Making the assumption that Darcy Regier has stopped tinkering, and by tinkering I mean doing it with a sledgehammer, the Sabres have their team set for the 2011-12 NHL season. The only exceptions to this being signing Enroth, Gragnani, and Weber. The final spot on the roster I probably foresee being designated to bringing up one of the forwards from Rochester. Luke Adam has some experience in the Sabres jersey, though Zach Kassian brings a lot as a tough and talented forward.
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The additions on Robyn Regehr and Christian Ehrhoff, 2 very experienced and successful NHL defensemen, should have an immediate and noticeable impact on Buffalo's back end, both offensively and defensively. Taking on the remaining 2 years of Regehr's contract is a solid investment for a reasonable price and only 2 seasons give this team plenty of opportunity to see how well he meshes for a continued future on the team and the option of walking away or trading relatively easily if otherwise. Ehrhoff's contract is a bit questionable. In the age of the supercontract in the NHL these days, it's not hard to see why it came about. It gives Ehrhoff the sense of long-term stability and acceptance for his family, settling down, etc. However, from a business standpoint, it's a bit of a risk. Kovalchuk's mega-contract has been largely a bust after the first year. Rick Dipietro's contract has seen him play 62 and 63 games the first 2 years of his contract and 5, 8, and 26 games in his last 3. These are extreme examples, granted, but these are the risks you're taking if you're Darcy Regier and you have a contract like this. Oh wait, he does somewhat with Vanek, Pominville, and to a lesser extent Hecht. I'm not saying that these long-term contracts can't work out, but he does need to keep in mind that if something goes haywire, you're stuck with the consequences.
The addition of Ville Leino and subtraction of Tim Connolly on the front is both understandable and questionable at the same time. Being a Tim Connolly fan and feeling that he deserved a little more respect than he got in the end, I was nevertheless optimistic that we would get a true #1 center rather than the 2 second line centers we had in Derek Roy and TC. However, going out and getting Leino, especially for such a long contract, is EXTREMELY suspect to me. Yes Leino is a good player. HOWEVER, he has ONE full season under his belt. And that one season was playing on the offensively potent Flyers. Playing alongside the likes of Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Danny Briere, etc. could make a high school kid look good. You're paying a guy who is essentially a rookie with a solid, though short playoff career and not much else, to come in and ideally become your top center. If people really think this is a sure fire improvement over Connolly, I would have to say they are all very mistaken.
What do I recommend to fix this? Trade for a center, which is what many of the other Buffalo bloggers have been saying. What other Buffalo bloggers haven't been saying a lot of is that Derek Roy then becomes the expendable piece of the puzzle. I think Leino could fit very well on our second line between Ennis and Boyes or some such combination, but he's still far from being the playmaking top line center I want to see. I have seen the name Paul Stastny flying around a lot, but at 6.6 million, we would need to do some serious cap shedding to get him in, even if Al Kotalik, who may end up being valuable to us even if just as a shootout specialist, and Shaone Morrisonn get sent to Rochester. The other solution, and the one I believe fits best both salary wise and reasonable for both teams is Joe Pavelski. With the overabundance of centers in San Jose with the emergence of Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski is not needed as badly as Stastny is in Colorado, especially with Colorado trying to reach the cap floor. Pavelski is a proven, very talented centerman who has played 4 full seasons down in San Jose and showed what he could do for Team USA at the Olympics. Just ask Ryan Miller if his fellow American would be a good fit to the Sabres roster. To make this move, we could move any combination of Derek Roy, Andrej Sekera's rights, and any number of prospects or picks.
Given these points and hopefully the addition of more outside talent being added to the roster, I believe that the Sabres are not only a shoo-in for the playoffs, but will be strong contenders for the Northeast Division title and, if we're a little lucky, the Conference title.
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