The dearth of trades leading up to the beginning of free agency, Thursday at noon, has been somewhat surprising.
Ten days ago rumors were rampant that players like Tomas Kaberle, Jason Spezza and others would be moved on or before the draft. At the very worst they wouldn’t last past June 30. But, there have only been a few “major” deals. Vancouver acquiring Keith Ballard and Victor Oreskovich for a first-round pick, Steve Bernier and Michael Grabner is probably the biggest – followed closely by Nathan Horton and Greg Campbell for Denis Wideman and a pair of picks. Aside from Dustin Byfuglien, the Chicago-Atlanta trade was heavy on numbers but weak on talent.
Either way, the only moves that have been made have been to clear cap space rather than acquire talent. Most of the fringe acquisitions have been smart, but have lacked the pop that all the rumors have predicted.
The Sabres, linked to the Kaberle deal, seem poised to let a few things happen that most Buffalo fans have come accustomed to. Unrestricted free agents, Toni Lydman, Henrik Tallinder, Patrick Lalime, Raffi Torres, Adam Mair, Matt Ellis, Cody McCormick, Jeff Cowan and Joe DiPenta all seem prepared to walk. Now, Cowan and DiPenta were veteran depth signings for Portland, same goes for McCormick. There is no surprise that these players will go elsewhere. However, McCormick was a revelation in the playoffs and might be worth another go-around – especially since it looks like Mair will be gone as well. Mair, Ellis and Lalime have all run their course in Buffalo. Only Tallinder and Lydman have something to off the Sabres moving forward.
Tallinder was reborn playing alongside Tyler Myers and appeared to be a strong veteran presence for the rookie. Lydman has routinely been a strong contributor in terms of hits and blocked shots and even saw power play time this past season. Signing one of the two would be the smart choice here. Your returning defensemen are Myers, Craig Rivet, Steve Montador, Andrej Sekera and Chris Butler. Mike Weber and Marc-Andre Grangnani are likely to challenge for a spot, but, I don’t think they would be the answer. The same can be said for either Sekera or Butler (possibly both). One of those players would make for great trade bait in the not too distant future.
Ideally, either Sekera or Butler is moved and Lydman or Tallinder will be resigned. That leaves five returning defenders, plus one AHL call-up and (at least) one free agent or trade pick-up. One of the new faces needs to be a power play quarter back. Kaberle is the best option here, but the affordable choice would be Marc-Andre Bergeron or Joe Corvo. In my opinion, Tomas Kaberle and a guy like Willie Mitchell, or a guy in his mold just more affordable, would be the proper additions to the Sabres’ top-six defensemen.
In terms of forwards, the Sabres need a mix of size and skill to improve on their first-round playoff exit. With Mair, Ellis and McCormick out of the picture the fourth line is a blank canvas. Nathan Gerbe will likely see a regular shift this season as will Tyler Ennis. That leaves the Sabres with nine finesse forwards and three gritty checking-line types. But, Paul Gaustad, Mike Grier and Patrick Kaleta will not be able to carry the load all year for Buffalo. They need one or two sandpaper guys to level out the forward ranks. In addition, their top-six are all too similar. They love to dipsy-doodle but hate to get their nose dirty. The only scenario that I see making sense is moving one or two top-six guys out of town. Most fans would vote for Derek Roy and Tim Connolly. But, I think finding a new home for Drew Stafford and Connolly would be much easier for Buffalo.
In terms of new faces, I think Colby Armstrong, or someone like him would add a nice physical presence to Roy and Thomas Vanek’s line. Meanwhile, a gritty third or fourth liner would give the Sabres a little more teeth and nail, something they have been lacking in recent years. In a perfect world there would be a strong offensively gifted center in the acquisitions, someone who has some size to pair with his skill. On paper that would probably be exactly what Buffalo would need to take the next step.
Lastly, in terms of a new back-up goalie, Martin Biron is the answer. He is loved by fans and he loves the area. He had a good relationship with Ryan Miller (I think) while they were here together, and he would not be expensive. Plus, he would be a much for viable option when the schedule gets dicey for the Sabres. No hairs to split in this argument, Biron is the safe, smart choice in terms of a new back-up.
If history holds true, the Sabres will bring in one or two new faces (not counting a goaltender). However, I think the wiser decision might just be to bring in three or four new faces to help make over a solid roster that just needs to be a little stronger.