Apr 5, 2014; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins defense Matt Niskanen (2) shoots against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Buffalo Sabres Free Agent Frenzy: Five Defensemen

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 blueliners who may be available as unrestricted free agents next month.

Right now, the Sabres have seven of the 12 blueliners who played in Buffalo this season under contract. Zadorov, however, will probably be back in the OHL with the London Knights. Pysyk and Ristolainen were back-and-forth between the Sabres and the Amerks last year. Ruhwedel was up-and-down, too, and if signed, it’s not clear where he’ll end up. Tallinder may or may not be re-signed; Sulzer is gone, signed to a team in his hometown Germany in May. Mackenzie and Crawford are AHL defensemen if they are signed. McBain…. well, he’s a tough one to place. Either way, the Sabres can look into free agency for blueliners and see what’s available. Here’s a sample size.

  • Matt Niskanen, 27, will be entering his 8th NHL season when October comes around. He spent the first three and a half seasons of his career with the Dallas Stars, who drafted him 28th overall in 2005. Since 2011, however, he’s been with the Pittsburgh Penguins, playing big minutes. This season was arguably the best of his NHL career to date. He played in 81 regular season games, notching career-highs in goals (10), assists (36) and points (46), while averaging 21 minutes of ice time each night. Niskanen also had nine points and 24 shots on goal in 13 playoff games before the Penguins were eliminated. The Virginia, MN native is set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1; could the Sabres at least consider signing the former University of Minnesota-Duluth blueliner?
  • Andrei Markov, 35, has spent his entire NHL career up to this point with the Montreal Canadiens. The Habs drafted the Voskresensk native 162nd overall in 1998, and he’s played in Montreal for parts of the last 13 seasons. This season, Markov had 43 points – including 36 assists – in 81 regular season games. He also added 10 points (1-9) in 17 playoff games with Montreal, all while playing big minutes. Markov averaged 24.9 minutes played/game this season, highest of any player in the league according to extraskater.com’s UFA dashboard. Markov also has experience on the international stage, having represented Russia at the Olympics in 2006 and 2010 and at the World Championships in 2005 (bronze), 2007 (bronze) and 2008 (gold). He also won silver in the 1998 WJCs and bronze in the 1997 WJCs. Could it be time for a change of scenery, and could Buffalo be the place for him?
  • Dan Boyle, 37, is probably the name Sabres fans have heard the most about in the recent days. He spent the last six seasons with the San Jose Sharks, but had his rights traded to the NY Islanders just days ago. The Islanders have reportedly been unable to sign him, so they’re now trying to trade his rights prior to the July 1 free agent kickoff. Remember a few years ago when Christian Ehrhoff was in a similar position? The Canucks traded his rights to the Islanders, who, unable to sign him, went on to trade his rights to the Sabres. Buffalo was able to sign him to a long-term deal prior to the deadline. Game, set, match. Boyle, an Ottawa native, is heading into his 17th NHL season this October. He’s 46 games shy of 1,000 career regular season games. Boyle has 561 points (144-417) and 643 penalty minutes in the regular season in his career. He plays big minutes every night, averaging nearly 21 minutes per game. Could he be a missing piece for the Sabres?
  • Raphael Diaz, 28, is one of the lesser-experienced NHLers on this list. Diaz was playing overseas in his native Switzerland before he joined the Montreal Canadiens for the 2011-12 season. He played 59 games that season and 23 the next, both with the Habs. This season, his third in the NHL, saw Diaz moved around quite a bit. After notching 11 assits and 12 penalty minutes in 46 games with Montreal, he was traded to Vancouver on February 3 in exchange for Dale Weise. Just over a month later, after having played just six games with the Canucks, Diaz was on the move again — this time to the Big Apple. Diaz finished out the season with the Rangers, notching two points in 11  regular season games. He had no points and eight shots in four playoff games with New York. Will the Rangers sign him, or could he be on his way out of Manhattan – perhaps headed over to WNY?
  • Brooks Orpik, 33, could be an interesting addition to the Sabres blueline. He’s right up there with teammate Niskanen, averaging 20.9 minutes of ice time each night, and Orpik already has a Buffalo connection. He was born in San Francisco but grew up in Amherst and went to Nichols School in Buffalo. Orpik has a Stanley Cup championship under his belt (2009) and also won silver at the 2010 Winter Olympics with Team USA. He’s spent his entire NHL career up to this point with the Penguins, the team that drafted him in 2000, 18th overall. This season, he had 13 points and 46 penalty minutes in 72 regular season games. He also had two points in five playoff games. Overall, Orpik’s NHL career has seen him play in 703 regular season games, putting up 481 shots and 132 points (13-119) in that stretch. He’s also accrued 734 penalty minutes and an additional 88 PIM in 82 career playoff games. The real question with Orpik is, will the Penguins be willing to let him go? Or will he end up re-signing back in Pittsburgh?

Could the Sabres be looking for a defenseman this summer? If so, should they give one of these guys a spin?

Which of these defensemen would you like to see the Sabres sign?

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