After the NHL draft came and went with Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek remaining with the Buffalo Sabres. Fans have now turned their attention toward free agency as a time when maybe Darcy Regier could move one or both of these veterans for some more assets to speed along this ‘suffering’ phase. Unfortunately, if that’s all fans have to look forward to, they may be disappointed by these next few weeks.
While there is certainly a trade market out there, it’s more for younger, cheaper players than it is for expensive veterans. Even if those veterans are high performers at their positions, they don’t bring irreplaceable production. Thomas Vanek and Ryan Miller cost over $13M combined annually, and neither are the best at their given position. If they were, they wouldn’t be on the trade block at all. Sabres fans should prepare to see at least Thomas Vanek, if not Miller as well, suit up in blue and gold this fall. Darcy Regier will never take a deal he doesn’t love, and he loves these two. He may think about this past trade deadline and what he got for Jason Pominville before he acts this summer.
Let’s start with Ryan Miller. Many assume the former Vezina winner should fetch something just short of a King’s ransom. After all, Miller could very well be the difference between making the playoffs, and making the Cup Finals for a few teams considered to be pretty close. However, when you look at the past trades involving goaltenders, even the really good ones, that doesn’t seem like a safe prediction. Also look at the less proven goalies recently swapped like Jonathan Bernier and Corey Schneider, you can’t immediately assume that Miller is worth at least as much as they are. Bernier and Schneider are much younger, and at least in Bernier’s case, significantly cheaper.
Toronto gave up its bouquet of picks and prospects because they wanted a young goalie in the system who can grow with the team. Ryan Miller is at a different place in his career than most of the guys on the Leafs, as is his contract. The same goes with New Jersey and their ninth overall pick. Miller’s trade value would likely fall between Schneider and Bernier, and that may be a disappointment to Sabres fans. However, a team like the New York Islanders who are looking for answers at goaltender may not find them this summer. They might do something like sign a guy who’s been good for a season and a half to a six year deal. Oh, never mind, that’s Phoenix. Well, you get the point.
Thomas Vanek seems to be the more valuable of the two because top line wingers aren’t easy to find. Especially when you consider the way Vanek plays. He consistently charges the net and make plays happen in front of the crease. In an age when 99% of playoff goals scored are done so by some dumpy wrist shot from the point that gets tipped in, Vanek would be a huge asset to a Cup contender. A team like Detroit could really put Vanek to use to replace the long-occupied role of Tomas Holmstrom. Unfortunately, the Wings are in Buffalo’s division now so that deal is unlikely to happen. A team in a similar bind though could certainly justify parting with a pick and a prospect for Vanek, but not much more. At least not this summer.
Like Miller, Vanek’s contract is a high number that expires after next season. A team knows that picking up either will lead to haggling with an agent, then paying either player at least $6.5-7 million annually. In a couple years when the cap grows once more, that might not be a big deal, but in the present, the cap is simply too cozy for many GMs. It’s easier to spend another year evaluating young talent than it is to risk multiple assets for one player who could get injured ala Jason Pominville.
It’s easy to expect a big splash in the summer because there’s really nothing else for these GMs to do but to make a move. That doesn’t mean it’s the best thing for the team though. Right now, GMs have options. If they can’t trade for A, they can go get B for less. The best time for the Sabres to deal their veterans will likely be next trade deadline when they would have two of the best rental pieces on the market, and time is winding down for playoff contenders to become Cup contenders. They can let teams move toward the front of the pack and feel good about themselves, and maybe instill a bit of desperation in their moves. Anything can happen between now and the deadline. It may not be what Sabres fans want to hear, but if it leads to the team maximizing the value of their current assets, people may have to watch and wait for what comes next.
Cory Buck is a staff writer for Sabre Noise. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @TheBuckMopsHere.