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NHL talent will soon trump picks, prospects on Sabres shopping list

January 23, 2014

At some point in the near future the Sabres will reach a critical mass when it comes to their rebuild. Eventually Tim Murray and the front office will be at a point where picks and prospects are trumped for the need of talent with NHL experience.

That point won’t likely come this summer nor is it likely to occur immediately after the 2014-15 regular season. But with the way Buffalo’s pipeline is expected to balloon in the coming months, Murray and company will soon need to find a different type of asset to add to the puzzle that is the Buffalo Sabres roster.

It was something that had come to mind somewhat recently with the hubbub surrounding Ryan Miller, Matt Moulson and Steve Ott along with the reported return each player will bring. Add to that the comments from an unnamed Western Conference GM in Pierre LeBrun’s article on Murray and it’s clear that the next step of Buffalo’s rebuild will need to come soon.

… I have always believed that you need some good veteran players to help [the young] ones along. You don’t need tons more draft picks when you have as many as they already do. There comes a point when you could have too many young players [and] picks… I would personally not just get more picks and prospects back since they have lot of those already. I would look for players that can play so you don’t rely on rookies so much.

It’s a take I agree with wholeheartedly. At some point your roster can’t just be comprised of 18-22 year old rookies. There will need to be a veteran presence on the roster and it needs to come from various directions.

With Joel Armia, JT Compher, Zemgus Girgensons, Mikhail Grigorenko, Johan Larsson, Mark Pysyk, Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov set to be joined by at least one lottery-level selection this summer, the Sabres will have a deeply stocked prospect cupboard that will start to yield dividends almost immediately. Girgensons and Pysyk are in Buffalo to stay while players like Armia, Grigorenko and Larsson will continue to push for NHL minutes into next season and beyond. It’s likely that the two young blueliners at least start next season in the NHL and any additional picks made in the coming draft will just serve to further stock the pipeline. Not to mention if there are any A-level prospects acquired at the deadline. That means the Sabres could be looking at upwards of eight-to-ten NHL-ready prospects knocking on the door for significant playing time in the very near future.

While having too many elite prospects is never a bad problem to have, fully stocking an NHL team with them is not a guarantee for success. Just ask Edmonton. The Sabres will need to find the proper balance between their young phenoms and veteran guidance to allow the rebuild to turn a very important corner.

Locking up blue chip prospects is a vital key in building a Stanley Cup contender. The Blackhawks and Penguins Cup teams were driven by the likes of Kane, Toews, Crosby and Malkin. But you can’t discount what the presence of veterans like Gary Roberts, Marian Hossa, Mark Recchi or Pascal Dupuis brought to those locker rooms.

If you’re looking for a Sabres-specific example, think back to how pivotal of a presence Chris Drury was. While acquiring a seasoned talent that would equate to Drury would be a tall task for any GM these days, that is the type of talent the Sabres should be seeking along with the fair value they’re hoping for. Just as important as it is to acquire the type of elite talent at the top of the draft, having the capability to construct a well-rounded team is equally important. It appears that Murray will be approaching that territory quite soon based on the timeline he’s hoping to maintain.

The Drury trade – while difficult to recreate in today’s NHL culture – can be drawn on in a way as the Sabres dealt an unproven prospect (Keith Ballard) for one of the pieces used to acquire Drury from the Flames (Steven Reinprecht). They certainly aren’t at the point of dealing an unproven but well-respected prospect yet, they’re going to have the depth to do so soon enough.

It’s something to keep in mind as the decisions on Miller, Moulson and Ott approach. The mandate shouldn’t just be for futures at this point but actual bodies who can fill NHL minutes. Perhaps that even means retaining one or more of those players for that very purpose. Either way, having valuable veterans to complement the blue chips when the time comes will be vitally important to Buffalo’s success.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 24, 2014 3:02 pm

    That’s all well and good, but when you have a superstar like Connor McDavid waiting in the wings, that changes everything. I don’t care if you have 100 draftees. You go for this guy!

    That should be the sole focus of this team. After the 2015 draft you can adopt this veteran strategy because you will have all the pieces you need (providing we have a proven goalie) to go all the way.

    • January 24, 2014 3:13 pm

      You’re correct. I say it a few times in there that they’re not going to reach the stage of needing more veterans to fill the roster any time soon – and that definitely includes the 2015 draft. I also realize the need of having at least one cornerstone talent from the top of the draft to build around. The greater point here is that the Tim Murray’s trading strategy will need to start to move away from 2nd and 3rd round picks and begin to bring in more bodies in the near future. Unless they’re getting 2015 first round picks the focus should probably be on acquiring bodies as opposed to picks.

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