Thursday, July 8, 2010

Sabres Free Agency: Those Other Days

I'm going to do a rundown of the Sabres activity on the Free Agent Market thusfar pretty much because it was an easy topic to come up with and I am lazy.

Easy
The Defense:
The landscape of the defense is slightly different, seeing Henrik Tallinder (Devils) and Toni Lydman (Ducks) leave, with Jordan Leopold (from Pittsburgh) and presumably Mike Weber (Portland Pirates) taking their places.  What exactly does that mean?

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Durability:
Now the first concern has to be games played.  Players do you no good if they're parked in the training room, and Weber and Leopold have both faced significant injuries in their careers.  However, I would point out that Weber played 80 games last season, and Leopold played 81 last season and 83 in 08-09.  And how soon we forget about Henrik Tallinder.  The dude was never fucking healthy.  Games played starting in 02-03: 46, 72, 82, 47, 71, 66, 82.  Kind of like the olympics, he showed up in force about once every four years.  In his career, Tallinder has only played four more games per year than the "Tim Connolly-esque" Jordan Leopold.

Advantage: Wash


Offense:
The offensive numbers are relatively unspectacular across the board, with Leopold providing a slight bump in goal scoring, and a decent loss in +/- although I would point out he is -12 with Colorado and Florida, and even with Pittsburgh and Calgary.  Suffice it to say, Leopold is a solid, responsible defensemen when there is talent around him.

Advantage: Leopold and Weber

Physicality:
I think over the years we all appreciated Lydman's penchant for blocking shots and throwing hits.  Leopold is not know for a physical presence, but you can count on him for about 60-70 hits a year (the average is skewed by his 43 games in 07-08), which is more than Tallinder, and his 110-120 blocked shots leave him just shy of Lydman.

Then there's Mike Weber, beast extraordinaire.  His 45 hits in 16 games in 07-08 put him on pace for about 230.  He is going to make up for the physical game lost in Lydman's departure and then some.  While his 78 blocked shots are a bit underwhelming, one would think if he can bring one half of a physical game, he can bring the other.  Plus it's hard to shoot if you're, you know, knocked on your ass.

Advantage: Leopold and Weber

Responsibility:
The simple fact is that Leopold brings a responsible game that is light years ahead of Lydman and Tallinder.  The dude plays safe hockey, and it doesn't come at the expense of offense.  Even if you pop his numbers up to account for that short season, you're still only seeing about 30 giveaways a year out of him, about half of what Lydman and Tallinder brought.  Mike Weber is about on par with the dearly departed defensemen...but he's only 22, know how many times Tallinder was giving the puck away that early in his career?  Me neither because NHL.com doesn't have those stats.  But it was probably about 800.  Weber will learn to be more responsible.  Tallydmander are pretty much at their ceiling.

Advantage: Leopold and Weber

Oh Why the Fuck Can't Our Defensemen Hit the God Damned Net...ness:
Not a whole lot to say here, Leopold is a slight upgrade over Tallinder, Weber a slight downgrade under Lydman.


Advantage: Wash

Overall:
Leopold and Weber are going to minimize brain farts on the defense which can only make things easier on Ryan Miller.  The offense isn't a whole lot different than what Lydman and Tallinder brought, but the Physicality will be a slight upgrade.  Oh yeah, and it's coming at almost a $3M lower pricetag.  That ain't bad.



Offense (pretty much just Niedermayer):
There isn't a lot going on with the offense.  The Sabres brought in Rob Niedermayer, signed McCormick to a big boy (one way) contract, and have yet to extend offers to Mair, and Ellis.  There's some stuff going on with arbitration too with Kennedy and Kaleta, but I don't want to go into that.


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Really the players most comparable to Niedermayer are Mair and Gaustad, and to a lesser extent McCormick.  The Niedermayer move isn't stunning in itself, but what it does do is force a couple of less talented guys (namely Mair and Ellis) into the pressbox, making the team better as a whole.

With Niedermayer, the Sabres can field a third line of Kennedy - Niedermayer - Grier, and a fourth line of McCormick - Gaustad - Kaleta.  I know that on paper, Mair is a better option than McCormick, but I feel on an energy line, McCormick, being younger, bigger and more of a fighter is a better fit.  Plus I feel that he's more defensively responsible than Mair.  Every once in a while Mair tries to be Derek Roy.  Not fucking cool.


Goaltending:
No fancy charts for this one.  We get Patrick Lalime for one more year at $.6M and we know what we have in Patrick Lalime.

Let's look at backup netminders (guys that played between 10 and 25 games) and see where Lalime fared:
(I was kidding.  It's actually going to be death by charts).


Nothing spectacular here...



Alright, so Lalime is about the middle of the pack stats-wise.  So what accounts for this:




Hmm...


Oh...right.  Every time he's in net the team in front of him forgets how to score.  Speaking of which, holy shit Michael Neuvirth, could your job get any easier?  But hey, what are we paying Lalime?


Wait...what?  He makes less than Devan Dubnyk?  Devan fucking Dubnyk...the guy that is so bad his career might actually wind up being responsible for the 2012 apocalypse.


The Bottom Line:
Look, there's still work to be done.  I know a lot of us are hoping that Drew Stafford gets moved for someone who doesn't suck and hates music in favor of a legit top line right winger.  Or that Ennis is good enough to play on the top line (crosses fingers).

But the Sabres have gotten better this offseason.  The defense is going to rely on more ifs than I like, but you're looking at

Myers - Leopold
Montador - Weber
Rivet - Butler

with a little Andrej Sekara thrown into the mix.  That isn't half bad.  Granted we need Myers to continue to play well, Weber to show us what he showed in 07-08, Rivet to come back strong after injury, Butler to bounce back, and Sekara to look like the beast he was in the olympics.  They may not all happen, but we're not going to see a worst case scenario out of each either.  That coupled with a defensive corps that is as a whole, more responsible should bode, well for Ryan Miller and the Sabres.

Likewise Niederymayer's signing doesn't look impressive in itself, but it shifts the team into four solid lines that I really like (and you should too):

Vanek - Roy - Please God Not Stafford / Ennis
Pominville - Connolly - Hecht
Kennedy - Niedermayer - Grier
McCormick - Gaustad - Kaleta

No defensively irresponsible Adam Mair, and no unimpressive Matt Ellis.  Sure McCormick doesn't have Mair's numbers, but he commits to defense, he hits more, and he was a force in the playoffs.

It would be nice to see a Martin, Michalek, Zherdev, Gagne, or Kovalchuk in Buffalo, but that's just not going to happen.  Darcy is doing alright for himself.  Remember, we went from tenth place to Division Champions with the loss of Jaroslav Spacek and the addition of Steve Montador and Mike Grier.

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