The Pegula Puzzle: How does the roster shake out?

The first piece of the Pegula Puzzle I focused on who among the Sabres 24 free agents should be resigned or let go. The second piece of the puzzle will address how I see the 2011-12 roster shaping up.

Starting from the net out is pretty much how every team is built. Luckily the Sabres have a superstar goaltender in Ryan Miller and a sparkly new prospect in Jhonas Enroth, this makes things quite easy. Expect to see a healthy dose of Miller again (at least 60 games) while catching Enroth about 25 times in hopes of keeping Ryan Miller fresh for the playoffs.

Things start to get hairy along the blueline, however. Tyler Myers blossomed at the end of the year after struggling through a sophomore slump to start the season. Jordan Leopold was an offensive blessing and Mike Weber and Marc-Andre Gragnani both showed they have NHL chops.

That is about the end of the good news. Steve Montador, Chris Butler, Andrej Sekera and Shaone Morrisonn each had their moments, but ultimately didn’t show the skill that will boost the Sabres to the next level. All four would be out the door whether through free agency, a trade or buyout (Morrisonn). Dumping these four would allow Buffalo to promote a guy like Drew Schiestel as the seventh man, while bringing in a pair of talented veterans to shore up the holes in the top four.

As for the forwards, there are some strong players to build around, but plenty of holes that need to be patched. Jochen Hecht, Jason Pominville, Tim Connolly and Derek Roy have each drawn ire from fans and media over the past few seasons. However, that doesn’t mean they all need to go. Pominville and Hecht each have bad contracts, so it will be tough to move them. I think the best case is to keep Pominville and buyout Hecht. You don’t sacrifice too much cash by doing that and you free yourself of a fringe winger who can be replaced by a more talented player for less money. I keep Pominville because he is versatile and, if healthy, will contribute a fair number of points.

Buffalo’s biggest weakness, up front, lies at the center position. Despite being anointed as top-20 centers last offseason, Derek Roy and Tim Connolly barely lived up to the hype. I feel that Roy established himself as a viable offensive threat who is relatively good in the defensive zone. His untimely injury cut short a promising year. As for Connolly, $4M to kill penalties and lose faceoffs is quite a bit of money. Hell, Chad LaRose can do that job for half the money. Connolly wouldn’t get an offer from me, it is simple as that.

I see Roy as a valuable asset moving forward, especially if the Sabres can acquire a true number one center. He would be lethal as your number two center. I wouldn’t be afraid to deal Roy to obtain that center, either. He has a manageable contract and produces points, that makes for an attractive pawn in trade negotiations. There are far more number two centers in the UFA market than top-flight centermen. Moving Roy may be simply the best option for bringing in the best talent.

As for the remaining wingers, the Sabres are deep. Between Thomas Vanek, Drew Stafford, Tyler Ennis, Brad Boyes and Pominville, the Sabres are stocked when it comes to top-six wingers. That was one reason I thought Stafford may be prime for sacrifice before he received his contract. I like these wingers, they bring what you need to the table and despite his playoff struggles, and Jerry Sullivan’s ignorant opinion, Brad Boyes was a wise pick up.

That being said, he is the one guy I don’t see fitting into this picture. I think he would work well on the wing with Paul Gaustad and Nathan Gerbe, but I also see that as a potential home for Zack Kassian. Ultimately, Boyes would be hard to move. I wouldn’t expect him to be shipped out so quickly due to his contract and age. I am confident that one of those big names will be moved, maybe even two. Whether it is just Hecht and no one else, I can’t be sure. But there are too many wingers on this team and many could fetch a pretty penny on the trade market.

One aspect that is fascinating is the bottom six. Gaustad and Gerbe are safe, as is Pat Kaleta and I think Cody McCormick will be resigned. That still leaves the door open for at least one or two new players. I would gather that at least one new face will come in to play on the fourth line with a guy like Matt Ellis filling the role of extra forward. The RW on the third line isn’t safe either as I truly believe one of the Sabres’ scoring wingers will be on the move this summer leaving that slot open. If that position isn’t filled by a new face expect to see Boyes riding the wing with Gaustad and Gerbe.

For my money, there will be at least five new faces on the Sabres roster. Two new defensemen, one or two new wingers in the bottom six and a number one center. I would leverage Roy to make that move and sign a number two guy, but that is just me.

Check out part three when I try to prognosticate which free agents and trade partners will be in play for the Sabres.

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