Do the Sabres Really Need That #1 Center?

Paul Stastny may still be the center that the Sabres are looking to trade for.

They say it’s what is keeping the Sabres from being a good team, to a Stanley Cup winning team.

Sabres fans have shared the common opinion that if the team were to make one big move this off-season, a play-maker to center the team’s top line would be on the top of their wish-list.

If you’ve read at least some of my articles this summer, you probably know that I’ve been one of the biggest advocates of this theory. I’ve often said the Sabres must do all that they can to find themselves a number one guy to put ahead of Derek Roy and dish the puck to Thomas Vanek and Drew Stafford on the wings.

Like everyone else, I wanted more than anything for the Sabres to pull off some sort of blockbuster deal and swing a trade for Ottawa’s Jason Spezza or Colorado’s Paul Stastny. Hey, it might even still happen.

But as the summer days move on, the less likely it looks that the Sabres will be able to acquire that center we all desire. There sure isn’t that top guy left on the free-agent market after Brad Richards was swooped up by the Rangers.

Just recently though, I’ve been beginning to think hey, maybe the Sabres don’t need to get that number one guy just yet after all? Maybe Derek Roy will actually prove to be that guy?

The Sabres also added Ville Leino on July 1. He played the wing in Philadelphia, but considering the guys the Sabres already have on the wings and the fact they’re paying Leino $4.5 million a year says to me they intend to use the Fin as their number two center behind Roy.

And you know what? That might not be such a bad idea after all.

Roy turned 28 this past May and should be right smack-dap in the middle of his prime this season.

Ville Leino will look to build off of a breakout season he had with the Philadelphia Flyers.

If Leino proves to be a solid option for the Sabres down the middle, which is still a pretty big if, and Roy does for a full season what he did for the Sabres before going down with an injury early last year than I’d say the Sabres are actually in pretty good shape heading into the season.

Picture this, and it might be asking a lot, but if Roy can score at the same point-per-game pace this season, he’ll surpass the 80-point mark for the first time in his career, more than the 77 points even Richards had last season.

Then just imagine if Leino does well at center and proves he can contribute without Danny Briere by his side, another 50-point year should be very obtainable. Hell, why stop there, for the money he’s now making, he should be able to push 60, plus some. That’s a nice season for a top-six forward on any team.

This could prove to be a pipe-dream, but I think it’s just as likely Roy and Leino put up career numbers this season as it is them completely tanking, so it’s worth the thought at least.

Now, obviously you still need more depth at center before we can call this team complete, and with so much money tied up into the wing it has to make you wonder whether or not the Sabres plan on unloading some of that in order to gain another center.

As of right now, Roy is the number one option, followed by Leino. Gaustad will man the checking-line and remain the team’s best face-off option. So essentially they just need one more, really.

I attended the Sabres’ development camp last week at Dwyer Arena and aside from Tyler Ennis, Luke Adam looked to be head-and-shoulders above the rest of the prospects. In fact, every time Ennis, Adam and Zack Kassian took the ice, it looked almost as if men were skating amongst boys.

Upon seeing Adam at the camp, there is very little doubt in my mind that he will be a sure lock to make the team out of training camp this year, especially if the Sabres are unable to bring in other options at center.

And I think he’ll be able to step in and contribute, too.

Jordan Leopold will look to build off a career year in which he put up 35 points.

Adam is a big-bodied kid (6’2″ 212lbs) and is likely a guy that Lindy Ruff and Co. will be looking towards to fill the center void on the third line. Of course, barring a trade, Ruff will likely feel the need to place Jochen Hecht at that third-line pivot spot as well, possibly alternating him with Adam depending on whichever works out the best.

Despite not obtaining that top-center, or any center for that matter, so far this off-season, this team has made drastic improvements with the additions of Robyn Regehr and Christian Ehrhoff on the blue-line.

Even though center was and still is a big need for this team, their biggest weakness was on the defensive side and Regier did a nice job shoring that up. Right now, it looks as though your top pairs will feature Regehr, Ehrhoff, Tyler Myers and Jordan Leopold with the likes of Mike Weber and one of either Andrej Sekera, Marc-Andre Gragnani or Shaone Morrisson filling in the sixth-spot, depending on how the rest of the off-season and re-signings play out.

Many people, myself included, believe the Sabres are not done making moves this summer. Despite what seems like a lack of a trade market right now, a second wave of free-agent signings as well as trades usually opens up once all the arbitration cases have been settled and that seems to be what the Sabres are waiting on before finalizing their roster.

As it currently stands, the Sabres have only $354,643 in cap space, so obviously moves will need to be made to round off the roster before the beginning of the season, it just remains to be seen exactly what moves they will be.

Preferably, I would still love for the Sabres to make some sort of deal for a good, quality center, whether it be that super-star everyone coveted or just another second-tier type player. The best teams in the league are incredibly deep down the middle so I feel in order to contend the Sabres will need to find someone who can play well in that role.

This year’s deadline could put the Sabres in a prime position to make a big splash. Someone such as Zach Parise will likely be available if he signs only a one-year contract with the Devils as they may not have the cap-room or wherewithal to re-sign him long-term. Also, we may see a secondary market open up for Stastny or Spezza should their respective teams continue to struggle as expected.

Jason Spezza is still an option, but would Ottawa trade him within the division?

Any one of those guys could likely be had by the Sabres if they feel at that point they need to add another top-six forward to the mix and make a serious run at the Cup.

What is most likely to happen though will be the addition of one, or possibly two (if the cap allows for it) forwards signed on the cheap after the arbitration period settles. Just a few days ago my favorite option to fill that role was Brendan Morrison, but he was re-signed by Calgary to a one-year deal on Wednesday.

So who’s left? Both John Madden and Kyle Wellwood remain unsigned and both would be good fits with the Sabres. Madden is a bit older and I’m not sure how much he can contribute at the NHL level any longer but he would bring a great veteran presence down the middle to fill the void left by Rob Neidermayer and Mike Grier.

Wellwood happens to be a guy I like a lot. He wins a lot of face-offs, is still just 28 and is a career plus-player. He would fit well in penalty-killing situations and could be a useful option on the third and fourth lines.

The bottom line though is if the Sabres really feel as though Roy can be their number one guy throughout the year, than I am willing to give him a shot this season in order to see what he can do. If things don’t work out as planned, then there’s always the trade deadline and at that point, the Sabres should be very much in contention.

You can follow Brandon on Twitter for even more insightful Sabres coverage @THWGoldSchlager.


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