The Buffalo Sabres have a lot to think about before the NHL free agency period opens on July 1. Today, let’s look at some of the right wingers who may be available as unrestricted free agents next month.
- POSITION: Right Wing
- # OF PLAYERS UNDER CONTRACT WITH SABRES: Three
- PLAYERS UNDER CONTRACT: Drew Stafford, Chris Stewart, Brian Flynn
- IMPENDING SABRES UFAs: Matt D’Agostini, Jamie Tardif
- IMPENDING SABRES RFAs: none
With two impending UFA right wingers whose status is all but certain, the Buffalo Sabres may have some wiggle room in that position. Stafford, Stewart and Flynn are all locked in for one more season with the Sabres before they hit free agency; Flynn will become an RFA after next season, with the other two becomes unrestricted free agents. Here are five right wingers who may hit the free agent market on July 1 that the Sabres could potentially be interested in.
- Ales Hemsky, 30, will be entering his 12th NHL season when October rolls around. Of the 672 NHL games he’s played in, all but 20 were spent with the Edmonton Oilers. The 2001 13th-overall draft pick has spent most of his career in the Western Conference, but appeared in 20 games with the Ottawa Senators after being traded there at this year’s deadline. The Senators gave up two draft picks for the Pardubice, Czech Republic native, who hasn’t been nearly as productive in recent years as he was in years past. Hemsky’s best season to date was 2005-06, when he scored 77 points, including a career-high 58 assists, in 81 games. He’s put up at least 20 points in every season of his NHL career. This season, Hemsky had 26 points (9-17) in 55 games with Edmonton prior to the trade, later adding 17 points (4-13) in 20 games with the Senators.
- Brian Gionta, captain of the Montreal Canadiens, is set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. Gionta has been with the Habs since 2009 after spending eight seasons with the New Jersey Devils organization. At 35, the Rochester, NY native is the oldest player of my five to watch, but he would bring a great veteran presence and leadership to the Sabres organization. Gionta will be entering his 13th NHL season in October. Regular season and playoffs combined, Gionta has 888 career games of NHL experience; he’s scored 553 points in that time, including 281 goals and 272 assists. Gionta’s also a pretty good iron man, having appeared in 82 games three times in his career. This year, he had 40 points (18-22) in 81 regular season games and added seven points in the playoffs.
- Lee Stempniak is another local NHLer who the Buffalo Sabres could be interested in. The West Seneca native split this season between the Calgary Flames and the Pittsburgh Penguins. He’s now played for five different NHL teams since the start of his pro career in 2005 — could the Sabres be next in line? Stempniak, 31, has 637 games of NHL (regular-season) experience. He’s notched 150 goals and 191 assists in that stretch. Stempniak has played for St. Louis, where he began his career being drafted 148th overall in 2003; Toronto, Phoenix, Calgary and, most recently, Pittsburgh. He’s been traded during the season three times in his NHL career. He played for the Buffalo Lightning of the OPJHL from 1999 until 2001; could hitting free agency on July 1 allow Stempniak to return home to the Queen City?
- Marian Gaborik, 32, is coming off a pretty good year. He just won the first Stanley Cup of his NHL career after coming to the team from the Columbus Blue Jackets earlier in the year. Gaborik had a productive season, notching 14 points in 22 games with Columbus, 16 points in 19 regular season games with LA, and a 22-point playoff stint. It’s uncertain at this point whether or not the Kings will let him hit free agency or if they’ll attempt to sign him, but there could be a chance he ends up right back in LA. If not, how would the 32-year-old Trencin, Slovakia native look in the blue and gold? Gaborik, originally the 3rd-overall selection in 2000 by the Minnesota Wild, has 890 games of NHL experience (regular season and playoffs). He’s played with the Wild, Rangers, Blue Jackets and Kings. Could it be time for another NY team to give him a spin?
- Devin Setoguchi, 27, marks the youngest player of this list. Setoguchi, who was drafted 8th overall in 2005 by the San Jose Sharks, will be entering his eighth NHL season in the fall. After spending parts of five seasons with the Sharks organization, Setoguchi played for the Minnesota Wild from 2011 until 2013. He also appeared in 10 games for the ECHL’s Ontario Reign during the ’12-’13 season. This season, Setoguchi appeared in 75 games with the Winnipeg Jets, notching 11 goals and 16 assists. Overall, he’s got in 142 goals and 132 assists in 512 NHL games (playoff and regular season). A native of Taber, Alberta, Setoguchi has spent all of his NHL career to date in the Western Conference – could it be time for him to make the jump to the East, and could the Sabres give him that opportunity?
So, what do you think? Less than two weeks now until the NHL free agent period opens….. Should the Sabres look at any of these right wingers, or are there others on the free agent block you’d like to see in the blue and gold in October?