As the NHL Trade Deadline looms near, rumors will certainly heat up and talk around all teams will center on the players that are set to be moved an acquired.
Things are different for the Sabres than they have been in recent years. After three-straight seasons of lurking in contention near the deadline, Darcy Regier was often in a position to deal for assets that would potentially put his team over the top and help power a late playoff push. This year, the Sabres have languished at the bottom of the league and appear to be in the position to sell rather than buying.
One terrifying thought, however, is that the lockout-shortened season has left the standings in a tangled mess with most teams no more than a few points from jumping into contention. The Sabres enter tonight’s contest with the Rangers in such a position. A seven-point gap separates the Sabres from the final playoff spot in the East; that is a gap that could arguably be covered with a four or five-game run.
Knowing that Darcy Regier has been slow to sell off assets while being “in contention” makes me wonder if he will be slow to pull the trigger on potential deals. He is also going to be trading to save his job, so he may not have the luxury of the ultra-calculated approach that has allowed him to “win” numerous trades over the course of his career.
The first half of the season for the Sabres has been ugly, to say the least. The roster is flawed and it is clear that some players need a change of scenery while others will likely be walking as free agents come season’s end. The firing of Lindy Ruff signals that Regier’s days are likely numbered unless he can lead a quick turnaround by overhauling portions of the roster.
The Sabres, however, don’t just need to be sellers at the deadline. This won’t just be a firesale of every potential UFA in hopes of stockpiling draft picks to restock the prospect cupboards. While the Sabres will certainly be selling off many parts, they can still deal from a buyers position in some ways.
Obviously Robyn Regehr and Jordan Leopold will be on the radar of many teams as short-term rentals. Drew Stafford’s rumored proclamation of “welcoming a trade” certainly puts him at the front of the parade out of Buffalo as well. Other names will likely crop up as Regier is basically faced with a decision of overhauling this flawed roster or packing up his office at the end of the year. Still, it doesn’t mean that Regier is selling off parts without considering NHL-ready return.
When I look at the state of the Sabres and consider what needs to be done to right the ship, I think less of a proper rebuild and more of a retool. Maybe that is a silly train of thought as one could argue the Sabres have been retooling since the lockout. However, I feel that Regier may have the ability to operate at a balance between selling off tired parts of his roster in order to bring in pieces that will serve as new cornerstones for the team.
Think of it as having an opportunity to make the Hodgson trade a few times over. Trading Zack Kassian for Cody Hodgson gave both the Sabres and Canucks pieces that each team sought for an equitable price. Neither team mortgaged their future, nor did they sell off veteran assets. It was an efficient, mutually beneficial trade for each franchise. All the while, each team unloaded an organizational piece that didn’t quite fit. This is the direction I hope to see Regier take on April 3.
Excluding Regehr and Leopold, who will bring in picks or futures which will serve more as building blocks and less and foundational players, the Sabres have some options to truly flip the roster.
What is interesting is that the Sabres have some appealing players when you look at the team on paper. It is on the ice where the passion and results seem to be lacking. That particular lack of production is what has prompted many to call for the massive overhaul of the roster.
It’s my belief that removing some of the particularly stale players could help change the defeated attitude the Sabres seem to be playing with. This is where I see the opportunity for Regier to operate as both a buyer and a seller.
As it stands, Buffalo’s depth at center remains an issue, despite having a roster that boasts Hodgson, Tyler Ennis and Mikhail Grigorenko. Buffalo has suffered from the lack of a true two-way center who can contribute in a defensive role as well as in the attacking zone. There is also an abundance of identity issues up and down the forward ranks as the apparent surplus of “middle six” wingers has left Ron Rolston with a hodgepodge of players in various roles.
Defensively the Sabres are woefully below average as Tyler Myers hasn’t come close to living up to his large cap hit. Jordan Leopold has not been the same player he was the last two seasons, nor has Alex Sulzer. Regehr, Mike Weber and Andrej Sekera have been steady while Christian Ehrhoff continues to be the best player among the top-six. However, the Sabres alleged logjam on the blueline hasn’t come as a result of an abundance of talent. It appears to be more of a numbers issue as opposed to a skill issue.
Swapping out and filling in various portions of the roster is the only wat the Sabres will improve over the short and long term. This means acquiring NHL talent while also unloading pieces off the current roster. It is no easy feat and is probably best executed on Xbox, however it appears to be the course of action that needs to be taken by the Sabres and Regier. He has a stale roster of player he’s acquired and change needs to come.
Finding dance partners by deadline day will be a challenge for Regier, but his greatest strength has always been digging up deals no one expects. That is where I hope to see him make hay on April 3.