There are two paths the Sabres could take this offseason, and which one of the two is correct is up to the individual.
Path A is one of immediacy which consists of the Sabres looking to upgrade their top 6, specifically the right win position, ASAP. There are targets the team could make outside the almost endlessly mentioned obvious candidate who shall not be named to save the sanity of some who are near physically ill reading for weeks and months on end.
Those potential wing targets would be Jonathan Drouin and Kerby Rychel. There has been much talk about Rychel being available for top 4 defensive help that the Blue Jackets badly desire, as Rychel is part of a glut of Blue Jacket forward depth, and there are rumors that Drouin has fallen out of favor in Tampa as he remained super glued to the Lightning press box, even when important players went out with injury. It is hard to question the Tampa management logic considering the team is in the conference finals and just blew out the Rangers in game 2, but let’s say the Lightning are crazy enough to consider trading Drouin.
Buffalo would need to likely lose two of the following three in the trades: Zadorov, Pysyk, McCabe.
That would deal a considerable blow to the team’s strong overall defensive depth. That would in turn impact what they do in free agency both this offseason and next offseason. This offseason offers Mike Green, Paul Martin, John Oduya, and…not much else? The youngest of the players in the group is 29 in Green, and you wonder how much tread is left on the tire of any of those players. The Sabres have two nice defensive prospects in Brycen Martin and Anthony Florentino, but both are a long ways away from showing they are going to be strong NHL players. Maybe Michael Del Zotto or Cody Franson on the cheap?
In 2016, you have Seabrook, Bieksa, Coburn, Torey Krug, and Keith Yandle. Sure, you could take a serious run at one of those guys with the money the Sabres will have in available cap space, but keep in mind they would HAVE to sign two of those mentioned above to field at least a decent top 6/7 defensive group.
Also keep in mind they would lose likely multiple picks in dealing for Drouin and Rychel, including this year’s second first round pick, and likely two of the following: Grigorenko, Compher, Fasching, Hurley, Baptiste, Carrier, Bailey.
That is a lot to give up for a win faster/win now mentality. Could that work? Yes. Will it work? Debatable.
Path B is one of steady improvement. That means letting players go gradually as they become UFA’s and restocking from within their many quality draft picks while trying to go the UFA route beginning in the 2016 offseason when you could see Staal, O’Reilly, Plekanec, Backes, Ladd, Eriksson, etc. available for the highest bidder.
This method would include having at least Mark Pysyk as part of the D top 6 this year, with likely Ruhwedel up as part of the D top 7. In 2016, Weber would be a goner as a UFA and both Zadorov and McCabe would be ready for full time NHL duty while the team looks to add another D to their top 7.
That would also mean another year of development for all of the forward prospects I mentioned above, but in the meantime, with the players they currently have, the lineup could look something like this.
Kane – Eichel – Ennis (fast first line)
Moulson – Reinhart – Girgensons (finisher, setup man, space eater second line)
Foligno – Larsson – Grigorenko (solid third line and Larsson has earned his shot)
Deslauriers - Hodgson – Gionta (not your typical fourth line but if you roll 4 lines, they could be effective against other teams bottom pair D)
That is not a playoff lineup, but that is one that is a giant improvement over last year, and a start on the way to being a quality team.