ice time for developing players. Moving Hecht allows for Luke Adam to take a top line role. Moving Boyes allows for Nathan Gerbe to take his space.
The trick is that Darcy Regier needs to recognize the loss of the season. They have a 0.5% chance of making the playoffs, and the better move is to stock up on picks to rebuild. Or use those stocked picks to sweeten a deal that gets Derek Roy off this team. Colorado may laugh at the idea of Derek Roy for Paul Stastny, but Derek Roy with a 2nd and a 3rd for Stastny is a different story. Whatever the move, the addition of some second and third rounders gives breathing room for the team to improve for next year.
If this season was Darcy Regier’s “gloves off” audition, he failed. Now he needs to bow out with some dignity, and be sure to do what he can for this team’s future, before Ted Black and Terry Pegula show him the door.
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Tags: Brad Boyes Buffalo Buffalo Sabres Carolina Hurricanes Chicago Blackhawks Darcy Regier Derek Roy Drew Stafford Eastern Conference Fansided Florida Panthers Free Agency Hockey Jason Pominville Jhonas Enroth Jochen Hecht Lindy Ruff Marc-andre Gragnani Nathan Gerbe New Jersey Devils New York Islanders New York Rangers NHL Northeast Division Patrick Kaleta Pittsburgh Penguins Portland Pirates Rochester Americans Ryan Miller Sabres Shaone Morrisonn Stanley Cup Stanley Cup Playoffs Terry Pegula Thomas Vanek Tim Connolly Trade Trade Deadline Tyler Ennis Tyler Myers Washington Capitals