Ask anyone. Seriously anyone at all: “What is the Sabre’s biggest need this offseason?” and you will hear a unanimous answer: “Number 1 Center!!!” Where will this big name center come from? The free agent pool is so thin at center, and greatly lacking of that true “Number 1” that the Sabres only option would be to trade for one. But if a trade is not on the table, then who is available?
Right now our centers are: future number 1 in Cody Hodgson, the speedy second liner Tyler Ennis, Derek Roy who is our current #1, and interchangeable fourth line centers Cody McCormick and Matt Ellis. On paper we have two future stars on the rise, two decent role players who could be swapped with any player in the league and there would be no difference, and a consistently solid center who is a whiny little kid(you can guess who). In order to bring in a new center, someone else needs to move out and general consensus is that Roy is the closest to the door, with a $4 million cap hit.
The Sabres tried to beef up the middle with the Boyes and Leino experiment, which failed miserably. With roughly $7.5 million coming off the books in UFA, here is a breakdown of who could be in blue and gold, manning the dot next season.
Top of the list: Olli Jokinen, Jarrett Stoll, and Jiri Hudler. Do any of these players scream top line center? I didn’t think so, most of the centers hardly whisper second line. This year is extremely weak down the middle. This season Jokinen racked up 61 points(23g, 38a) in 82 games while between Alex Tanguay and the always great Jerome Iginla. He is a cap hit of at least $3 million and is good for 50-60 points a year. Jarrett Stoll is 4th on the King’s depth chart but plays on the third line with Dwight King(whoever that is) and Trevor Lewis. He tallied 21pts(6-15) with only 60 penalty minutes, and he is definitely not worth the 3.6 million he will be asking for. Jiri Hudler is someone who has a solid scoring touch and can put up decent numbers on the third line. Putting 25 in the net with another 25 helpers while behind Filppula and perennial #1 Datsyuk. Now compare these players to Buffalo’s centers and even these veterans can’t keep up. Hodgson was 19 and 22 for 41 points this season in 83 games between the Canucks and the Sabres. Ennis, in only 48 games scored 15 goals and 19 assists for 34 points. At the pace he was going, if he played all 82 games the way he did at the end of the year, he could have been upwards of 35-40 goals and 60-70 points. Roy…….Roy……uh….he was just bad this year. Racking up a meager 44 points in 80 games, he was clearly off his game. However, if Roy is kept around next year, he is always good 60-80 points. Comparing our current roster to the possible “Top” free agents out there, I see no reason for us to sign a new center. If Roy is sent packing, we need to draft his replacement or give the 3rd line to Luke Adam in 2012-13.
Despite the lack of top 6 centers, there is a deep crop of players who are considered “core” and “role players.” Grinder Sammy Phalsson, Finnish superstar Saku Koivu, heavyweight Chris Kelly, and faceoff guru Paul Gaustad. Every Sabre’s fan’s dream right now is that we call the Goose back home, which is a huge possibility since no one knows what the “Talks” he and Darcy were having in late February were all about. But there are other options to play alongside Kaleta and McCormick. Sorry Ellis fans, I don’t see him being a starter any time on any NHL team.
Unfortunately for the fans, there is no Brad Richards, no Danny Briere, and no star center available for this Buffalo franchise. All we can do is wait and watch on June 22 at the NHL Draft to see if we can get the next stud in the faceoff circle.
Up next is Left Wingers!