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Sabres taking shape as free agency looms

July 3, 2013

There wasn’t much noise coming from First Niagara Center for most of June as Darcy Regier, Ron Rolston and company did their work without much outside contact.

Then came Sunday’s draft and the wheels were quickly put in motion as Regier began to shape his vision for Buffalo’s rebuilding process. Shortly thereafter, Joe Sacco was brought on as an assistant for Ron Rolston’s staff and the free agent courting process has officially begun.

Looking at the entire draft, there is very little to be upset about. Regier not only addressed an organizational desire for size and grit, he did so on the blueline. Rasmus Ristolainen is expected to be NHL ready which would make the bounty gained in Newark that much more impressive.

Outside of the two big defensemen, Regier scooped up plenty of offensive talent in rounds two through seven and stocked his cupboards well moving forward. But it’s the change that has come to the main roster that has caught my attention.

Regier is in full rebuild mode these days. By trading out Andrej Sekera for Jamie McBain (and the pick that became JT Compher) he shipped out a valuable commodity who contributed well last season. He also unloaded a player who probably could have used a fresh start on a new team which winds up being a win-win in my book.

Moving Sekera, to me, made sense. He had plenty of market value and should have been able to bring a strong return. Allegedly he was valuable enough to get the Sabres to the fifth overall pick, but Regier opted to bring in the extra pick along with McBain as opposed to just moving up three spots.

Give him credit for finding full value there. It seems as if Ristolainen was on top of Buffalo’s board after the big four prospects and with none of those players falling out of the top four, there was no reason to reach for their Finnish defenseman. In doing so, Regier still came away with Ristolainen while also snagging McBain and Compher. Once again, give him credit for getting full value.

The McBain acquisition was followed today by the buyout of Nathan Gerbe. While the move surprised many, it was a smart choice and will serve as a way to clear some additional space for those prospects who are making their way up the pipeline.

Gerbe, who hasn’t even sniffed the production that earned him his contract was part of a large contingent of middle-six left wingers who, quite simply, were clogging Buffalo’s roster. Prior to this move, the Sabres would have been working on finding space for Thomas Vanek, Tyler Ennis, Ville Leino, Marcus Foligno, Steve Ott, Gerbe, John Scott along with potential call ups of Zemgus Girgensons or Johan Larsson. That was six names for four spots and outside of Vanek, they’re all filering into the depth lines on the roster. Trimming Gerbe from the list provides that much more space.

The key is that depth isn’t necessarily an issue. While the main roster loses a man, players like Girgensons, Larsson, Corey Tropp (he’s a right winger), Brian Flynn (also a RW) and even Dan Catenacci are provided more room for upward movement heading into next season. So for all the fans who constantly ask for the Sabres to “let the young guys play” or “let these kids develop”, you’re getting your wish.

Now, as free agency is set to open, I expect Regier to make a few moves in order to add complimentary veteran talent to the roster. Not only is this a team that the big money players will want to avoid, but it’s a team that is looking to promote their young stars and a big money player wouldn’t provide that support.

There was no point in chasing Vinny Lecavalier and the same goes for Nathan Horton, David Clarkson and the other big names in this class. Expect to see at least one player brought in to play a two-way center role and fill in behind Mikhail Grigorenko and Cody Hodgson and above Kevin Porter. It’s also safe to say that a contributor will be acquired to play on the right wing and it wouldn’t be a stretch to think that two new right wingers could dot the top-six should Drew Stafford be moved.

In addition, a veteran defenseman would go a long way in building stability around players like Tyler Myers, Mark Pysyk, Brayden McNabb and even Ristolainen.

I don’t think Daniel Briere will end up here, but he’s certainly the type of winger I could see the Sabres chase. One friend of the blog likes Ryane Clowe as a potential target. Depending on his desire to go to a winner, I think he’d be a quality target as well. Other targets that make some sense are guys like Tom Gilbert, Stephen Weiss (longshot), Toni Lydman or even Mike Komisarek who will be looking for a fresh start.

None of those three moves are exciting. In fact, they’re pretty freaking boring. But they’re moves which will allow Buffalo’s new, young core to play significant minutes and hit high gear in their development. At this point there shouldn’t be any further disappointment about the direction the team is going.

While Friday might be boring and bring no satisfaction to fans who think Clarkson and Horton will be in Buffalo next year, it should bring a few new faces to the Sabres and push them one step further in their rebuild.

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