This is the first part of a three-part project in which Tyler and Chris discuss the moves they make if they occupied the general manager’s role with the Buffalo Sabres.
The draft is two weeks away and the Sabres rebuild will truly be in full swing when Tim Murray walks to the podium and announces Jack Eichel as the second overall pick. With that in mind we thought it would be interesting to deviate from the typical GM for a day articles and offer up our own version. Tyler and Chris will be going back and forth with our own plans for how we’d go about building the roster as the draft approaches.
The rules are simple, free agency, trades (of players and picks) and buyouts are all on the table and nothing is assumed. So if either of us sees Dylan Strome as the preferred number two pick, so be it. The one thing we won’t be doing is mocking the entire Sabres draft. So short of noting which players we like at 2, 21, 31 and 51, don’t expect to see much more beyond that. Otherwise we have a blank slate and blank checks signed by Uncle Terry himself.
Chris: If I’m sitting in the GM’s office at One Seymour H Knox III Plaza, I’d be working the phones to death to identify three distinct moves. First, I’d find a goalie. Ideally I’m going to find someone 27 years of age (25 or younger would be even better) and who has built a strong NHL resume in recent years that sets him up to take on a larger role. Second, I’m searching for a quality winger to slot in on the right side. Third, I want to boost the veteran presence in the room. The Sabres have two solid, outspoken leaders in Josh Gorges and Brian Gionta. I’d want to add one more guy who has postseason experience to serve as a mentor to the young guys in the locker room.
What direction are you heading in, any different from what I’m hoping to accomplish?
Tyler: Well it looks like we’re on the same page for the most part. As I’m sitting with Kevin Devine and the rest of the Sabres’ draft day brain trust there are a few key areas which I’d aim to address between June 26 and July 1. One that you’ve already mentioned is the need for a veteran winger to add some production from the right side; be that through trade or free agency the addition of a nice right winger would help solidify the top six forward group. The second thing is most important in my book: the goaltending. I’d definitely be making phone calls to check the price tag on goaltenders in the 23-27 age range; whether or not I find a deal to my liking could dictate ensuing moves in the draft or free agency. Lastly I’d like another veteran defenseman. While Josh Gorges is a solid top four defenseman who provides a needed dose of leadership, injury concerns, along with more youth coming up from Rochester lead me to be on the lookout for another blue liner.
Now, the question is how are you going to go about acquiring these pieces?
CO: I’m all aboard the trade train. The Sabres are firmly in the quality over quantity neighborhood as they hit the offseason and it makes more sense to me to maximize the return from the 21st, 31st and 51st picks beyond simply using them to pick prospects.
Finding a right winger is going to be a challenge. Whether via trade or free agency there are slim pickings out there and while the Sabres have an arsenal of picks and prospects to offer up, it’s hard to imagine they have the ability to strike out and make another blockbuster for someone like Jordan Eberle or Tyler Toffoli.
So the bulk of my attention on the trade market will be devoted to grabbing a goalie. While it’s a buyer’s market, most of the worthwhile goalies available will hardly come cheap.
My primary target was to be Martin Jones but in the course of writing this post, Jones has inched closer to re-upping with the Kings. While I suppose a new contract doesn’t completely rule out trading for him, I suspect it makes any move involving Jones incredibly unlikely.
So now I need to go in a different direction. I have two targets in mind. Malcom Subban and Craig Anderson. Subban isn’t quite ready for significant NHL action but he’s stuck firmly behind Tuukka Rask in Boston. Anderson is part of a three-headed monster in Ottawa with Robin Lehner and Andrew Hammond. Signing Matt O’Connor from Boston University very nearly makes it a four-headed monster. Both Anderson and Lehner are said to be on the block and I hope to snag Anderson before Lehner is gobbled up.
My thought process is two-fold. First, Subban automatically becomes your goalie of the future, but he still needs to grow into the NHL game a bit. Anderson is in the latter years of his career and has three more seasons of $4.2m on his contract. That means I inherit a perfect contract to get beyond the cap floor while also grabbing a veteran goalie who can combine with Subban to form an adequate tandem.
Subban will cost a fair bit. So I’m sending 51st overall, a 2016 3rd, Chad Johnson and Connor Hurley to the Bruins in exchange for Subban. Ideally the picks and Hurley are enough to tip the scales while Johnson gives the Bruins a cheap, capable backup for Tuukka Rask as that is currently a position of need for them.
Anderson is trickier. The rumored price for him and Lehner is a pick and a prospect. While that seems steep, I’d hope that Vaclav Karabacek and Buffalo’s 2016 2nd round 2nd round pick are enough to complete the deal.
Subban is the primary target here, so if the deal for Anderson doesn’t materialize I’d explore other options such as Antti Niemi in free agency to bridge between today and when Subban is ready for a full-time role.
Tyler: Well we’re definitely on the same page when it comes to the type of prospects we’d pursue in this draft. The prospect pipeline is well stocked and the organization would be better served adding 1 or 2 high-end prospects instead of 4 or 5 more B level players.
When it comes to the first move to make, I’m calling Don Sweeney and seeing what the asking price on Dougie Hamilton is. The 21 year old is a pending RFA who has already established himself as a top pair defenseman, and with Boston currently residing in salary cap jail I’m looking to take Hamilton off their hands. An offer of 21st overall, Jake McCabe, Vaclav Karabacek, and a 2016 3rd round pick will make Sweeney think long and hard about pulling the trigger on a draft day deal, though I don’t think it’s enough to get the deal done.
Once the Hamilton pursuit is over I’m turning to the crease. My first call is to Vancouver, where there’s once again a log jam between the pipes. With old friend Ryan Miller locked up for a few more years at $6 million per year it’s safe to say he’s not going to be going anywhere. That leaves backup Eddie Lack, who got the Canucks into the postseason with Miller out due to injury, and 25 year old Jacob Markstrom, who is ready for a spot on an NHL roster. Both goaltenders possess the requisite size to be a Tim Murray goaltender, but I’m targeting Lack. Lack is a few years older (27) and has a bit more of a track record in the NHL, which makes me favor him despite Markstrom’s gaudy numbers at the AHL level. I don’t think Lack is as highly regarded as a goaltender such as Martin Jones, and he’s not a blue chip prospect. Lack’s pedigree, along with with the fact that Vancouver is without a 2nd round selection in the draft, makes me fairly confident the 51st overall pick should be enough to bring Lack east.
With my starting goaltender situation resolved, I’m still armed with 21st and 31st overall to continue to reshape the roster.
Stay tuned as part two and part three will run on Thursday and Friday.