The calm before the storm

Darcy Regier showed Buffalo Sabres fans what his strategy may entail this past weekend. He dealt for Robyn Regehr and a second round pick from the Calgary Flames, while only giving up Chris Butler and Paul Byron. He did the Flames a favor by agreeing to take Ales Kotalik, as well. But the option of hiding Kotalik in Rochester is the likely option the organization will take.

The next step comes this Friday as unrestricted free agency begins. The past few seasons haven’t yielded much for the Sabres, especially on the first day. The fact of the matter is Darcy wasn’t given the resources to truly attract the marquee free agents. All that has changed now that he has an owner willing to fly north of the border to persuade players to come to town.

Regier made some very interesting remarks this morning during his appearance on WGR 550. While he was very careful not to tip his hand, he indicated that upgrades will continue to come and that the center position will not remain the same entering the 2011-12 season.

Most fans are salivating over Brad Richards being the big haul for the Sabres in free agency. I am not part of the group, nor do I think the answer for a number one center lies in the UFA market. There are plenty of number two centermen, but not as many number one centermen. As I previously stated, the best option for Regier may be to utilize Derek Roy’s skill and contract in a package deal for an elite pivot. That would add some alleviation to the contract coming in – assume the new center’s cap hit is between $6 and $7 million while Roy’s is only $4M – while allowing Regier to acquire the man he needs at center.

What struck me as odd was Regier’s willingness to negotiate with Tim Connolly. I, along with most other people who watched 30 seconds of the Sabres this year, know that Connolly will be getting a pay cut. Whether that comes from the Sabres or the open market, I would be surprised if he made any more than $2M per year on his new contract. The question that lies in the weeds is, how does Tim Connolly value himself? If he expects more than $2M per year, I expect to see him test the free agent waters. Regier is smart enough not to go above that plateau, it would handcuff him for deals down the line. What perplexes me, however, is the fact that he is even going to bother extending a deal to Connolly. Sure, he was great as a penalty killer, especially in 5-on-3 situations, but he still can’t win faceoffs and he is way too soft to succeed in a third line role.

Maybe I am overlooking something here. Perhaps, with a true stud on the first line Connolly would be able to succeed against poorer defensive matchups. But I just don’t see it. I think there are many players out there who can do what Connolly does on the penalty kill while adding some additional sandpaper to the bottom six forwards.

Speaking of sandpaper, it relieved me to hear that Cody McCormick is also being negotiated with. Based on his performance the past few seasons I felt that it was a no brainer to bring him back. Apparently Darcy feels the same way. I am hopeful that a deal with him gets done before Friday at noon, just for peace of mind.

Regier also hinted that he isn’t done acquiring defensemen. An exciting proposition that leaves many pondering who the next new body on the blue line will be.  Based on some figures that are floating around (thanks Phil) the Sabres will be looking at roughly $19M in cap space, $15 after bringing on Regehr. Now, some of that will be eaten up by the qualifying offers that the RFAs have been tendered. Leaving no more than $4 million per year for an additional defenseman. I would even lower that to $3M per to ensure there is space for call ups during the year.

That rules out a few of the top-end UFAs on defense. There is a decent crop of defensemen available in that two-five million “go zone”, but with Kevin Bieksa and Eric Brewer already signed, many second pair defensemen will now be overvalued as top-pair guys.

Nevertheless, for the first time in a long while, the Sabres will be bringing stars in on July 1, not watching them walk away.

**updated after Kevin Bieksa signed his deal with the Canucks**

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