Free Agents, Part 1

Part One
This time of the season is the most exciting to me.  It’s where champions are built. Darcy Regier always says that he will build his team in the off-season. Darcy Regier’s time to make a move is now. We have some key ingredients, including an all-world goalie, a number 1 defenseman, and a 40 goal scoring winger.

We have some very important third and fourth line guys as well. We must improve though. Improving this team can only come from within to a certain point. There comes a time where you must add talent from without in trades and free agency. Great teams and great General Managers know how to combine all three into success.

The Buffalo Sabres never replaced Chris Drury, they never replaced J.P. Dumont, and they never replaced Brian Campbell. While I’m confident Mike Weber can finally replace Jay McKee, I ask myself why it is taking Mr. Regier so long to replace his players. Mr. Regier, you can redeem yourself NOW!!!
And now you have my team by team analysis of players who may be available for the Sabres to get either through free agency or trades:

Anaheim Ducks
Free agents:
Center – Saku Koivu – One of my favorite players of all time happens to be available once again this year.  Koivu was the main man I wanted the Sabres to target last year.  While even though he aged one more year and even though my desire to see him play for the Sabres isn’t as high as it once was, I would love to see him manning the third line next year.  He provides Drury-like leadership and play.

He would also make Craig Rivet more comfortable as the captain and leader because now his best friend would help him control a team with some young players who will need more guidance from veterans instead of players like Derek Roy or Tim Connolly.  I expect to see him get around the same money he got last year at 3.25, because he put up decent numbers with 19 goals and 52 points, while averaging second-line minutes with the Ducks.

Considering him and Matt Cullen are the two best centers available now in free agency, many teams will be going after Saku.  Sabres might have an edge in signing him because of Rivet.  Koivu is the perfect third line center, allowing Goose to go back to the fourth line.
Right Wing – Teemu Selanne – Unfortunately Teemu isn’t going to follow Saku to another team if he decides to return for another season.  Teemu will either stay with Ducks or retire.  But I would love him for a one year run at the cup and he would fill a void at right wing.  No chance it will happen though, sorry.
Defense – Aaron Ward – Former Hurricane will be on the market, but to keep it short and sweet, we don’t need him in Buffalo.  Montador fills his role perfectly.
Possible trade bait includes Joffrey Lupul, James Wisniewski, and Steve Eminger.  Lupul isn’t worth his contract, Wisniewski is a nice D-man but not what I’m looking for the Sabres, and Eminger isn’t needed as Rivet and Monty fill the 5 and 6 spots on the blue-line next year.
I would have loved if the Sabres tried to acquire Ryan Whitney last year from the Ducks, but it didn’t happen.
Atlanta Thrashers
Free Agents:
Left Wing – Vyacheslav (Slava) Kozlov – Yea never mind, let’s move on from this guy.  All Buffalo fans should remember what a jerk he was to the Sabres.
Right Wing – Maxim Afinogenov – My man Max is available once again and after getting a terrible one year deal worth just 800,000 thousand, he is due for a nice raise.  Max will never come back to Buffalo because of Lindy Ruff, but he should get near 3 mil. once again in a new deal because of his great season.  Many teams will be interested this time around.  But it depends on the system you want in order for Max to succeed.
Right Wing – Colby Armstrong – A tough and rugged third line forward who can also provide some timely goals as well.  He never advanced to the next level in Atlanta but that might be because he wasn’t in the right situation.  His best years came with the Penguins with Crosby.

Kind of like Nathan Horton, put him in a hockey environment and you will see an improvement.  I expect Pitt to get him back though and really Mike Grier fills the third line role perfectly, especially when it counts.  Having Pat Kaleta on the rise helps as well, as he might develop into a third line guy himself.
Defense – Pavel Kubina – A solid all around D-man who has been around for a while now and is coming off a contract worth 5 mil a season.  He never lived up to expectations in Toronto after winning the Cup with the Lightning.  He does have a great shot and can play over 20 a game (38 points this year).

I’m not sure though how many years he may be looking for and at the age of 33, I would be very cautious giving him more than two years at around 3.5 maybe less.  He might just be a Spacek with size and in the end I would rather Darcy go after someone else for that kind of money.  Buffalo is rumored to have interest though, none the less.
Goalie – Johan Hedberg – The Moose is a free agent and will be a solid back-up option on the market.  He is getting up there in age but he still led the Thrashers in wins and gaa.  He went 21-16-6 with a 2.62 gaa.  Not bad at all.  He is an option behind Ryan Miller if he doesn’t retire.  He could be a one year fix until Enroth is ready.
As far as trades are, Ron Hainsey could be had, but no one will take on his stupid contract.

Boston Bruins
Free Agents:
Right Wing – Mark Reechi – It seems like Recchi will never score less than 40 points in a year. He truly is Mr. consistent and is a great ingredient to a team looking for the final pieces to win the Cup. At 42 years old, he provides leadership, experience, and even some clutch production.  When it counts, this guy is always there.

He won’t be asking for anything more than 2 mil. for one year and really is better off just staying in Boston.  If he hits the market, the Sabres should check in.  But just to check in and only that, we need more then Mark Recchi who wouldn’t help the size issue at all.
Center – Steve Begin – Nothing more than a gritty depth forward and honestly, McCormick would do fine in that role.  It would be funny though if this guy did become a Sabre after all (He was a Sabre but never played a game because he was traded to us along with Chris Drury, but never resigned).
Right Wing – Miroslav Satan – The devil will not be back in Buffalo because it would just be like going backwards with this team.  We moved on a while ago and while he did hurt the Sabres in the playoffs, I wouldn’t expect to see the same next year.  Someone will take a stab though this year, instead of making Miro wait until the middle of the season like last year.
Defense – Andrew Ference – A D-man who is past his early success and is now decreasing in play every year.  Just 8 points this year and a dreadful playoff may force Andrew to wait a while until someone will even offer him a contract.  He used to be a solid D-man with Calgary though, so maybe someone could revive his career at the age of 31.  No thanks to this idea.
As far as trades go, Boston will be active already acquiring Nate Horton from the Panthers.  Savard, Wheeler (who is awesome imo), and Thomas might all be trade bait.  Boston won’t trade with the rival Sabres though, even though they might strike a deal with their other rival, the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Calgary Flames
Free agents:
Center/Lw – Chris Higgins – The forward, who was once a tremendous asset to the Habs in his young career, has really been disappointing with stints in New York (Rangers) and in Calgary. He is still young though at 27, but why did his numbers decrease so dramatically over the past two years.

He wore the assistant captain with Montreal but I don’t really think he ever matured into who they wanted him to be.  He is a risky but a cheap and versatile option in the 1.5-2.5 mil range. He wouldn’t be a bad pickup for the Sabres, but there are others out there at forward who I would rather go after.
Right Wing – Jamal Mayers – This former Leaf is a great fourth line winger, but offensively gives less than the Sabres two main Right Wing grinders in Mike Grier or Pat Kaleta.  Good for a team lacking a Mike Grier type of presence though.
Center – Craig Conroy – This aging vet is getting up there in age (38) and doesn’t provide the necessities to be a solid number three center anymore.  If you want to role three great lines and one checking/energy line, then you better pass on Conroy.
Goalie – Vesa Toskala – Coming off that big 4 mil contract, Vesa will be looking for a back-up role.  Not with the Sabres though and good thing.
As far as trades go, the Flames might be someone you see trading with the Sabres. They could really use Derek Roy or Tim Connolly, if we could convince them that they are actually the perfect number one center for Jarome Iginla. Ian White, who is a RFA might be someone dealt or even the expensive Robyn Regehr, who is decreasing in production might be available as well.

Both are very very solid D-men.  I would take Ian White in a heartbeat.  Corey Sarich is also available, but the former Sabre won’t have any offers because of his hefty 3.6 mil deal with 2 years remaining.  I would love to have Matt Stajan or Rene Bourque, but both were locked up to long term deals.  Daymond Langkow will be shopped but his hefty 4.5 mil salary will be very hard to move at his age and with his decreasing production.  The Flames will be an interesting team to watch after handing out the big contract to Jay-Bo last year.

Carolina Hurricanes

Free Agents:
Left Wing – Ray Whitney – One of the hottest commodities at the past trade deadline, is now free at last to go anywhere he is offered.  This time Whitney will actually be wearing a different uniform during the push for the playoffs.  He is as solid as solid gets.  He rarely makes major mistakes and provides leadership, Stanley Cup experience, and a ton of offense as well.

He has proven to be a clutch scorer, especially during both of the Hurricanes cup runs.  Against Boston in 2009, he was absolutely huge.  That makes me smile right there.  But he is 38 and he should be looking for a pricey 3-4 year deal.  If I’m Darcy, I definitely would try to see how flexible Whitney is because 3 or four years at 4 mil. for a 42 year old might get too pricey and risky down the line.  Even though he is still a great player, I would probably stay away from Ray, just because I do see a decent decrease in production in this up-coming year.
Defense – Brian Pothier – A nice comeback story.  Will probably come cheap for a team looking for a number 5 D-man.  Is really solid in many aspects of the game.  No thank you though; many better options for what the Sabres are looking for.
I highly doubt anyone wants Rod Brind’Amour these days, but ya never know in the NHL.  There are some crazy Gm’s out there.  Yea Glenn Sather, I’m taking to you!  Could someone take Joni Pikanen or Tim Gleason though?  Possibly even Erik Cole?  If I’m the Sabres, I would definitely give Jim Rutherford a call about Joni and Gleason.  Both are really great defenseman.

Both would come with a big asking price though of prospects and picks.  Chad LaRose is a nice player with one more year left on his contract.  Tuomo Ruutu is a nice player that could possibly be moved for the right price.  But it isn’t likely.  Everyone but Eric Staal, Cam Ward, and Jussi Jokinen is tradable.

Chicago Blackhawks – Cap Hell
Free agents:
Center – John Madden – A nice third-fourth line center, who doesn’t give much offensively and really never has.  The former 2001 Selke winner will be a nice addition to a contending team.  He will come cheaper then what he made this year at 2.75.  I don’t want him in blue and gold though.  Goose is fine for my fourth line.
Right Wing – Adam Burish – A tough mother at the fourth line wing position for the Cup champs is an agitator to the fullest.  He may one day be able to play in a third line role.  Should get a nice 1 mil raise because he is the kind of player you need come playoff time.  He is an option for Buffalo, but not really a major need.  Toughness would be added though.  Would also make for an interesting Philly-Buffalo matchup with Pronger as his rival.  I honestly could see him ending up right next to Pronger though with Philly.
Defense – Kim Johnsson – A defenseman who has been all but forgotten about it seems.  Will get a major decrease in salary this season.  He isn’t a bad defenseman though and wouldn’t be a bad pickup for cheap.  He is past his prime now and I would consider, but definitely not jump to sign him.
Defense – Nick Boynton – No thanks, once a nice pick-up, now a 5th D-man at best .
The Blackhawks are trying to rescue themselves from cap hell.  So far they have done a nice job sending Big Buff, Sopel, and Eager to Atlanta.  Ladd and Versteeg might be next to go.  Patrick Sharp is the one guy I wanted the most, but it looks like he will be going nowhere.   Hjalmarsson is an RFA and is expected to get some major bucks after having a post-season to remember.

He is truly a beast and would fit oh so perfectly next to Myers.  Probably a pipe dream though, considering Chicago is doing a nice job with their cap problems so far.  Niemi will be given a nice contract, while poor Huet will be shipped to the minors.

Colorado Avalanche
Free agents:
Left Wing – Darcy Tucker- Remember the guy that everyone hated?  He hurt Jochen Hecht intentionally one game in the 2005-06 season.  Well he is available again.  This time don’t expect there to be as much interest.  He is still a “tough guy,” but won’t get close to 40 points again.  His value has decreased, but every team can use a guy like him.  It’s hard to believe he once was a force on the power play.  Times have certainly changed as he is now 35 years old and had just 40 points in his two years with the Avs.  They are sorry they ever gave him that two-year deal.
Right Wing – Marek Svatos – Anyone remember this guy?  What a shame his early career has been.  First in his rookie season after the lockout he scores 32 goals and was up in the class with Sid, Ovie, Miller, Henrik Lundquist, Dion, and Thomas Vanek.  Now he can’t even break the 10 goal plateau?  What has happened to the player he was at 23 years old.

Did he seriously get worse?  No, the problem is,….. he is the problem.  He is his own problem .He is a head case and needs the right coach and players around him to succeed.  Still so young though at 27, someone will take a shot on the often injured forwards, hoping he can regain his glory once again.  He is too small to even consider adding to the wings on the Buffalo Sabres though.
Center – Stephen Yelle – Nothing more than an extra forward with experience and leadership.
Defense – Brett Clark – A poor man’s defensive defenseman is the right way to put it.  A great shot blocker, but is a give-away machine.  Benched by Joe Sacco in the playoffs.  Not the type of guy we need.  Bring up Weber please.
Defense – Ruslan Salei – Another defensive defenseman, who isn’t terrible, but nothing great either.  Had three really solid seasons in a row though, before he missed most of this past season with injury.  Maybe, but probably not.
Milan Hejduk, Scott Hannan, and John-Michael Liles are all possibilities on the trade front.  Hejduk and Hannan are both entering their final year of their expensive contracts.  Ryan Miller’s best friend might be a great addition for the Sabres, as the power play D-man would be a welcome man on Buffalo’s back end.  A couple of seasons ago, there was much speculation that we would go after Liles in free agency.  We never had the chance though because Liles re-up’d in Colorado.  Liles was reportedly in Joe Sacco’s dog house this season before turning things around into a nice end of the year and playoff. He still might be moved.

Columbus Blue Jackets

Nothing as far as free agency goes available
R.J. Umberger would be a great addition to any team, but isn’t being shopped at all.  The right deal could move him though.  It all depends on what you’re giving up.  Klesla is a solid D-man and long-time Jacket who just signed a cheap 2.9 mil per year deal.  He could be moved though and in 2009 was rumored to be coming back to Buffalo for Tim Connolly at the trade deadline.  Not likely, but definitely worth looking into.  Might it in well next to Myers.
Dallas Stars
Free agency:
Center – Mike Modano – A great American veteran who has seen his better days go by him.  Not going to make a major impact and it is unknown if he will actually leave Dallas and play at least one more year.  Nothing to get excited about though, as he is less than half the player he once was.

Would he even come to Buffalo?  Probably not, but I would check in just in case.  He might fit ok into a third line role.
Right Wing – Jere Lehtinen – A defensive minded winger who has also seen his best days go by.  I would be interested if he provided a little more offensively but it just isn’t there anymore.  I will have to say no to this one but he will fit in great with New Jersey?
Goalie – Marty Turco – Really had a tough year last year.  Isn’t a great starter anymore.  Will he settle for a back-up role?  He might have to and Buffalo could be the place where he ends up if he takes a significant pay decrease.  I would rather take my chances with Biron or Ellis though.
Goalie – Alex Auld – Always liked him – Sabre killer – but not a great back-up right now.
Dallas is another team that I can see the Sabres making a deal with.  Brad Richard and Mike Ribeiro are both possibilities.

Ribeiro (only 19 goals though and 53 points at 5 mil for 3 more years) is really who the Stars want to move though because of his longer contract and with the ownership situation they have, it makes sense.  Richards only has one more year left on his contract at 7.8 mil.

The right deal could send Richards packing to some lucky team.  Buffalo is a possibility and with 91 points and a Conn Smyth Trophy at a young age, we might have actually found the number one center we have been looking for.  He is the total package and would be huge for the Sabres organization.  Morrow, Ott, Robidas, and Daley are all nice players.  The chances of them or James Neal/Jamie Benn being moved are little to none.
GIVE ME RICHARDS PLEASE!  Roy, Stafford, Persson, and a first for Daley and Richards. We shall see.
Detroit Red Wings
Free agents:
Center – Jason Williams – A career disappointment who has never been able to succeed at a higher level like we once thought he might be able to.  Cost the Wings in the playoffs with poor play.  No thanks to Jason right now.  Not what we need.  Hopefully he can get his career back on track because he could eventually be a great number 3 center.
Left Wing – Kirk Maltby – If you’re desperate.
Defenseman – Brett Lebda and Andrej Lija – Both are actually decent defenseman.  Lebda isn’t a great top 6 six D-man though, but he gives you depth and experience.   A very poor man’s Corvo for comparisons.   Lija, the Swede has learned from the best of em’ in Detroit, but he isn’t very productive.  A poor man’s Tallinder.
I wouldn’t mind the Sabres trying to acquire Darren Helm.  This would make me very excited as Darren Helm has third line center written all over him.  I really enjoy watching him play.  He is an RFA, so it will be interesting to see if any one offers him a sheet.  Reminds of the Kesler situation a few years back.

Edmonton Oilers
Free agents:
Right Wing – Fernando Pisani – Another nice third line winger who is tough, rugged, gritty, etc; etc.  Nothing more than some valuable leadership and toughness.  Is a lead by example kind of guy.  Probably will never get close to the 18 goals he scored in 2005-06.  Would be a great addition if he brought anything to the table offensively.

Players like him will be hard pressed to find jobs though because teams would rather have their younger players come up for cheap and have them man the third and fourth lines, then bring in someone who is so offensively challenged.
Center – Mike Comrie – Is a free agent again!!!!!!  But I don’t like what he brings.  Too much of the same we already have.  Inconsistent, hence why no one will lock him up long term.  No thank you, but someone will sign him for more then he deserves because of the lack of center position in free agency this year.
Dustin Penner would be an awesome addition to the Sabres, however the price would be steep and I’m not 100 percent sure Edmonton will even consider moving him.  Ethan Moreau is a possibility for some teams, as the team captain is one of the best leaders in the league.  Andrew Cogliano can be considered a bust so far and might be moved.

Buffalo really liked Cogliano and almost sent Max Afinogenov to Edmonton a couple years back to get him.  He has been disappointing though so far though, so I don’t think he is worth it.  High upside though.  Sheldon Souray wants out and could be the power play D-man we need.

I like Souray and even though his contract is huge, I would consider a trade for the right price.  But he won’t consider coming to Buffalo, so never mind.  Maybe New York, but his situation could get sticky forcing Edmonton to hold on to the pricey offensive D-man.   Hemsky, Horcoff, Brule, and O’Sullivan can be had for the right price as well.  Definitely a team in flux right now.

Florida Panthers
Free Agents:
Nothing as far as free agents go besides Kamil Kreps who doesn’t provide anything we already don’t have.  Former Amerk will either stay in Florida or possibly even go back to Europe.
As far as trading goes, the Panthers, and Dale Tallon will be plenty busy on draft day.

Cory Stillman could be an interesting veteran to acquire for many teams.  He still seems to produce a good amount with 15 goals and 37 points coming in 58 games with the Panthers.  His cap hit for one year is quite high though to add at 3.53 mil.  Cory Stillman still plays top 6 minutes averaging 17 minutes again, but the question will be if he can keep up for another hole year at the age of 36.

Stephen Weiss and Keith Ballard (drafted by Sabres in 2002) will be interesting commodities for potential suitors such as the Leafs, etc.  Weiss will most likely cost the most to get because he’s only 27 and is coming off back to back seasons with 61 and 60 points scored.  This past season saw his goal totals increase from 14 to 28.

He is very affordable though at just over 3 mil. for 3 more years.  Sabres might look into acquiring Weiss, but I just don’t see it happening.  Weiss is similar to Roy and Connolly though, so unless one of them is dealt for a D-man, I don’t see Weiss being plugged into the third line center position.  Not exactly sure how well he would excel in that role.

It honestly takes a rare player such as Drury to be able to produce enough points and still play against the other team’s best players.  Ballard, McCabe, and Bryan Allen are all D-man who will definitely get some looks at with Ballard being the most likely to get traded.  He did have a disappointing year, but let’s not forget this guy was on his way to being a 40 point D-man right after the lockout before some surrounding issues kicked in.

Could he excel with a team that is actually competitive?  I don’t think he is really a true power play guy, but he does give solid minutes.  I would pass on him though.  McCabe is great on the backend and is now the Panthers captain.  His cap hit would be high for next season though.  He will most likely stay put.  Allen is one of my favorite D-man and he is definitely some I could see Darcy making a play for.

His contract is just under 3 mil. for the next two years and he would bring a similar game to what Rivet is supposed to do.  Steven Reinprecht is one of the most underrated players in the league and he would be a nice addition.  He might excel in the third line role.  Dvorak could be dealt as well.  Dale Tallon will be very busy for sure.  Vokoun might even be dealt, WOW!

Click here for part two


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