In yesterday’s post, I addressed what I (and many of you) believe is the single most glaring weakness in this Buffalo Sabres team: the lack of a truly elite center. Certainly there are other areas in which the Sabres could use improvement – reducing the number of penalties they take, and, strangely enough, improving their penalty kill come to mind – but it’s sheer madness to think that these problems, when resolved, will make up for the gaping hole in the heart of the Sabres’ roster. The painful truth is that the Sabres have been trying to get by without a big name center for years now, and it’s about time Darcy Regier admitted that it’s time to go fishing and bring one back to Buffalo, New York.
So – where to begin? I would have to be either drunk or insane to suggest that the Sabres organization try to lure the likes of a Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Steven Stamkos, Henrik Sedin, etc. to come to Buffalo. Fortunately for us all, I am neither of those two things – yet. No, I have a few realistic targets in mind – for example, Ryan O’Reilly out in Colorado. Sound crazy, a team like Colorado parting ways with a young, up-and-coming center who is coming off a season in which he posted 55 points at the tender age of 21? Well, according to Adrian Dater of The Denver Post, this is exactly the sort of scenario the Colorado Avalanche have found themselves in before. Seems that, once a player in the Colorado system values himself to be worth more money that the Avalanche brass value him at, said player gets shipped out of town more often than not. Currently, O’Reilly and the Avalanche are at an impasse in his contract negotiations, and that, plus the fact that Colorado also skates Paul Stastny, another fine young talent at the center position, may lead the Avalanche to consider trading O’Reilly. The kid had 37 assists as a 21 year-old; imagine his impact on a Sabres team struggling to find goals right now. Sure, he’s not an 80-90+ points-per-year talent . . . yet . . . but there’s zero reason to believe he won’t be producing those numbers a short ways down the road.
Another option for the Buffalo Sabres to consider is to go after Ryan Getzlaf of the Anaheim Ducks. (No – I’m not just picking guys because they are named Ryan!) He’s had years of 91, 69, and 76 points in his young career, and even though he dropped to 57 last year he still managed 47 assists. He’s a pass-first player, so he’s going to create opportunities for any line he plays on. Most people agree that he will get back to being a 20 goal scorer this year, as well, but that’s just icing on the cake. Getzlaf is exactly the sort of player the Sabres need their offense to run through – and did I mention he is winning almost 60% of his faceoffs so far this year? And that he is an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season?
There you have it: two examples of centers considered to be among the best in the league, who still have room for growth and a lot of years ahead of them, meaning a club would not have to feel like they are only going to get 1-2 good years out of them. Seems like either one of these guys could be a perfect fit for the Sabres. What, exactly then, would keep the organization from going after one of these guys?
Small-minded thinking, of course.
For starters, signing either of these guys is going to cost money. This wouldn’t be a case of picking up a few utility players to plug a leak (hello, Jochen Hecht); this would be an example of a team trying to bring in the final missing piece of the puzzle, a serious attempt to bring in an elite player who could help bring Lord Stanley’s Cup to Buffalo. It’s going to cost the Sabres, but as the saying goes, “You’ve got to spend money to make money” – aka, winning championships don’t come cheaply. Maybe Darcy Regier and the rest of the Sabres organization think a team that simply drafts well, develops young talent in the minors, and consists of some really good players and a bunch of utility players can bring home the cup. Think again. Look at the past ten Stanley Cup Winners: Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Anaheim, Carolina, Tampa Bay, New Jersey, Detroit. Then go look at their rosters. You’l find at least one, if not two, truly elite players on each of those rosters, accompanied by some damn good players that you could argue just fall short of earning the “elite” label. The Sabres need to open their wallets if they want to finish making their current roster a true contender.
Another mindset the Sabres would need to avoid? The small market mindset; namely, the one that says, “We’re never going to convince a top 50 player to come and play in Buffalo, New York.” Well, why not? If the money is there, and if the team is serious about winning a Stanley Cup, why couldn’t the Sabres convince a dominant center to play for the Sabres? Buffalo plays in a great, competitive division, a division with tons of history of truly passionate fans. Sure, the city isn’t as glamorous as some locations, but it’s not as terrible as people who don’t live there make it sound, and besides, most players return home during the offseason. Plus, players spend most of the regular season travelling, so who cares if you don’t fall in the love with the city at first sight – have any of you ever been to New Jersey? Exactly! A team that is willing to spend good money in exchange for a serious run at the Cup is going to be successful in bringing in talent, so the Sabres need to keep themselves from thinking like a small market team and be willing to play with the big boys this one time.
I don’t know if we’ll be lucky enough to see the Buffalo Sabres organization take this risk – I’m leaning toward the pessimistic side of the spectrum on this topic – but the bottom line is, if they are truly sincere in wanting to win a championship, this is a step they are going to have to take. The Sabres are a team on the brink; hopefully, their management isn’t afraid to take a leap of faith and do what they have to do.
Comments? Questions? Genius ideas? Leave ‘em below, or hit me up @theavergedick.