For the past several years, Buffalo has been considered one of the deepest teams in terms of NHL-ready defensemen. According to HockeysFuture.com, “Their strength is still in their tremendous defensive depth, which makes up half of this list. The trio of T.J. Brennan, Joe Finley, and Brayden McNabb have all seen action with the Sabres and could all make a push for a permanent spot with the club in 2012-13.” Throw into that mix Drew Schiestel, Jerome Gauthier-Leduc, and Mark Pysyk and the sabres have a large number of NHL level prospects who will prove their worth in the coming future. As for the current roster, we will be at risk of losing Alexander Sulzer who became an unsung hero in the last three weeks of the season. Our top two d-men, Tyler Myers and Christian Erhoff are locked up for seven and ten years respectively. Former Calgary Flames Robyn Regehr and Jordan Leopold still have one more year on their deals. Finally, Andre Sekera has three more years and Mike Weber has one. The Sabres are deep and have no need to sign another defensemen unless they feel their players aren’t cutting it and their prospects aren’t ready for the big time. But Brayden McNabb showed this season in his several call ups, that his game can translate. He has not shown the offensive know-how that everyone was expecting, but he proved he can put bruises on the toughest of players. Expect him to make an impact in training camp and even make the roster out of the preseason, on a trial basis.
Now onto the free agents… Topping the list is former Norris Trophy winner and Stanley Cup Champ Nicklas Lindstrom. I wish. Next down the list are: Dennis Wideman, Johnny Oduya, Bryan Allen, Matt Carle, and Ryan Suter.
Let’s kick things off with Suter. Ryan Suter is touted as one of the best defensemen in the league opposite his defensive partner Shea Weber. Suter is a bruising body who is strong in his own end. Over the past five seasons with the Predators, Suter has averaged 42 points and 50 PIM. If the Sabres are willing to get rid of a top 4 defenseman and sign Suter, the fans will be cheering in the streets. This would be an excellent addition to the team. Ryan would fit in well with Ruff’s system. Lindy likes to play a two style defensive pair, combining a solid defensive defenseman with a guy who will help to start the rush and can keep up with the forwards. Prime example of this is the combination of Tyler Myers and Andre Sekera, or Jordan Leopold and Robyn Regehr. If they do sign Suter, he would be paired with Myers and would be that stay at home defenseman with a rocket from the point, while Myers would lead the rush into the offensive zone. The only knock against Suter is that he will be looking to make money near, or equal to Weber, which is around $7.5 million
Dennis Wideman of the Washington Capitols has had an excellent year scoring 11 goals and 46 points. Wideman has been solid offensively throughout his career, managing and average of 32 points with Boston and breaking out this season. Wideman made $3.8 million last season and shouldn’t be asking for much more of a raise, so he wouldn’t be a bad signing at all. Bryan Allen was suspected to be on the trade block this past trade deadline, however, he stayed put in Carolina. Bryan is not known for his offensive talent, but is more like a Mike Weber, tallying only 14 points this season with 111 hits. However, Mike Weber recorded 12 hits more than Allen, so why pay more for another Mike Weber. Johnny Oduya would be a stretch to sign at $3.5 million. He isn’t good offensively and didn’t really raise his stock as a defensive power-house playing for Winnipeg and Chicago. He managed only a mere 18 points on 81 games this season while skating for 20 minutes per game. Someone in his situation should be able to produce more on both ends of the ice when given as many minutes as he got. Finally we come to Matt Carle. He is an offensive threat from the blue line, although he has not been able to match his career high of 11-31 for 42 points in 2006-07 with the Sharks, he has become quite the set up man for Brier and Giroux. Carle has averaged 38 points over the past three seasons for the always strong Flyers and could fit well into the Sabres organization. He is much like a Jordan Leopold, an average defender but with offensive upside. Comparing their stats, Leopold scores more goals, netting 13 and 10 in his two seasons for the Sabres, while Carle is more of a playmaker, setting up the goal scoring wingers. My personal opinion is that I would rather have Carle over Leopold. I don’t much care if a defenseman scores 20 goals in a season, although it would be nice. I would much rather a defenseman get 50 assists all going to Ennis and Vanek.
The defense list is fairly deep this offseason, consisting of a wide variety of second and third line defenders. Expect defense to be the most signed position this free agency as teams will look to add those core type of players, or add “grit” to the blue line in an effort to make a run at the finals.