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Sabres Have Work To Do
July 21, 2012 - Matt Spielman
Sitting in a 40-degree office on a sunny Saturday afternoon in July reminds me of one thing ... hockey season.
Three weeks have passed since the July 1 opening of free agency and I don't think the Sabres are any better off today than they were at 11:59 that morning.
Sure Derek Roy, a supposed "cancer" in the locker room, is gone and Steve Ott, a get-under-your-skin winger with a lot more talent that Patrick Kaleta is here, but the Sabres as currently constructed are less talented than the non-playoff team that skated off the ice April 7 after a loss to the Bruins. Roy may not have produced like the No. 1 center Sabres management and fans envisioned, but if he really was as injured as he says he was for the past year-plus, Buffalo didn't handle it the right way. On a Dallas radio show recently, Roy said his shoulder popped in and out several times this past season, sometimes in the middle of games, but he played through it. Apparently the Sabres felt it did not require surgery and the team would be better off with Roy at whatever lesser percentage he was at, as opposed to not at all.
Ott will probably be a great addition and can be very productive if teamed with the right two other players on his line, but despite having great faceoff numbers, Ott isn't really a center. That leaves Buffalo with Cody Hodgson and Tyler Ennis, both of whom will turn just 23 years old during the season, as its top two centers. With Mikhail Grigorenko and Zemgus Girgensons on the way in the not-too-distant future, the Sabres could throw four supremely talented centers at opponents as early as the 2013-14 season, but all four still need seasoning and ice time before becoming dominant players. Buffalo could still use a veteran center with some tread left on his tires to mentor Ennis and Hodgson in the NHL for the next couple of seasons.
ESPN.com lists Jason Arnott, Daymond Langkow and Brendan Morrison as just a few 30-plus-year-olds still waiting to sign a deal this offseason. None of them are going to put up 40 goals or 100 points, but any of the three could be a valuable asset to the Sabres. When you get into restricted free agents like Colorado's Ryan O'Reilly it gets a little trickier, considering what the Sabres may have to give up it they elect to sign somebody to an offer sheet. But if the organization really believes in Grigorenko and Girgensons, throwing the next couple first-round picks away could be worth signing a young player who could turn into an elite player in the league.
As it stands right now, Buffalo needs to act quickly. A large part of the Sabres defense has just one year left on their deals and several of the offensive parts to the team have contracts expiring the following offseason. Robyn Regehr, Jordan Leopold and Alexander Sulzer will be unrestricted free agents following the upcoming season while Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville and Steve Ott's contracts -- not to mention Ryan Miller's -- will expire after the 2013-14 season.
While the Sabres may now be better equipped to handle the once-every-10-game physical battle that the Bruins or other physical teams may throw at them, talent and goal-scoring wise I feel there is still work to be done.
Terry Pegula's self-imposed three-year deadline to win a Stanley Cup is fast approaching and from the looks of it, this team as now-constructed, is going to fail to make its owner happy.
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Tyler Ennis AP photo