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Free Agency Crunch Time
June 24, 2009 - Matt Spielman
Darcy Regier is getting into crunch time for improving the Sabres roster throughout the entire system.
The NHL Draft will begin Friday with free agency not far behind. Missing out on the playoffs for two straight years is not acceptable, but I do give the Sabres a break this past year due to injuries to Thomas Vanek and Ryan Miller. I understand a team needs to be good enough to overcome those injuries, but in my opinion Buffalo would have easily made the playoffs, if not finished in the top four, if its top two players were not out of the lineup for long stretches.
That said, improvements are needed, so I'll go through what I feel needs to be done by hopefully getting rid of some dead weight already on the roster and hopefully adding some quality hockey players as a result.
According to www.nhlnumbers.com, the Sabres have $46.539 million tied up in salary cap dollars heading into the 2009 offseason. Reports say this year's salary cap could fall as much as $2.5 million from last year's number of $56.7 million, giving Buffalo about $8 million room from its current number to the cap -- which will say is $54 million. The Sabres went public about not wanting to spend to the cap last year and expect the same story out of One Seymour H. Knox Plaza this summer.
Let's start by freeing up some extra money off the current roster to give Regier a little more flexibility on the open market. However possible, I would rid myself of three bad contracts -- Jochen Hecht ($3.8 million!), Toni Lydman ($3.1 million) and Henrik Tallinder ($3.25 million) -- by making some moves at this weekend's draft. Lydman should be able to fetch a higher draft pick than the other two, but Regier may have to settle for seventh-round picks for Hecht and Tallinder, if he can move them at all. Assuming some team bites on each of those trades, Buffalo would be down to $36.389 tied up in current contracts.
Priority No. 1 -- SIGN JAY BOUWMEESTER! I said it last March and I'm saying it again now, this guy has stud, lockdown, power play point, mean streak, great skating defenseman written all over him. The Sabres got lucky nobody picked him up at the trade deadline and now have another chance to make it right. Brian Campbell didn't play defense and he signed for about as much as Bouwmeester should get, just sign him. Rumors have the defenseman making about $8 million over the life of a seven-year contract. FINE BY ME! Give it to him, he'll be worth it.
That would put the Sabres at roughly $44 million. Signing restricted free agent Andrej Sekera at about $1 million next season would take that number up to $45 million and give Buffalo's blue line a look like this: Bouwmeester and Rivet, Sekera and Chris Butler, Mike Weber and Tyler Myers, with Nathan Paetsch once again the seventh defenseman. Bouwmeester should be playing 30 minutes a night, leaving 90 minutes to split among the other five defensemen. I think it's workable, but resigning Jaroslav Spacek would definitely help out too, bringing the cap number to around $49 million.
Buffalo management probably doesn't want to go much above that number, and Patrick Kaleta as well as Drew Stafford are restricted free agents due raises, meaning all the forwards will have to be in-house candidates. I would like something like this coming out opening night. Vanek-Tim Connolly-Jason Pominville, Daniel Paille-Derek Roy-Stafford, Nathan Gerbe-Tim Kennedy-Mark Mancari, and Adam Mair-Paul Gaustad-Kaleta.
If Pominville can get back on track, that line should score 100 goals. Buffalo was only off the league lead by 24 goals last season, so scoring wasn't the problem. With the addition of Bouwmeester and a healthy Miller all season, the Sabres should cut down on the goals against in turn adding to the win total of a season ago, which would easily put them in the playoffs.
The is probably a dream hinging on the signing of Bouwmeester. Assuming that doesn't happen, the Sabres have an extra $8 million to throw around -- or they might just put it in their pocket.
The coming weeks will tell the story.
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