Ranking the 2012 UFA class: Centers

Unrestricted free agency opens on Sunday afternoon with a class of free agents widely considered to be shallow in terms of overall talent. However, there is a small group of elite players at the top of this year’s class that will surely break the bank before any fireworks are lit on July 4.

This is the first of a three-part list ranking the available top 10-15 free agents, by position, based on how popular they will be amongst teams on July 1. Each player will have a short summary beside their names and those I see being a possible target for the Sabres will get a little more attention. Part one will cover the centers.

Olli Jokinen – Age: 33 – 11-12 team: Calgary – 11-12 Cap Hit: $3,000,000

Aside from goaltenders, center is the thinnest position in this year’s class. Jokinen is probably the most offensively gifted center in the class, but is probably looking at limited options. Depending on what teams are looking for, he could be due a little competition. He won’t be back in Calgary, which means the market just got one more skilled addition.

Jason Arnott – Age: 37 – 11-12 team: St. Louis – 11-12 Cap Hit: $2,875,000

Arnott had a respectable season with St. Louis last year, filling an offensive role without being a go-to guy at center. At 37 his intangibles and experience probably offer more than he will over 82 games, but you could still count on 15-20 goals in the right situation. Arnott could be a potential target for Buffalo to bring a bit more experience to a young locker room while filling a role on the third line behind Cody Hodgson and Tyler Ennis. I could see him being counted on for a solid two-way game if he signs in Buffalo.

Paul Gaustad – Age: 30 – 11-12 team: Buffalo/Nashville – 11-12 Cap Hit: $2,300,000

Told you this was a weak position. Gaustad became a hot commodity in Buffalo because girls think he is cute. Then he started blocking shots and winning faceoffs and other teams took notice. Those hoping he comes back to Buffalo may not want to hold their breath. While he would be a good fit back on the third line, I doubt he takes a hometown discount to return to the Sabres. Gaustad is probably looking at some offers in the 2.85-3 range in terms of a cap hit, that is a little too rich for what he brings to the table. Continue reading

Monty’s rights sent to Chicago

As you most certainly know, Steve Montador’s negotiating rights have been traded to the Chicago Blackhawks for a conditional seventh round pick. If you didn’t know, I’m glad 2ITB could enlighten you. Here is the stipulation for the draft pick from the Buffalo News article linked above.

The Blackhawks’ draft pick was previously acquired from Florida in the Tomas Kopecky trade Monday. The pick is presently conditional to the Nashville Predators. If that pick is not available, Florida will transfer its own seventh-round selection in the 2013 draft.

So Monty’s rights are gone. What’s the big deal? It was fairly obvious that Montador was going to be able to test the market, at the very least. I don’t think there would have been much chance to re-sign him given the thin crop of UFA defensemen. Given that fact I applaud Darcy Regier for getting something for nothing.In only four months under his new bosses, Regier has taken on salary with the Brad Boyes and Robyn Regehr trades while also taking shots for marquee free agents. Obviously this man has not been getting the credit he deserves, I don’t know if he ever will.

Nevertheless, Darcy went out and snagged a late-round pick for the rights to Montador. The key to this deal is two-fold. The sticking point, for me, is that Regier recouped the pick he lost in the Ehrhoff trade. I know a seventh round pick is a lot different from a fourth round pick, but he still has that selection in his pocket. The other facet of this deal, depending how you look at it, is that he must be very confident that Ehrhoff will be signed by the end of the day.

I am not as confident regarding Ehrhoff being close to an agreement. Sure, I am confident that Regier has the tools necessary to get Ehrhoff under conract, but I don’t know if I read this trade as a sign that a deal is imminent. If that is the case, then awesome. But I am trying to be patient regarding Ehrhoff until I hear more concrete news in his regard.

Sabres acquire Ehrhoff’s rights

It was 12 short hours ago that the New York Islanders traded their fourth-round pick to the Vancouver Canucks in order to get the exclusive negotiating rights to Christian Erhoff. After those talks fell apart Darcy Regier flew in and picked up the rights for the German-born defenseman. Now he has about 28 hours to convince Ehrhoff to sign with the Sabres.

Numerous accounts explained how the talks with the Isles fell apart, despite an offer “well above” the Canucks’ original. While no number had been hammered down concerning how much the Isles offered, I think it is safe to say it was in the $5 to $5.5 million neighborhood.

One quote, from a previous ESPN rumor, provided some insight as to why Ehrhoff declined to sign with the Islanders. It provides some hope to Sabres fans who hope to see him reach an agreement before Friday.

The defenseman has stated on several occasions that he wants to sign with a contender.

While I am not a fan of trading for exclusive negotiating rights, this is just another piece of the puzzle that is the Pegula Era. Obviously Darcy Regier feels free to go out and get whatever players he wants. In this case, he knows that the UFA crop is dwindling and he sprung to action.

Now Regier needs to sign him. This deal really means nothing if Ehrhoff hits the open market and signs elsewhere. Sure, it is a sign of the times. Obviously Darcy is willing to do whatever it takes, but without signing him there isn’t much hope to be had.

There are a few things working in Buffalo’s favor. The Sabres are certainly more of a winner than the Islanders are currently, score one for the good guys. The Sabres also have an incredible owner willing to go above and beyond to get his players, including meeting their quotes, score two. However, there are 27 other teams out there who may be willing to hit the $6 million mark, or more. That is where things get fishy. I don’t think this young man is worth that much money. If the Sabres hope to land Brad Richards and a few other players, a $6 million hit will be tough to deal with.

The ball is in Darcy’s court. He has just over one day to get things done, hopefully the situation in Buffalo is more attractive to Ehrhoff than it was on the Island. If that is the case there might just be a new number five in town come Friday.

Gerbe signed to a multi-year deal

News broke late this morning that Nathan Gerbe has been signed to a multi-year contract by the Buffalo Sabres. Reports say it will be a three-year deal. (credit WGR 550 for that info). Bob McKenzie says the contract will be worth $4.3 million which is good for a 1.433 cap hit.

This was a wise move for the Sabres. Gerbe established himself as a fixture in the second half of the season and simply extending an qualifying offer would have been a mistake. Add to that the fact that it is a sweetheart deal at only 1.433 per season. This certainly afford the Sabres some room under the cap and a bargain for a 20-goal player.

By locking him up for more than a season the Sabres ensure that he can continue to progress. This virtually ensures that a winger will be traded as the summer continues. The top candidates being Brad Boyes and Jochen Hecht.

I’m interested to see how this will affect Darcy Regier’s approach for Friday. Brad Richards is rumored to be looking for about $6.5 million per season, that is a manageable number that I’m certain Regier will hit or exceed with his offer.

Still, count on at least one incumbent winger to be traded away in order to create cap space for free agents.

Chris Drury to be bought out by NYR

It appears as if the New York Rangers will buy out the final year of Chris Drury’s massive contract when the NHL buyout period begins on June 15.

Drury’s $7M cap hit on his $35M deal is a crippling contract for the Rangers. He is part of a group of questionable signings that is not limited to guys like Wade Redden from a big free agency summer of 2007. Sabres fans enjoy booing him because he bolted for a king’s ransom from the Blueshirts. Often they forget he had reached a deal, in principle, but paper work and a certain owner kept the contract from being signed. Continue reading