“I can’t see what’s happening to my boys.”2
Hit the 4:10 mark.
This is how I’ve been feeling lately when trying to prognosticate what the Sabres will do this offseason, particularly at the draft, and even as far as to how good they will be next season. Sure, this scene is a bit dramatic and no one is actually shooting at me, but it’s a damn good quote and I love that movie (Gettysburg). And it features sabres (or at least sabers).
Predicting an offseason is always a best guess scenario, but this one really has me blinded. The Sabres spent like kings in the past offseason, making moves which were supposed to build on the previous season’s ill-fated first round playoff exit. Unfortunately, those front office maneuvers were the better days of our 2011-12 season. This group fell flat on it’s rear end (or was knocked to it by Lucic, rather), and heroically got up just in time to make a herculean charge at missing the playoffs.
It was a wasted season. Zero chance at Lord Stanley. A real WTFer.
Add in a couple other front office moves by Regier (Gaustad for a 1st, Butler for a 2nd) and right now we’re looking at 2 1st round picks and 2 second round picks in the upcoming draft. There are many, many possible scenarios that could result from this cache of picks.
And I have no idea what the hell this WTF team is going to do to get a shot at Lord Stanley next season. Let’s examine (some) of the possibilities (DISCLAIMER – prepare for some blathering. I get this way when I’m really confused. Plus I’m highly caffeinated and still pretty pissed off about how this season went down, but well, there I go already with the blathering):
- Trade Derek Roy: this is the perennial favorite, so we’ll get it out of the way, right away. We don’t like him here, and so we tend to, as fans, undervalue him sometimes. However, GM’s don’t. He’s a fine 2nd line center in this league. He’s certainly movable, and can fetch a good commodity – be that a pick, prospect, player, or him as part of a package for a 1st line player. If I’m playing Bucky Gleason playing GM For a Day, I’m getting Roy out of town. It will at least make the readers happy.
- The picks: this is where I am stymied the most. Keeping all of their first four picks would garner fine players, but would not garner any players ready to lace up for the NHL this season. Then again, I’m not very keen on trading up to the top to land, say, Yakupov. For me, the dreaded “Russian factor” is a scary factor indeed. I would hate for our team to spend these picks to land a guy who might bolt like Radulov to the KHL, only to return for a couple games to keep his NHL contract status legit, and then show up drunk and useless for a playoff game. Let’s face it: the golden hordes of the KHL Motherland are greatly more alluring to Russian prospects than the City of Good Neighbors, and our renowned lack of “windowless hotels.” Buffalo’s a great place, folks, and you don’t have to convince me – but you do have to do things like sending Pegula and his posse to Calgary to convince Robyn Regehr to come here.
- What to do with all these picks: if we do stand pat with our picks, there are a few guys that I really do like (though we won’t be seeing them next season). Guys like Zemgus Girgensons and Radek Faksa have the size and skill to be fine picks for the #12 overall spot, but again, they’re not going to be #1 centers. Tom Wilson or Stefan Matteau would be great at pick #21, but once more, they also need pro-seasoning in the AHL before joining the big league. I’d be thrilled to land Girgensons, folks, but the Sabres must look at all options to improve for the immediate future of 2012-13.
- That #1 center dilemma: everyone is pleased with the acquisition of Hodgson (another 2011-12 front office highlight reel move) and the stellar emergence of Ennis at center. However, it has been clear that the Sabres have been trying to fill that #1 void every season since Regier took the GM job in ’97 and said goodbye to Pat LaFontaine. (Drury and Briere were nice, but alas, we all know what happened with those two in the Golisano era.) The trick now is to find a way to get a guy like Brad Richards instead of Ville Leino (and the Sabres’ on-ice performance this season is going to make this #1 job a tough sell).
- Stay the core: except for Roy, (and we’ll throw in the stumbling Drew Stafford) the Sabres really do need to hang onto their core veterans. Pominville is as steady and consistent as NHL captains get on the ice and on the scoresheet. Ryan Miller shows up for huge games (not involving Sidney Crosby). Thomas Vanek is an elite sniper – in fact, ESPN found him to statistically be the “NHL’s Best Shooter.” Sure, you can trade him for another sniper, but that doesn’t solve a darn thing. On defense, we discussed a long ways back how a strong veteran defense is key to winning that Cup. We have that now, plus Mark Pysyk is triumphantly on his way to teach the old dogs some new tricks. It’s odd how close the Sabres are to being a true contender. They have almost all the key components: the tested goaltender, the scoring depth (on the wings mostly, when healthy), and a deep and veteran defense. Are they just a #1 center away from the Big Dance? Plausibly.
- Joel Armia: this one just won’t stop nagging me. The Sabres are going to trade this kid. Good as he is, he doesn’t really fill a need as a lightweight sniper on the wing, and was likely never the Sabres’ true draft target in 2011. Where his value is for Buffalo is as trade fodder. Load up the cannon Darcy, and fire away. That being said, if the Sabres stick with him, don’t be mad if he doesn’t show up for training camp since he has to take care of his mandatory Finnish military service this summer.
- Defensive glut: this is a defense heavy draft, and the Sabres are already very deep on defense and defensive prospects. At pick #12, they’ll have much better odds at landing a stud defenseman than a forward. Which again… leads us back to the whole making trades to move up scenario, which as you now know, I am not all that fond of.
- Free agency: in an UFA centerman class pretty much headlined by Jochen Hecht and Paul Gaustad, the answer to the #1 center dilemma will not be found here. Instead, expect the Sabres to happily shed the contracts of Brad Boyes, Hecht and Gaustad.
- Goose: now unfathomably worth a first round draft pick, unless Gaustad takes a big hometown discount to return, then he won’t return. Sadly, our biggest memory of Goose will be his non-reaction to Lucic – a terrible legacy for a great team player. Goose, I love you, but I think this is goodbye. Expect the Sabres to make a run for a much-cheaper UFA faceoff dot specialist such as Zenon Konopka. Or, perhaps expect the Sabres to trade for a guy like RFA Mason Raymond, who plays the left wing, but was %100 on faceoffs last season – and I’m sure Lindy Ruff will never tire of cramming all of his wingers into the center position.
- Regier and Ruff: are their heads on the line this season? Maddeningly for many, not likely. It would take a train wreck to convince Pegula to let these guys go, and the Sabres are currently just good enough to never really have a complete train wreck. Our proof: with GM talent like Rick Dudley out there and available, Buffalo stuck with their guy. Duds is up in Montreal now, assisting the GM process. He is going to make our divisional life miserable in the coming years. Still, I’m not an anti-Regier or anti-Ruff guy. Despite a few misfires, Regier has made some really fine trade acquisitions and has landed some real gems in the draft. As for Ruff, well, if he is good enough to help coach Team Canada in the Olympics, then he’s good enough for my team.
- RJ is up for another year of play-by-play, thank the hockey gods. He is the one Sabre that I never, ever want to see go.
That wraps up our Buffalo Sabres “Lucky #11″ style bullet list of predicaments. Again, I can’t predict what the Sabres will do with their lot of options this time around. But, things are gonna’ go down. And like the old street smarts saying goes, “when things go down, there ain’t no comin’ back.”
Which is good.
Because I don’t want to come back to another lost season.
Note: apologies for any spelling errors up in there. The caffeine has worn off, and so has my willingness to spell-check. Or is it spellcheck? Whatever. We’ll just call it “F7.”
next post: Jeanneret Undecided about Retirement, Meanwhile Earns Doctorate