So, boys and girls, free agency starts in earnest this Friday, and every Sabres fan from Buffalo, New York to Rosthern, Saskatchewan (What up, Robyn?!?) is anticipating, and hoping for, a few fireworks before the Fourth. Darcy Regier is on record as saying he wants to “upgrade” the center position and add an “experienced” defenseman.
We will soon find out whether or not the waiving of a no-movement clause by a certain (former) Calgary Flames defenseman will draw the curiosity of some of the league’s elite free agents.
And with that, I’d like to look at the Sabres possible options this summer, whether it be in free agency, or through more trades.
The free agent crop at center is weak, and that is being kind. The only player that could be considered a top line talent is the one and only Brad Richards. I will streak down Main street wearing nothing but a 1999 Dallas Stars Stanley Cup champions hat if the Sabres sign him. If I were you, I wouldn’t hold my breath for a Brad Richards presser down at HSBC. Sorry.
After that, the talent thins out quicker than Mark Recchi’s hair. There are some good character type guys, a few decent #2 centers, and some good, gritty 3rd and 4th liners up the middle.
Brooks Laich‘s name has come up about a zillion times, and he would be a great addition for his character alone. He has decent offensive skills, great skating ability, good size and plays the game to win. Which means about 29 other teams will be lining up for the services of this hard working 28-year old.
Tomas Fleischmann is a player that may fly under the radar. The 27-year old is not a household name and spent a good deal of last season on the shelf because of a pulmonary embolism. Word is he should be fine to start next year, but will have to be on blood thinning medication. He has turned into a solid point producer with 82 points in 114 games over the past two seasons, and would be a decent #2 behind Derek Roy.
If the Sabres acquire their #1 center via trade, then they could be in the market for a third line centerman via free agency. The team could do a helluva lot worse than a guy like 33-year old Marty Reasoner. Good on the draw, great hockey sense, and his forte is checking the opposition’s top forwards. Had 32 points last year for a weak Florida Panthers team, and would be a very solid addition to the Blue & Gold. Yes, please.
Other 3rd line possibilities: 30-year old Vern Fiddler, a solid 25-30 point guy and a bit of an agitator. Marcel Goc (go ahead and say it, “WHO?!?”), 27, is a fantastic face-off man, has good speed, and is versatile. He has posted 54 points in 124 games over the last 2 seasons.
Obviously these names probably don’t excite many. In the right roles, however, any of the above mentioned players would help our hockey team in various ways, and none would break the bank.
Let’s now take a look at free agent defensemen. The 2011 class is split between the “over-the-hill”, the “U can’t touch this”, the “please, don’t touch this” and, of course, my list (which is the only list, right?).
OVER THE HILL: Ed Jovanovski. Sorry all you Jovo-cop fans, but this guy has more battle scars than Max Webster. Time to start making IcyHot commercials, there, Ed Jo. Roman Hamrlik. Couldn’t I just insert one of those “yech” faces here? Sami Salo. There’s only one other player more injury prone than Tim Connolly over the span of his career, and it’s the “Glass-Fin”. Steer clear.
U CAN’T TOUCH THIS: Nicklas Lidstrom, Kevin Bieksa, Andrei Markov and Eric Brewer have all been re-signed by their respective teams. Bummer.
PLEASE, DON’T TOUCH THIS: Bryan McCabe. This guy is so porous in his own zone, he had Florida Panthers fans booing him. Can’t get any worse than that. Scott Hannan. The game has unfortunately passed this once great warrior by. Ala Jay McKee, he simply cannot keep up with the speed of opposing forwards on a consistent basis anymore. Was once one of my favorite defenseman in the league. Tomas Kaberle. WHAT? Yep. This guy is softer than a baby’s ass, never shoots the puck and would cost way too much for me. Stay away from this one-trick pony.
MY LIST:)- In no particular order. 27-year old James Wisniewski. Tough as (Jamie) Nails, plays the game with an edge, and puts up points. He is a bit of a loose cannon in his own end, and is not very big, but plays the game big. Just hitting his stride. Christian Ehrhoff. Possibly a pipe dream, because I’m sure that Vancouver will do what it can to retain the big 27-year old German. Could be a product of playing on such great teams, but his numbers don’t lie. He is silky smooth, much like Teppo Numminen, and can log big amounts of ice-time. Under the radar is the underrated Ian White. Small by NHL standards for any position, is the often overlooked 27-year old. Makes up for his “short”comings with his great skating, deft puck handling and precision passing. Ian can log big minutes, and reminds this writer of former Sabre Jason Woolley. Not bad at t’all.
With the acquisition of defenseman Robyn “The Death Tunnel” Regehr (ask opposing right wingers), I would be very surprised to see Darcy Regier trade for another D-man. So, I will focus on forwards, specifically centerman, who I think could be possible targets, based on speculation, need and my own personal wishes, of course.
Paul Stastny (Colorado Avalanche). Hello! Paul, 25, is a chip off the ol’ block(s). Father Peter and uncles Anton and Marion were a menace to many a Sabres goalie back in the day, and the train-kept-a-rollin’ with Paul. Tremendous playmaking ability is what this French-Canadian/Czechoslovakian brings to the dinner table. In fact, he sets the damn table. I could only envision what kind of damage Thomas Vanek could do with Stastny feeding him those soft passes all night long. Colorado is supposedly in the market for a defensive center and goaltender, and I would sacrifice Paul Gaustad, Jhonas Enroth (I know, that hurts) and a high draft pick or prospect for him. The Avalanche also have Matt Duchene ready to take over #1 center duties. Colorado, however, is still $20 million from the cap floor, and may need to keep Stastny’s $6.6 million cap hit on the books.
Joe Pavelski (San Jose Sharks). “Little Joe” sits behind “Big Joe” Thornton and, soon enough, Logan Couture in the Shark tank depth chart. Why SJ would part with Pavelski is beyond me but, hey, Wayne Gretzky was traded. The 26-year old playmaking center with off-the-charts hockey sense, and a very friendly $4 million cap hit, would be an ideal fit in Buffalo. He is a leader, much like Chris Drury, and his best years are ahead of him. Another player who plays the game to win, he may get pushed down to a 3rd line role in San Jose because of Couture’s emergence, and that would be criminal. And a waste. Buffalo needs to make sure that doesn’t happen, and trade for this winner.
Jason Spezza (Ottawa Senators). Are the Senators in full-blown rebuild mode? Then why in hell would Spezza,28, want to stick around for this potentially painful experience? He has a no-trade clause, but I think he would love to come to Buffalo and stick it to Ottawa after a trade. Who wouldn’t? A slick playmaking pivot, he has good size, good face-off ability, and desperately needs a change of scenery. With the wingers the Sabres have, a playmaking center of his calibre could make all the difference. Go get him.
Jordan Staal (Pittsburgh Penguins). With the injuries in Steel City last year, Jordan had to step up, and was on pace for 60 points in an injury plagued season. With the anticipated return of both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, it’s back to the checking line for this highly regarded young man. Not allowed to truly blossom, he has nevertheless carved out a nice gig in Pittsburgh as a shut-down center with untapped offensive ability. What could the 2nd member of the Staal dynasty do if given top line duties on a year to year basis? Well, why don’t we find out.
Antoine Vermette (Columbus Blue Jackets). This former Ottawa Senator has been busy setting up Rick Nash for the last few seasons, and has posted decent numbers in the meantime. Perhaps not a true #1 at this time, he could be ready to explode, and may be a “find” the way Danny Briere was at the time. Plays well at both sides of the rink, possesses outstanding face-off ability, and his tenacity rubs off on his teammates. With Columbus’ recent trade for Jeff Carter, and young gun Derek Brassard patrolling middle ice, the time is prime to pluck Vermette off the C-Bus.
Paul Gaustad, Tyler Ennis, Derek Roy, Brad Boyes, Andrei Sekera, Zach Kassian, Jhonas Enroth, Marcus Foligno, draft picks (Sabres have their 1st, and two 2nd round picks in 2012).
Who knows what Darcy, Lindy, Ted and Terry have up their sleeves for the upcoming week(s). I would love to be a fly on the wall in these secret meetings to determine which players they plan to target. I cannot see the Sabres tendering an offer sheet to a high profile guy such as Steven Stamkos, as this is not Darcy’s style. He is an old-school type GM, and believes in “the code”.
But Terry wants a Cup (come to think of it, SO DO I!).
He may say to Regier, “do what you have to, but get me a winner. A champion. A team that generations of Sabres fans will remember. Sign those big-time talents. Tender your offer sheets. Trade players X and Y for player Z, even though we may not want to give up player X or Y. Just build me a Stanley Cup contender”.
In case you forgot, just ask Robyn Regehr. Terry gets what Terry wants.
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