With the Buffalo Sabres wallowing in the basement of the Eastern Conference this season, the question looms: Should the team start a fire-sale of trades and overhaul the team, or are they just a piece or two away from becoming a consistent Stanley Cup contender?
With rumors running rampant, speculation is that outside of Thomas Vanek, Cody Hodgson, and Marcus Foligno, all other members of the Sabres are up for grabs. As construction of the new HarborCenter in Buffalo gets underway, will a new construction of the Sabres lineup coincide with the 18-month project? If so, is GM Darcy Regier the man for the job? If not, why is he still around?
Who on the team holds trade value? Here is a look:
Jason Pominville – The current captain of the Sabres likely holds the most value in a trade. He is a heart-and-soul player, can play on both sides of the puck when it comes to the power play and penalty kill, and would complement the lineup of any bonafide contender. Best case scenario? Buffalo is able to deal the RW for fellow Anaheim Ducks RW Corey Perry. Although the Ducks are playing well and have little to gain from breaking their chemistry, it is quite possible that Perry has no interest in re-signing with the team after this season. Anaheim would get a workable replacement in Pominville, and the pockets of Terry Pegula could accommodate the rumored $8 million per season contract that Perry will be seeking. Pominville is making $5.3 million, and will be an unrestricted free agent after 2013-14. He also has a no trade/ no movement clause.
Tyler Ennis – Currently the 2nd line center for the Sabres, Ennis holds good trade value due to his speed, scoring skill, and youth. Part of the Sabres fan base feels that Ennis does not have the size to be the Sabres 2nd line center of the future, despite his potential and the positive development trajectory that he has traveled on. If Mikhail Grigorenko is going to be a top center of the future, this opens up the possibility of Ennis being moved out. Ennis is making $2.8 million, and will be a restricted free agent after 2013-14.
Drew Stafford – Inconsistency has plagued Stafford throughout his Sabres tenure. We know that he has the capability to put the puck in the net, sometimes. Based on his poor play this season, his trade value is at an all-time low. It would take some smooth talking to convince another team that he only needs a change of scenery to regain his scoring touch, if the Sabres hope for a decent return. With RW Joel Armia potentially being a member of the Sabres next season, moving Stafford makes room for Armia. Stafford makes $4 million, and has 2 years left on his contract after this season.
Steve Ott – One of the most consistent Sabres this season, I would hate to see Ott go so soon. Teams contending for a Cup could always use someone like Ott in their lineups, so his trade value is likely very fair. The Sabres appear to lack a level of leadership, so moving Ott could be a drawback in a rebuilding scenario. Ott makes $2.95 million, and will be an unrestricted free agent after 2013-14. He has a no trade/ no movement clause.
Ville Leino – The albatross of a contract that Leino has, combined with his recent return from injury, leaves him all but untradeable. Best case scenario, Leino breaks out for the club and starts to perform well, and forges a formidable Finnish connection on LW with Armia on the opposite wing next season. Leino makes $4.5 million, and has 4 years remaining on his contract.
Patrick Kaleta, John Scott, Nathan Gerbe, Jochen Hecht – Little to no trade value here.
Christian Ehrhoff – Teams could always be looking for a veteran, puck-moving defensemen like Ehrhoff who can quarterback a power-play, but the Sabres would look silly moving him so quickly after bending over backwards to obtain him. The long-term contract Ehrhoff has would also be unappealing to most clubs, so despite his skills, he probably wouldn’t bring much return in a trade. Ehrhoff makes $4 million a season for the next 8 years.
Robyn Regehr – Stanley Cup contenders would love the grit, reliability, and experience that a veteran like Regehr could bring to a club. Yet, Buffalo would look foolish moving Regehr after convincing him to waive his no-trade clause and uproot his entire family to come here, only to just ship him off. Regehr is an unrestricted free agent after this season.
Tyler Myers – Some days, the Tyler Myers project looks like a great work in progress. Other days, the Tyler Myers project looks to be regressing. It seems like with the right coaching and environment, Myers could blossom into the top defenseman that everyone hopes for, and I bet that would happen if the Sabres traded him. Alas, Myers just entered into a very lengthy and expensive contract (7 years, $38 million) that should deter any potential trade partners.
Andrej Sekera – Sekera has been one of the most consistent Sabres on the blueline this season. I am not sure what he would be worth in trade value to another club, but after watching Darcy Regier give away TJ Brennan for a mere 5th round draft pick, I am not too keen on what his return would be for Sekera, let alone any other current Sabres.
Jordan Leopold – Like Stafford, Leopold has had his struggles this season. A contender might like him for his infrequent scoring touch and experience, but the return at this point would likely be low. Leopold will be an unrestricted free agent after this season.
And, last but not least, Ryan Miller - The most-talked about member of the Buffalo Sabres when it comes to trade rumors, is Miller available? Is the team ready to give up their franchise goaltender, with no immediate proven goaltenders in the pipeline? More importantly, is Miller himself pushing for a move? It didn’t take long for a media frenzy to get underway after Miller questioned “Are we the core anymore? Who knows?”
Current backup Jhonas Enroth is still unproven at the NHL level, and has been inconsistent. The jury is still out on Connor Knapp, Nathan Lieuwen, and Andrey Makarov. If Miller is traded, the Sabres must get a serviceable goaltender in return (which doesn’t solve for the woes in the other areas), or another player must be traded for a decent netminder.
How about shuffling Miller back to his home state of Michigan, in a trade to the Detroit Red Wings for Jimmy Howard? Have the Wings toss in former 2nd round pick Tomas Tatar and another pick, and maybe everyone is happy. Then, we get to see Miller haunt us in our own division when the Wings transition to the East next season, and maybe he follows in the footsteps of Dominik Hasek and wins a Cup for Detroit. Miller will be an unrestricted free agent after next season, and his trade value will diminish after this season finishes, if he is not moved.
With 2 ½ weeks remaining until the April 3rd trade deadline, it remains to be seen what moves the Sabres will make, if any. If we have learned anything from 16 years of Darcy Regier, it is that no one knows what Regier is doing when it comes to trades, until a move is completed. Any rumors or speculation of trades from the media, until then, will likely prove to be inaccurate.