As the Stanley Cup Finals reminds us that the shortened season of 2013 is coming to a close, thoughts turn to the draft in New Jersey. However, as Buffalo fans, we were looking towards the draft about halfway through the season when it was apparent that the Sabres just wasn’t that good.
Now, we sit a mere 2 weeks away from the 2013 NHL draft. This year promises to be a more interesting draft due to several factors. While I could look at what all the former Sabres coaches/players are doing, I think I’ll focus on the future. What is the plan for the Sabres, and what should the plan be?
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Buffalo is in a very unique position. They have the ability to shed a lot of cap space, and completely restructure their lineup. Most teams, when they rebuild, have to take a few seasons to even make it back into the playoffs. Buffalo doesn’t have that problem. They have the ability to make a few moves, sign some free agents, and tentatively have a competitive team on the ice next season. I’m not 100% sold on Darcy saying that fans are going to have to “suffer” next year. Perhaps he was just referring to himself being in charge.
Currently, Buffalo has 2 first round draft picks. Rumor has it that they’re trying to move up into the top 5. The proximity of their 8th pick overall, and one from 1-5 isn’t that bad. Any deal swapping first round picks with anyone in the top 5 should include a few players as well. If Buffalo is serious about getting an offensive player like MacKinnon in the draft (I’m not focused on D right now), it’s not worth giving up Vanek or Miller AND the 8th pick. Sorry, unproven player? It’s a risk, I don’t care what potential they’ve shown. Get some players or prospects in the deal as well.
I think it’s very safe to say that Buffalo will be trying to move Miller and Vanek. As much as I hate seeing this happen, it needs to. I’m a huge Miller fan, takes a lot for me to say that he needs to leave Buffalo. However, the return on these players can be great when it comes to restructuring the Buffalo Sabres. They can add a higher draft pick, more first round picks, and potentially prospects, or even 1-2 current NHL players.
Buffalo’s focus needs to be offense right now. While there are a few decent forwards on the team, there is not a lot of offensive firepower. Buffalo needs those weapons, and need to focus on them right now. Defensively, I’m open to maybe moving 1-2 players, but there is a lot of depth in the system. Plus, the average age of the 8 defenseman currently on Buffalo’s roster is 25.875. They’ve got a young defensive core. They need a chance to prove themselves. The only defensive focus that I’d like to see is to bring in a veteran defenseman to help lead the younger players.
I’m going to say this simply when it comes to goalies. Don’t worry about it, Buffalo has plenty of depth, and should focus elsewhere with their lineup. Despite losing Miller, Enroth can step up, as can many other goalies in Buffalo’s system.
Offensively, help is needed. Buffalo needs (in free agency) to pick up 1-2 veteran forwards who can lead this team. I’m leaning towards just 1 due to already having Ott in Buffalo. While Ott is a great leader and a good two way player, I’d like to see someone who can score with a little more frequency. Now, I’m not fully locked into who is available in the free agent market or who will be bought out by other teams. For example, I’d be fine with a Dustin Penner. Here’s an individual who’s production has dropped as of late, but has the potential to score 20-30 goals a year, and has shown that he’s able to more times than not in the past. I’ve heard Iginla’s name locked in with Buffalo being interested. While that’d be nice, it’s not what Buffalo needs.
There’s one more problem with this in regards to free agency.
Who is going to want to come to Buffalo? Hockey heaven certainly looks like the opposite after this past season.
Buffalo’s front office needs to sell Buffalo to free agents. There’s only 1 approach to use in all honesty. Buffalo needs to convince free agents to come to Buffalo to be leaders and that they are going to be the players that the Sabres build around. That’s how Buffalo can land the free agents this year.
I’m concerned about one element in the draft, trades, and free agency. I feel that Darcy gets locked onto what he wants, and poorly assesses talent. While he may fall in love with a certain player, it may not be what Buffalo needs. We’ve seen it throughout the years. Darcy needs to stay open this year, and not focus on the best players, but the right ones.
Chemistry in hockey is more important than any other sport. The focus shouldn’t be on the best players, it should be on the right ones. I’d rather see Buffalo bring in players that will maximize the talent of the 20 man roster, than rely on a few superstars. Don’t believe the superstar approach? I refer back to the Penguins. They went up against a well balanced team and got creamed. I would much rather have a team that is well balanced, so that the pressure doesn’t lay on 3-4 specific players. I’d much rather have 6-8 guys who can score 15-30 goals a season, than 2 players who can score 50.
Buffalo needs to identify who is staying in Buffalo, and who will be going. Based on who stays, that shapes the free agency moves, who Buffalo targets in trades, and who the draft picks are. Who are the players that may be able to compliment Hodgson, Girgensons, or Grigorenko? Who is a defensive player who can come play with Myers, Ehrhoff, or Ruhwedel? Don’t get wide eyed and think “Oh my God! Iginla in Buffalo!!!!” He may not fit, and doesn’t necessarily play into the rebuild idea. If MacKinnon doesn’t fit anywhere in Buffalo’s schematics, don’t draft him. If he does, see what moves you can make to land him.
For too long, Buffalo has taken the approach of slapping band aids on a wound that needs stitches. The value of Miller and Vanek is huge right now. They can make it so that Buffalo gets several great draft picks, and/or plenty of players who can compliment the young up and coming talent for the Sabres. Look at what happened with Pominville. While I have very little faith in Darcy, he really robbed Minnesota blind on that deal. Vanek and Miller are both a lot better than Pominville. The return should be even greater.
With those 2 players being moved, a couple free agent signings, and a good draft, Buffalo could seriously not be as bad as everyone thinks they’re going to be. Most teams start a rebuild and have next to nothing. Buffalo has some depth in their system, several young players who are ready to step up, new coaching staff, and players to move to bring in even more help. This rebuild could be quick and painless. With the right moves, Buffalo could overhaul their lineup, have a completely new team on the ice come October, not be as horrid as last season, and surprise Western New York and the NHL.
My concern, Darcy is at the helm. He hasn’t necessarily been the greatest GM in the world. I personally foresee doom and gloom with him doing this. The Pominville deal gives me hope, but 1 deal doesn’t negate several poor/questionable moves over the past 16 years. While it’s very easy thinking about this rebuild, and getting very hopeful about a quick turnaround, thinking about Darcy leading it is like running headfirst into a concrete wall.
This of course all hinges on the next few weeks, leading up to the draft, and into free agency. The question is, come early July, will we be starting to look forward to the NHL season or banging our heads against the wall, planning for the trade deadline of 2014, and the 2014 NHL draft?
That being said, I don’t know how I pulled this off, but I’ve convinced my wife to go with me to the draft party at First Niagara Center on June 30. I’ll be there taking in everything, and reporting back following the draft.
Follow me on Twitter- @SabresBTB. I will be live chatting a lot more once things start happening in the off season to discuss the direction of the team, pros and cons, and just hockey in general.
And as always, Thanks for reading!!!