The Buffalo Sabres are a team with very deep pockets, an owner willing to reach way into them, and obvious roster problems.
For one thing, they only scored 218 goals last season, 16th in the league, and were 18th in the league in terms of goals against at 230. Both are within just six goals of league average. Their power play was 17th at 17.05 percent. Their penalty kill was 19th at 81.71 percent.
So what that says, basically, is that the Sabres are a substandard team in many major aspects of the sport of hockey, which is troubling considering their salary commitments last season (nearly $65.5 million). They need help in all areas.
And this summer they’ve been able to shed a bunch of salary by letting Brad Boyes and Jochen Hecht walk, they’ve seen their cap number fall to about $61.55 million, even as they took on a bit of commitment in offloading Derek Roy for Steve Ott and Adam Pardy (a net addition of about $950,000). And that’s after signing Kevin Porter on a two-way deal and John Scott on a one-way despite the fact that neither will necessarily add anything to the team.
The way the Sabres spent money last summer — specifically, like a kid with a blank check in Toys’R'Us — it seems odd that they’d just let $9.9 million in cap space be burning a hole in their pocket as we move into August. They likely swung and missed for a number of guys, like Zach Parise or Ryan Suter. Apart from acquiring Ott, who will indeed be helpful in a number of areas but was likely done more as a means of ridding themselves of the much-maligned Roy, their biggest move of the offseason was re-signing Patrick Kaleta of all people yesterday afternoon.
For a team that was charged by its new owner with winning multiple Stanley Cups at some indeterminate point in the near future, minimal tinkering with a team that missed the playoffs seems to be a little ill-advised. To that end, speculation among Sabres bloggers has become rampant in recent weeks that due to the team’s glut of left-shot defensemen (nine of the 10 the big club has under contract, in fact), the Sabres should, could or perhaps would try to unload some of them. Possibly for Dany Briere.
But there’s a detail there that shouldn’t be overlooked. The Sabres have 10 — ten! — defensemen on their roster right now. Obviously all of them won’t stick out of necessity, but only two of those 10 are on two-way deals (which of course means the Sabres actually have more cap space to work with than that $61.55 million). Clearly this is a team that believes very much in quantity over quality, because there’s no explanation otherwise as to why you’d have that many D-men under contract with the big club.
As for Briere, well, he’s still a good enough offensive player. He only had 16 goals last season, down from 34, and he’ll turn 35 on October 6, but his 49 points last season would have put him fourth on the Sabres by a comfortable margin. Further, the contract has to be appetizing because, after this coming season, he’ll only be paid a total of $5 million over the remaining two years of the deal. But still, a return engagement to Buffalo for Briere — who not only burned his bridge on the way out of town, but nuked it from orbit, returned after radiation levels came down, gathered up the bridge’s ashes into a neat pile, doused them in gasoline, and burned them as well — seems pretty unlikely. Different ownership, different time, but one can’t imagine he was too enchanted to have had all that badmouthing directed at him. Oh and by the way, while Briere is the Flyers’ highest-paid forward by far, he’s also on a no-movement clause which, like Rick Nash before him, allows him to dictate exactly where he wants to go. Why, at this stage in his career, would he return to a place where he was maligned, even if he usually says all the right things about his time there, and where he has a greatly diminished chance to actually win anything of note in the remaining few years of his deal?
And besides, if you’re trading for someone, doesn’t it make more sense to try to hunt down someone who is assuredly worth acquiring, like, say, disquieted Anaheim wing Bobby Ryan? Sure, Ryan has named Philadelphia as his destination of choice, but he also has little actual say in the matter given his lack of any kind of trade protection in his contract. That seems a more cost-effective and reasonable solution to the ongoing lack of offense than anything else, even if Ryan would likely fetch more in terms of picks and prospects than Briere.
The lack of ability to attract anyone of note could ultimatel boil down to what the Buffalo News called a “recruiting problem,” that no one wants to go there because of how bad they were last season, how good the other major powers in the Eastern Conference are, and the fact that it’s frickin’ Buffalo. However, it’s fair to point out that this perception, and perhaps even the team’s lack of movement in this offseason, may be a function of the team believing it lost too many players to too many injuries, and would have made up the three-point gap if not for a number of good players missing considerable chunks of the season. The Sabres are a youngish team with some interesting prospects who seem close to competing at the NHL level. They might not be too thrilled with the idea of hunting down more older guys that will eat up valuable cap space when Jason Pominville, Thomas Vanek, and others need extensions in the next few seasons.
But given how much talk we’ve seen about them being involved in talks — Shane Doan is likely the latest in the list of noteworthy free agents to get calls from Darcy Regier — the team seems to at least have that appetite. And given Terry Pegula’s “If I want to make money, I’ll drill another gas well,” promises of future max-spending, I don’t know why the Sabres haven’t just thrown money at the problem and give their targets whatever they want. It worked with Christian Ehrhoff and Ville Le…
Oh. Oh, I see now.