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What Could've Been
January 12, 2011 - Matt Spielman
Let's start by getting some housecleaning out of the way. I apologize for the delay but with forward Luke Adam and defenseman Mike Weber seemingly up with "The Big Club" for the long haul ... you may have noticed the official change in the blog title.
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I know this is probably going to sound like a poor rehashing of three years ago and me just being bitter about how the Sabres handled the summer of 2007, but with Daniel Briere returning to HSBC Arena and putting on a show Tuesday night, I wanted to see if Sabres management could have navigated itself through that offseason keeping both Briere and Chris Drury as well as giving itself options for the future. In short, it very well could have.
Terry Pegula should take notice while I crunch the numbers.
Buffalo's contracts have a total salary cap hit of $56.699 million this season, which includes $1 million being paid to Tim Kennedy. Briere, Drury and Brian Campbell are making $20.692 million against their respective teams' salary caps this season, so it would seem like a daunting task to be able to trim that much money off of the Sabres current roster while putting a more competitive team on the ice. Now I don't claim to be a professional sports general manager, although I do often play one on TV. Here goes ...
An oft-injured Tim Connolly was given a new contract in 2006 for a couple million dollars per year, and while that was before the summer in question, the center was then rewarded in 2009 with a two-year $9 million deal (a cap hit of $4.5 million on the Sabres' books). Jochen Hecht was given a contract extension in the fall of 2007 with an annual salary cap hit of $3.525 million per year and Paul Gaustad was given a contract in 2008 with a cap hit of $2.3 million annually. Mike Grier and Rob Niedermayer were each signed this offseason at cap hits of $1.2 million and $1.15 million, respectively.
In 2008, Buffalo traded for captain Craig Rivet in the second year of his four-year contract, which has an annual cap hit of $3.5 million. Lastly, Jordan Leopold and Shaone Morrisonn were signed this past offseason at hits of $3.0 million and $2.075 million, respectively.
The aforementioned contracts make up a total of $21.25 million, just a little more than the $20.692 needed in my dream world.
Granted, the Sabres had other contracts on their books in the summers of 2007 and 2008 that required moving in order to get Briere, Drury and Campbell to return, but Regier should have been able to find other general managers in the league that would be willing to take on the likes of Henrik Tallinder, Toni Lydman and Ales Kotalik.
If Regier had been able to make moves and ownership was willing to spend to the salary cap, Buffalo would still be rolling into the playoffs each year with a lineup that would look something like this:
Briere would probably be centering Jason Pominville ($5.3 million) and Tyler Ennis ($0.875 million) on the top line. The second line would likely feature Derek Roy ($4.0 million), Thomas Vanek ($7.142 million) and Drew Stafford ($1.9 million). Line 3 would have Drury at center with maybe Nathan Gerbe ($.850 million) and Patrick Kaleta ($.907 million) on the wings while the fourth line would be filled with Adam ($.875 million), Cody McCormick ($.5 million) and Matt Ellis ($.625 million).
Campbell and Tyler Myers ($1.3 million) would be a nice puck-moving top defensive line while the second pairing would likely be Steve Montador ($1.55 million) and Andrej Sekera ($1.0 million). Chris Butler ($.850 million) and Weber ($.550 million) would be the final two defensemen. Miller's $6.25 million cap-hit contract would still fit into the team's salary structure and a backup goalie around Patrick Lalime's $600,000 salary would find his way onto the roster.
I have always been a fan of Regier's patience, especially when it comes to his relationship with head coach Lindy Ruff. That being said, if Pegula does indeed buy the franchise in the near future and he is willing to spend money to the salary cap to make the Sabres competitive again, he is going to need a general manager who is more willing to negotiate during the season in order to keep the team's younger players in house beyond their arbitration years and who can convince pending free agents to sign their names to contracts before the rest of the league is able to get its hands on them.
** All salary cap information is courtesy of hockeybuzz.com's Cap Central powered by NHLSCAP.com
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Philadelphia Flyers' Danny Briere celebrates his goal against the Buffalo Sabres during the second period of in Buffalo, on Tuesday, Jan. 11. The Flyers won 5-2. AP photo