July 1 must not be a good day at HSBC Arena. The Sabres have never done too much on the opening day of free agency, particularly in the past few years. Mark down 2010 as another one of those days.
With a free agent pool deep with defensive talent, and two UFA defensemen likely leaving the team, it was believed that the Sabres would make one or two acquisitions today. They didn’t disappoint in every sense of the word, although most fans expecting Tomas Kaberle are likely up in arms about the Sabres’ signing.
Jordan Leopold is not a bad pick-up. Three years at or around $2 million (his 09-10 salary was $1.75MM) is not a bad rate for a reliable defenseman. Leopold has playoff experience from his Cup run with Calgary and he has shown he is a capable power play contributor. Just don’t expect him to be Duncan Keith on the man advantage.
While underwhelming, Leopold addresses the loss of the Sabres’ two top left handed defensemen. With Mike Weber coming up from the minors, Buffalo shouldn’t lose too much skill. If they were to find another guy later in free agency they might be golden – reason being, Chris Butler and Andrej Sekera do not deserve a regular shift.
Darcy Regier’s press conference was typical, he didn’t say much but he didn’t bluff his way through either. It sounded to me like the Sabres and Lydman couldn’t agree on a deal due to term, while he wasn’t going to give Tallinder the raise he got from New Jersey. Leopold should fill in for Tallinder admirably, although he won’t be as defensively responsible.
In terms of addressing the forward ranks, Regier was either outbid or the players he put offers in to decided Buffalo wasn’t for them. I would imagine the players he was talking to included: Ray Whitney (PHX 2 years @ $6MM), Colby Armstrong (TOR 3 years @ $9MM) and possibly Matt Cullen (MIN 3 years @ $10.5MM) or Saku Koivu (ANA 2 years @ $5MM). Those names are all speculative, but, they would all make sense on the Sabres’ roster.
The key to remember, Sabres fans, is to not panic because the Sabres didn’t land a big fish. It would certainly behooved them to grab a Dan Hamhuis (VAN), Paul Martin (PIT) or Anton Volchenkov (NJ), but, there are still names on defense and offense that will make the 2010 UFA class a success.
In terms of the back end, the Sabres now have Tyler Myers, Craig Rivet, Steve Montador, Leopold, Butler, Sekera and Weber. Marc Andre Gragnani may see time with the big club. In addition, Rivet will miss time due to hiss offseason shoulder surgery. In my opinion, Willie Mitchell or Joe Corvo would solve the conundrum at defense and allow the Sabres to possibly ship out Butler or Sekera.
At forward, there are some very attractive names still available. Particularly players that could help the Sabres specifically. Matt Lombardi is probably on top of my new wish list now that Armstrong and Cullen have been snatched up. He is a beast on faceoffs and is a great two-way player. If Tim Connolly or Derek Roy are to be moved, he would be a great replacement. Mike Comrie would be another smart pick-up, but he is probably too pricey at this point in his career. On the wing, Bill Guerin or Chris Higgins wouldn’t be terrible signings and Freddie Modin intrigues me on the left side. I think Guerin would be an ideal fit for Buffalo, think Mike Grier with scoring touch.
Unfortunately the best back-up goaltenders were signed quickly and Buffalo missed the boat. Although, Regier made it seem as if he wasn’t interested in finding help outside of the organization. That probably means platooning Patty Lalime and Jhonas Entroth as the back-up keepers, not an ideal situation. A friend mentioned bringing in Jose Theodore. I think it is a viable option if the southpaw chooses to take a significant pay cut. We will see in this regard, but don’t bank on a new face between the pipes next year.
Since there is such a long time before the start of next season, I’m not too worried that the Sabres will be left as the only 2008-09 contender to not make a serious acquisition in the offseason. Remember, it’s not all about what goes down on July 1, but what is done in the days and weeks that follow that will truly sum up which team did the best job retooling.
But, I hope to see a few names like the ones listed above added to the Sabres roster sooner rather than later.