Free agency begins tomorrow around the National Hockey League. The Buffalo Sabres have begun their offseason by making a couple small moves. First, the Sabres drafted a couple of talented, young defenseman in Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov. Overall, they had one of the best drafts for any team in the NHL. Also on draft day, the Sabres traded defenseman Andrej Sekera to Carolina and received defenseman Jamie McBain and a 2nd-round pick in return. Just yesterday, Buffalo announced that they put Nathan Gerbe on unconditional waivers to be bought out by the Sabres. And the trade rumors and speculation for Thomas Vanek and Ryan Miller continue to swarm throughout the league.
Once the season ended, Darcy Regier told the Buffalo fan base that we are in a rebuilding mode and should be prepared for some "suffering." Our goal was to get younger, tougher, and to build a new core group of players to pin this franchise around. So far it's been quiet, but I believe that things could heat up for the Sabres real soon.
Let's start with tomorrow and what Buffalo could do. It seems that Daniel Briere is no longer an option for Buffalo as he has cut his teams to Montreal, New Jersey and Nashville. I believe that Buffalo wants to bring in a veteran forward who can help the young guys like Grigorenko, Hodgson, and others to grow.
So without the possibility of a Danny Briere return, who can fill that veteran spot? I think the guy to sign and bring in is Valtteri Filppula. Filppula would fit in with the Sabres as a 2nd or 3rd-line center, and could play with fellow countryman, Ville Leino. In 41 games last season, Filppula scored 17 points (9+8) and he has great ability to handle and protect the puck well. Filppula is a very good transition player and can play both sides of the ice exceptionally well. He is also able to get open with the puck and make a play happen when it needs to. Would he work with Leino? I think so. Leino is great with the puck, especially along the boards, and would be a good set-up guy for a guy like Filppula. Filppula could possibly spark Leino and could make Regier's signing of Leino (and Filppula) look genius.
Sabres also need more physicality outside of Steve Ott and Patrick Kaleta (when healthy). Foligno is very capable, but is he really going to turn into that player that we all want Marcus to be? Only time will tell. I would love to try and get David Clarkson, but his price will be way too high for Buffalo. The other options? Nathan Horton is one. Horton has stated that he wants to be in a smaller market and wants to be in a quieter town. Buffalo is considered a small market hockey team, but is our town quiet? About hockey, no. In the First Niagara Center during a hockey game, don't get me started. Horton, who is a rugged 6'2" and 229 pounds, scored 22 points (13+9) in 43 games last season. The former 3rd-overall pick in 2003 has the offensive capability, and he also has an edge to his game too. Horton can fight, hit, and defend his teammates when necessary. Will Horton want to come to Buffalo though? He did grow up in Welland, Ontario which is about a 40 minute drive across the border.
On defense, Alex Sulzer and Adam Pardy are the only two unrestricted free agents for the Sabres. I would not mind seeing both players re-signed, but I would sign Pardy to a two-way contract which he does not want. Sulzer plays great with Ehrhoff, and the two Germans have had chemistry going back to the 2010 Vancouver games. But if both go elsewhere, do the Sabres just stick with who they got and rely on the young guns in Rochester when needed? If the Sabres target a defenseman in free agency, they should target a more defensive defender like Mark Fistric. Fistric, a 27-year old from Edmonton, played last year for his hometown Oilers and registered 6 assists in 25 games. Fistric has had an injury of injuries, but he is very good defensively. He is very explosive when he hits someone and is very smart. Fistric would fit good with a defenseman like Mike Weber or even Tyler Myers and would provide good plus/minus ratings.
I really hope Darcy can pull through on this whole "re-building" process. I believe he will find a deal for Ryan Miller before the season, and Thomas Vanek will remain with the Sabres until at least the trade deadline. Other than that, hopefully Regier can make more that just ripples in the free agency market and also in the trade market. I expect he won't be silent, but he won't be screaming like Craig MacTavish or Dave Nonis could be come tomorrow.
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