Sunday, February 20, 2011

Sabres: How Much Turnover Can We Expect?

Which Sabres would be better off leaving?  The list is extensive.  First you've got a set of players that are past their primes, and probably past the point where they're even effective in Mike Grier, Rob Niedermayer, Craig Rivet, and Patrick Lalime.  Then you've got the guys that are bad contracts in Jasom Pominville ($5.3M), Jochen Hecht ($3.525M), and Paul Gaustad ($2.3M).  There are players that just aren't playing well enough in Tim Connolly, Nathan Gerbe, and Chris Butler.  Finally, there are guys that are maddingly inconsistent, but are enticing to deal because they might garner a decent return in Drew Stafford and Andrej Sekera.

With Roy coming back, that makes the Sabres lineup (assuming we re-sign a few people):

Vanek - Roy - ?????
Ennis - ????? - ?????
????? - McCormick - Kaleta
????? - ????? - ?????

Myers - ?????
Leopold - Montador
Weber - ?????


That is a lot of ?????s, too many in fact.  Obviously not all of those players can leave (and not all of them are feasible to see leave due to their contracts), so what can we honestly expect?  There are young players in the system, Adam, Kassian, and Byron to name a few, but will any of them be NHL ready next year?

Mike Grier, Rob Niedermayer, Tim Connolly, Cody McCormick, Craig Rivet, Steve Montador, and Patrick Lalime are all Unrestricted Free Agents at the end of the year.  It would seem that Grier, Niedermayer, Rivet, and Lalime are all no-brainers and we will never see them in a Sabres uniform again.  I would think that Cody McCormick will definitely be back.  Tim Connolly and Steve Montador are big question marks for different reasons.  Montador has played well so his return will depend on what teams make of that and how much they throw at him.  Tim Connolly has played poorly so he's probably gone, but if management thinks the needs at the center position are too great OR he takes a pay cut, I could see him returning.

Drew Stafford, Nathan Gerbe, Andrej Sekera, Chris Butler, and Mike Weber are all restricted free agents.  I'm not a huge personnell guy, but I believe this means that if another team makes an offer to one of those players, the Sabres can match and retain their rights to that player.  Mike Weber is the only certainty here as he's looked better and better with each game this season.  No certainty with the rest of them.  Butler has ridden the bench a lot this season so he seems expendable, but that also means he's cheap depth.  That's valuable on defense as we all know.  Sekera and Stafford are the hardest two to figure.  Both have been inconsistent over the course of the season.  Sekera has played well at times, but gets far less credit because he doesn't play a glory position.  Stafford is probably the biggest question on the team.  Who do you get, the guy that scored 19 goals in 23 games, or the guy that has seemed invisible three out of every four nights in his career?  Complicating the matter is the fact that the Sabres are short on goal scorers and Stafford is at least that some of the time.  I think unless the offers for him are enormous, he returns to the Sabres.  That leaves Nathan Gerbe a guy billed as a scorer who has played more like a hustle guy and a grinder despite his size.  His offensive contributions in the NHL have been unspectacular at best as half of his goals this season come against the woeful New York Islanders, and half are against the likes of Lawson, Poulin, and McElhinney.  The big question is a small hustle guy like Gerbe worth more than a big lazy (as he's been billed) guy like Mancari?  I honestly have no idea.  I want to say that I'd take the guy whose heart seems more in it, but Gerbe has been so ineffective so often I'm not sure we gain anything by keeping him over Mancari.

That leaves Pominville, Gaustad, and Hecht, guys that are likely immovable due to their contracts and don't become UFAs until 14-15 for the former and 11-12 for the latter two.  Unless they can be packaged with a pick or a prospect that makes them more attractive, or a contending team with tons of capspace is willing to eat a bad contract to make a run, they're here to stay.  If any of them is to be moved, it's probably going to be Pominville to a team like Nashville that is in need of scoring.

I'm going to leave Stafford, Connolly, Sekera, and Montador as question marks and assume Hecht, Gaustad, and Pominville are going nowhere.

Vanek - Roy - ?Stafford?
Ennis - ?Connolly? - Pominville
Hecht - McCormick -?????
????? - Gaustad - Kaleta

Myers - ?????
Leopold - ?Montador?
Weber - ?Sekera?


I would imagine that one or two of the maybes will probably not be a Sabre next year, most likely Stafford and Montador.  Should they leave, that leaves some gaping holes for the Sabres to fill, either in free agency themselves, or with the unproven likes of Byron, Adam, and company.

I think the best case scenario is that some of the dead weight leaves this season at the trade deadline, and we end up shifting most of the question marks down to the bottom two lines where we can mix in a prospect or two and give them a bit of offensive upside.  The worst case scenario is that everyone leaves and we have to fill out spots on our top two lines with guys that have less than ten games in the NHL. 

Oh, and Ryan Miller convinces management to bring back Patrick Lalime.

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