Apr 1, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins right wing Lee Stempniak (22) handles the puck against the Carolina Hurricanes during the third period at the CONSOL Energy Center. Carolina won 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

GM For A Day: Free Agency

With the draft on the horizon, Tim Murray is closing in on what could be a hefty draft and heavy offseason, even bigger than was predicted.

Currently speculation holds the Buffalo Sabres looking at a few different candidates to draft, or should they still have their sites set on the big draft coming up next summer, they could shop the second pick and reel in a difference maker early on.

Apr 19, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche center Paul Stastny (26) attempts a shot on Minnesota Wild goalie Ilya Bryzgalov (30) as center Kyle Brodziak (21) defends in the first period during game two of the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Murray has openly stated that this is not a five-year rebuild. The only way I see it not being that long is how the new GM plays the free agency game. We have no idea what to expect, but we have reason to believe he has a big plan for this period. Of course, there are huge signings that turn out to be huge busts, but there’s a risk in everything in this game, and it’s those who are willing to take that risk that see the biggest benefit.

In the draft, hands down I would take Sam Bennett. He is in my eyes the most ready player for us.

If I were to assume the role of GM for just one day, here is my plan.

Let’s focus on what I believe to be the best available player in each position IF we decided to shop that number two pick in the free agency. These choices are based on what I believe to be best for Buffalo, not best stat-wise.

Right off the bat, center Paul Stastny. While it’s not guaranteed that he is packing his bags and leaving Denver, the 28-year old center is definitely listening to offers from the Colorado Avalanche, and we can pay. Last season, Stastny was crucial to the surge of success for first-year head coach Patrick Roy, posting 25 goals and 60 points and helping to develop and explode the play of newly named Calder Trophy winner Nathan McKinnon. This has even led McKinnon to voicing that he would hate to see Stastny leave, based on all he did for Colorado, which is what makes him possibly the steal of the free agency. He would also bring an incredible faceoff rating and veteran mentality while being able to ease the pressure on Cody Hodgson. Stastny easily earns a top line spot, moving Hodgson to a much more suitable second to third line position, where he could anchor and bloom as well.

On a side note, we are extremely deep on centers, giving that we hold onto Tyler Ennis and I would decide the fates of Mikhail Grigorenko and Pat Kaleta later on. Torrey Mitchell is in a race to earn a decent spot if he grows his game. I don’t see our centers being of an issue, but some players could be used as kickers in any trades. It’s only a waiting game from here on out.

Even though Ville Leino was a barely existent left winger, we still need to boost the left side, a side that has been fairly transparent for the past few seasons could be slightly helped by the addition of Milan Michalek. Michalek is now testing the waters of free agency since being dealt to the Ottawa Senators from San Jose back in 2009. Why would he fit? Well since he has spent a good amount in the Northeast, now Atlantic Division, Michalek knows the teams and players that it wouldn’t be an uncomfortable adjustment to get used to. Michalek is chock-full of talent which would blossom with Buffalo. He may not be the point getter every team wants, but if we had Leino on the team, we can’t do much worse.

He would be joining a hard working group of left wingers in currently Marcus Foligno, Matt Ellis, Cory Conacher and even John Scott, who was a different man under the rebuilt Ted Nolan. Again, Michalek could top the lines, or serve on a second line, regardless, we could use him.

In the real world, Tim Murray has seen him play, has had contact with him, so who is to say he hasn’t already thrown a lure out?

We still have Johan Larsson in Rochester, but I feel that he still has a year of learning, but I will definitely have him first in my call up list.

On the right, we have Drew Stafford, a player once under a lot of fire for lack of play, definitely proved himself to be the player we deserve. That is why I believe we could spare a bit of money to bring in someone who is also capable of play anywhere from the first to third line. With the likes of Stafford, Chris Stewart, Brian Flynn and maybe even Joel Armia, Buffalo could maybe leave their right side alone for the time being. None of those players are out of a contract until next year, so taking a look later on should be a priority for Murray. But for the sake of this article, the top right wing that I can see Buffalo taking a look at……Lee Stempniak from the Pittsburgh Penguins.

West Seneca’s own Stempniak is a great addition to the wing. Stempniak, in my eyes, has always been an underrated player, but I think it’s a decent look that we could get for a steal if Murray plays his cards right. His 12 goals and 34 points this past season is nothing that would be clamored about, but he is a decent addition to a semi-decent right side and I feel could fit in well with the team. That would be an easy pickup, and I don’t feel we would have to sacrifice much to pick it.

Focusing on the defense, we look at a long list of blooming talent. Nikita Zadorov is likely to make the jump to the top tier this season, with Rasmus Ristolainen tied for a chance. We may have to look at trading a player instead of bringing one in. It is possible to use the players we have in order to get the guys I mentioned above. Alexander Sulzer is heading to the Cologne Sharks and we do have Henrik Tallinder on the wire, but his future is unsure for the time being. But, if a defenseman were to be picked up, I think that Brooks Orpik is a decent bridge for Buffalo to have on their blue line. With experience from the Pittsburgh Penguins and his time in the Olympics with the USA, I think it would be fitting to bring Orpik back home to Buffalo, throw him a 2-3 year deal and let the young guys learn a bit with intermittent play between here and Rochester.

In goal, I am going to put my faith in Jhonas Enroth, it’s his time, I am prepared to let him have it. Leaving Michal Neuvirth for backup is the best option for us as well, I’m comfortable with our goaltender situation and I’m sticking with it.

Of course, none of these signings will probably happen, but those players are some with a great amount of experience, some that Buffalo could reap during this rebuild. I see potential in these “diamonds in the rough” and I firmly believe that there is talent left to squeeze out. Their game may have dipped, but I believe that is them getting comfortable in their current cities, they haven’t had a taste of Tim Murray….not yet at least.

Tags: Buffalo Sabres

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