The job Buffalo Sabres GM Tim Murray has done since taking over the reins has, in my opinion, been largely underappreciated. Rebuilds aren’t easy. They often times can take a long time, with many wrong turns…ill-advised attempts to short-cut the process.
But just two years in…Murray’s got the Sabres flying back into contention. The roster is young, fast, and skilled. There is a lot of money available to improve the roster. The team goes into the draft with a plethora of picks, including 7 of the first 99 at this year’s draft in Buffalo. And…to make things even more interesting, it looks like a certain Steven Stamkos is set to become an unrestricted free agent…just in time for Tim Murray and his boatload of money to swoop in and put the Sabres over the top. Sounds perfect. But is it?
Stamkos has made no bones about the fact that he wants to play center. But Buffalo already has two bonafide top-end centers. Ryan O’Reilly has established himself as an elite center, and the team’s unofficial leader. While Jack Eichel is the heir-apparent, the Sabres Steven Stamkos of the not-too-distant-future. So who centers the first line? Who gets the second or third? Are there enough offensively talented wingers to go around for these three star centers? Will we be able to afford contract’s for Eichel and Sam Reinhart in a couple years’ time when their entry-level deals expire? I’ve tried shuffling players and contracts around in a number of different scenarios…and I just don’t see how this can work from a realistic financial standpoint. Is Steven Stamkos (and his blood clot issues) worth putting the entire rebuild on? I think not. Let somebody else deal with the albatross of a contract Stamkos is going to garner.
So what would I do?
Well, looking quickly at the numbers, the Sabres most glaring weakness is their ability to put the puck in the net. So…I would go after guys who can put the puck in the net.
Target #1 – LW Mike Hoffman, OTT (RFA)
For some reason, word out of Ottawa is the Sens are reluctant to pay Hoffman the contract he deserves. While the 26 year-old, former 5th round pick, isn’t the most complete player, he can put the puck in the net. With 29 goals, and another 30 assists last season, Hoffman could come in and immediately make the duo of Eichel-Reinhart even more dangerous.
I would offer up D Mark Pysyk and a 3rd round pick to see if I could pull Hoffman out of Ottawa.
Target #2 – D Cam Fowler, ANH $4 mill (2 years remain, UFA)
The Ducks have a stockpile of talented young defensemen that is the envy of the NHL. The problem is, at some point those young defensemen gotta get paid. For two of them, Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen, that time has come. While it’s true that one of those two could get moved, or maybe the Ducks find a way to keep them all, but for the Sabres…Fowler is the fit. A left-shot d-man who can step in as a capable PP quarterback, log 20+ minutes, and all at a nice, tidy cap-hit of just $4 million.
I would offer up Zegmus Girgensons (who would fit nicely into the Ducks top 6/9 and plays their kind of game) and another 3rd rounder from this year’s draft for Fowler.
Target #3 – C/LW Clayton Keller, NDTP
Draft this kid. We don’t need to move anywhere in the draft, he should be there at #8. If you could get Johnny Gaudreau or Tyler Johnson type player for free…would you not take it? This kid is the real deal. He’s one of those guys that in a couple years everyone’s gonna be kicking themselves for having passed on him. His skill is off the charts. He makes his teammates better and his opponents look ridiculous.
Target #4 – C Eric Staal, UFA
A shadow of his former self, but surprisingly…he’s only 31 years of age coming into this season. The guy is a former 100-point player, and a Stanley Cup Champ. If he’ll come in at a reduced rate ($3.5 mill)…I can’t think of a better guy to center the third-line. You often see teams like the Blackhawks and Red Wings (in their heyday) grabbing “expired” stars for cheap and having them come in and play a big roll. Worth a shot.
*Target #5 - LW Jimmy Vesey, UFA
Why not? I know these college "stars" often come with overblown hype, but the guy seems to have a connection with Eichel (according to Garth), has put up good numbers in his last seasons at Harvard, will be on a cheap entry-level contract (I believe), and will be protected when it comes time for Vegas' expansion draft. I think he'd need a year or two of seasoning in Rochester, but if he pans out...
Check out my final roster: