For many Sabres fans, a sense of disappointment may still linger after the Sabres dreadful Game 7 exit to the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round of the playoffs.
And rightly so.
It was as if the Sabres had left their starting lineup back in Buffalo and instead dressed a band of junior-league misfits to take their place.
Either way, it was apparent the team had left it all on the ice for a Game 6 loss which saw any chance they had at an upset subsequently die with Ville Leino’s overtime goal. It sure wasn’t the same Sabres team we came to know and love over their incredible run the past few months of the season.
Despite the team’s lackluster Game 7 performance, Sabres fans everywhere have much to look forward to.
Terry Pegula purchased the team back in February and ever since his arrival in Buffalo, he has brought new hope to an organization that has all but lost whatever glimmer of promise it had leftover from their ’06 and ’07 campaigns.
This off-season is probably the most important one the team has faced in years and brings many tough questions the front office will need to answer with no room to miss.
Pegula has brought in Ted Black to assist in the operation of the team and has put his initial trust into incumbents GM Darcy Regier and head coach Lindy Ruff. Major changes have already come about and the image of the franchise has been entirely transformed.
The locker room will see new renovations that have already begun.
A new sense of pride has been returned among fans and those within the organization. The new regime put their ideas on display during the Sabres April 8 contest against the Flyers which featured the first “Fan Appreciation Night” for the team in a long time and saw the return of dozens of the Sabres’ most beloved alumnus.
All of this stuff feels great and all and will go a long way to turn Buffalo into “Hockey Heaven”, but the real test has yet to come, and will soon be staring GM Darcy Regier and Co. right in the face.
For years, the Sabres have been hampered by ownership who cared more about the bottom line than the team’s success on the ice. This concept is often used as the scapegoat for allowing team captains Danny Briere and Chris Drury to walk via free agency. The same excuse is used to justify the team’s lack of aggressiveness in paying good money to bring in top free agents.
It’s time to stop making excuses and start putting out results.
With the proverbial handcuffs now taken off Regier, he now needs to show all of Buffalo that he can reel in the big name free agents or pull off a blockbuster trade. This offseason will be his first chance to do so.
So where does Darcy go from here?
Well for starters, the team must address their need for a top-line center before they can seriously be considered contenders. Derek Roy is a very good, young player who would be an excellent second-line center on a good team — especially given his relatively cheap cap hit ($4 M) — but he is not the bonafide, top-line center this team needs.
UFA Brad Richards remains the sexiest option for the Sabres to fill this void but he will likely come with an expensive price tag — somewhere in the range of $8 million/year. Sure, this might be worth it if he remains the 90+ point producer he has been in years past and may well allow Thomas Vanek to again surpass 40 goals but this is a risky proposition for a team that also has holes to fill on defense and at other forward spots.
Maybe the Sabres will go the trade route? With Drew Stafford due a big raise, this makes some sense. Why not trade Stafford in a package including top prospect Zack Kassian and a young blue liner like Chris Butler or Andrej Sekera for possibly Jason Spezza or Paul Stastny.
Both of these moves make sense to me. Spezza is a star in the prime of his career, on a rebuilding team and has produced well in the playoffs for the Senators in the past (49 points in 49 playoff games). Stastny to me is an even better option and there were strong rumors he would get moved around the trade deadline, but a deal never went through.
He is still very young at just 27 and has run into off-ice issues with a Colorado Avalanche team that is once again rebuilding. Again, packaging three or four young players for Stastny and maybe another throw-in forward is a very attractive deal for me.
Another essential need the Sabres should look to address this season is a top-4 D-man — preferably one that could step right in and be paired with Tyler Myers to form a shutdown duo the team lacks. The need for another top defenseman became apparent in the playoffs this year after inconsistent play plagued the Sabres.
It would help tremendously if they could have that one pair that every team hates going up against, especially in the East where you’ll consistently have to shut down potent offensive teams like Philadelphia, Washington and Pittsburgh to survive.
I feel an addition like UFA Kevin Bieksa would make a lot of sense for the Sabres as he brings decent size and a defensive mentality to compliment Myers on the opposite side. He also shouldn’t command too much money, probably somewhere in the ballpark of $3-$4 million — incredibly reasonable for a quality vet like Bieksa.
Obviously these are just a few of many options the Sabres could go and of course I’m just playing armchair GM here. It will certainly be up to Regier to figure out which is the best direction to go for the team but it’s time he performs or he won’t last much longer here in Buffalo.
These moves are no exaggeration as to the caliber of moves Regier must make this off season in order for me to consider it a success especially now that he has an owner with deep pockets, willing to spend whatever it takes to win. Now’s your time Darcy, let’s see what you got.
Leave a comment and play some armchair GM with me! Let us know what you think the Sabres should get done.
As always we will have full coverage of each and every off-season move the Sabres make as soon as they make them so be sure to keep checking in to sabreshockeycentral.com throughout the summer for the latest as the Sabres go through their most important off-season in recent memory.