Okay, so now that I have broken down who is staying and/ or leaving for the Sabres let’s take a look at the available free agents. Just because a player is available, however, does not mean that the Sabres will pick them up. Remember we live in a world controlled by Darcy Regier. Those who follow the Sabres know that Darcy likes to build from within. The Sabres are a team based around draft picks and prospects. Any big name player on the Sabres was either acquired as a prospect or went through the draft and prospect system. Listen up, because I’m only going to say this once: THE SABRES ARE NOT A TEAM THAT WILL MAKE A SPLASH ON FREE AGENCY. We never have been and likely never will be. Darcy likes to pick up players that will complement his team well. Guys like Steve Montador and Craig Rivet are the types that Darcy likes. Just deal with it.
Again, I’m aware that there are guys like Illya Kovulchuck available. However, it is very unrealistic that the Sabres will get him. I’m just being realistic here. If you want someone to tell you that this is the year the Sabres will make all of your unrealistic dreams come true, go read Bleacher Report or Eklund on HockeyBuzz. Here at The Ruff Writers, we live in the real world.
Alex Tanguay – Although his production has slipped in the past few years, Tanguay still has quite a bit of life left in him. He could be a much needed spark for this team. Couple that with the fact that he plays left wing on a team that majorly lacks left wingers and Tanguay looks even better. Tanguay, a Bryan Sibbitts approved player, scored only 10 goals last season but had 27 assists last season. It should also be noted that Tanguay spent the last two seasons playing for the Lightning who were quite mediocre. Tanguay could use a nice change of scenery to find his scoring touch again.
Alexei Ponikarovsky – Another left winger, Sabres fans know Alexei well from his years with the Maple Leafs. Ponikarovsky spent the last season in Pittsburgh but only played 16 games. He did play a bit in the playoffs but was a healthy scratch. He just didn’t quite fit with the Penguins it seems. The Post-Gazette is reporting that Ponikarovsky will not re-sign with the Pens which leaves the door open for the Sabres. He still has a lot of potential and can score if need be. Maybe a change of scenery is just what Alexei needs.
Lee Stempniak – WNY Native Stempniak would be a welcomed addition on this team. The Sabres are looking for a natural scorer and Stempniak could complement our young talent like Ennis quite nicely. Stempniak still has yet to find
a perfect fit in the NHL after being shipped around from the Blues to the Leafs in ’08 and then from the Leafs to the Coyotes this past season. I wouldn’t mind seeing another Buffalo native on this team.
Paul Martin – Though Martin may not exactly be the dynamic offensive defensman this team needs, he is quite good. At 28 years old, Martin still has a ton of hockey ahead of him. The New Jersey Devils D-Man can also move the puck quite fluidly which is something our defense lacks miserably. Martin would be a great compliment to this team and would definitely help spark some offense on our defense.
That’s really it in terms of UFAs for the Sabres. I honestly don’t see the Sabres doing much in free agency. It’s just how the team operates. Get better through draft picks, compliment said draft picks with veteran talent. Small acquisitions, big results. For as much flack as it gets, the system can work quite well. Would I like to see the Sabres go out and get Kovulchuck? Of course. Would I love to see the Sabres make a splash a grab Olli Jokinen? Why not. But that just isn’t logical. You have to look at the Sabres with perspective. We have some GREAT young talent that, if the pan out, will be phenomenal. Patience is the key with the Sabres. Let the pieces fall into place. Trust the management. They actually know what they are doing… sometimes.
Don’t be disappointed tomorrow when the Sabres don’t get some big-ticket UFA or trade around for a name everyone knows. Heck, I’ll be through the roof if we even get someone like Saku Koivu but even that is a stretch. That’s not how the team operates. Never has been, never will be.
The month of July has many things to offer including warm weather, trips to the beach, cookouts and a few key holidays (including my birthday which in my opinion should be a national holiday). The biggest and best day of July, however, is the first day of the month. July 1st not only marks the start of the month but also marks the start of something much greater: NHL Free Agency. Sabres fans know of the agony and excitement that free agency can bring. 2008 saw both Briere and Drury and walk away to bigger contracts and brighter lights. The Sabres haven’t made any big free agency moves since that fateful day.
Tomorrow the cycle will start all over again. Who will walk? Who will we sign? Who will crush all of our hopes and dreams? What RFA will Kevin Lowe offer a ridiculous contract to? With that I present to you: The Ruff Writers Official Guide to Free Agency.
Unrestricted Free Agents:
Adam Mair – After 7 seasons as a Buffalo Sabre, center Adam Mair is a free agent again this offseason. Although Mair played quite well in the playoffs, it would be okay by me if he left for greener pastures. Mair is a player who has been past his prime for a few years now. He has this horrible knack for becoming invisible when the situation calls for exactly the opposite. Think Pat Kaleta but without the bark or the bite. As much as I strongly dislike Mair, I would not be surprised at all if he was still a Buffalo Sabre next season. The organization seems to really like him and the fans tend to give him a lot of support. My prediction: Adam Mair is a member of the Buffalo Sabres for the next 2 seasons.
Cody McCormick – Although fans only got a brief glimpse of this rugged center, many people liked what McCormick brought to the table. During the playoffs, McCormick was able to bring new life to a nearly comatose Sabres squad. His hustle and seemingly endless want for ice time won over both the coaches and the fans. Although McCormick is mainly an enforcer, he showed that he could contribute on offense as well. He picked up 2 points in 3 playoff games with the Sabres and was a bright spot on a very lackluster team. Plus, he’s got the best to do list of any Sabre. My prediction: Cody McCormick is signed to a one year deal. He spends the beginning of the season with the Portland Pirates but works his way up to the big club for the majority of the season.
Raffi Torres – The Sabres acquired Torres, a left winger, at the trade deadline this past season. Torres, not unlike acquisitions of the past was very quiet for the Buffalo Sabres. Although Torres’s 19 goals made him automatically the leading scorer for the team when he was acquired, his total would stay there for the rest of the season. He amassed a total of 5 points as a Sabre, all of which were assists. Torres didn’t seem to be a perfect fit for the Sabres and the Sabres didn’t seem to be a perfect fit for Torres. My prediction: After very brief talks with the Sabres, Raffi Torres walks away to a team that needs him more.
Jeff Cowan – Not much can be said for this Portland Pirates mainstay. Although Cowan played 71 games with the Pirates last season, he never saw any NHL time. Cowan is an enforcing left winger who knows his role and plays it well. Not that anyone really cares about him. My prediction: Jeff Cowan (a poor man’s Cody McCormick) signs a 1 year deal with the Sabres and stays in Portland for 99% of next season.
Matt Ellis – As far as the forwards go, I saved the best for last (in my opinion). Ellis is one of the unsung heroes of the Buffalo Sabres. He constantly works hard and makes plays. He hits the corners harder than anyone else on the team and constantly makes smart plays. Ellis knows that he is not as naturally gifted as most but uses his instincts and smart play to make up for it. He is the perfect depth player for any team. I will be DEVASTATED if we don’t resign him. I’m not overreacting either. He truly is an unnoticed talent for this squad. My prediction: Matt Ellis is resigned to a two year contract and continues his quiet awesomeness for this team.
Toni Lydman – Toni has been a staple of the Sabres blue line for the past 5 years after being acquired from the Calgary Flames. Lydman provides a veteran calming presence on a relatively young team. These talents, however, are often overshadowed by some negative traits that Lydman has. Although Lydman doesn’t often make mistakes, when he does they are costly. Time and time again Lydman has coughed up the puck to oncoming forwards and the puck often results in the Buffalo net. Lydman is also getting old and is losing some of his ability. He rarely can contribute offensively and is not as dynamic of a shutdown D-Man as he was in the past. Lydman’s already numbered NHL days are even more in jeopardy with heat coming from younger, more talented players (Mike Weber, Chris Butler). My prediction: Lydman signs a 2 year deal… Somewhere else.
Henrik Tallinder – The fact that both Tallinder and Lydman are UFA’s this offseason is quite interesting. Tallinder is somewhat similar to Lydman in that he has a veteran presence and tends to be quite calm. He’s dependable and gets the job done. That being said, don’t expect too much out of him these days. Although he has fantastic chemistry with recent Calder Trophy winner Tyler Myers, Tallinder is past his prime as well. Unlike Lydman, however Tallinder has a bit more offensive prowess. Tallinder and Myers work quite well on a defensive pairing that has established itself as one of the most dominant in the league. Like Lydman, Tallinder is also feeling the pressure of younger, faster players coming up from Portland. Andrej Sekera, Brayden McNabb and T.J. Brennan are all up and coming players who could give Hank a run for his money. My prediction: The Sabres resign Henrik Tallinder to a 1 year deal for the sake of grooming Tyler Myers. The Sabres need Hank to help Myers avoid the looming Sophomore slump. [UPDATE: According to both Phil at Black Blue and Gold and Pierre LeBrun of ESPN Hank isn’t exactly close to signing with the Sabres right now. Here is a tweet from Pierre: “Source says no progress in talks between sabres and tallinder.” Just food for thought.]
Patrick Lalime – Patty has been the backup to The Man, The Myth, The Miller for the past two seasons. Although Lalime has had moments of brilliance in his time with the Sabres, he has been less than stellar most of the time. Lalime has 9 wins, 21 losses and 0 shutouts as a Sabre. Not exactly stellar numbers, even for a backup. I’ve never really been a fan of Patty as a player (he’s a great person though). The team plays with little to no confidence when playing in front of Lalime. That being said, it should be noted that Lalime has a great effect on the team in the locker room and on one person in particular. It is well known that Pat Lalime and Ryan Miller good friends and that their relationship carries over onto the ice. Lalime is like the backup Quaterback to Miller (WHOA football reference!). Any good starter has a solid backup to help him out. Lalime criticizes Miller when he needs to and praises him when he needs to as well. My prediction: After much debate within the front office Patrick Lalime is resigned for another year until Jhonas Enroth is ready to take over as backup.
Restricted Free Agents:
The Sabres actually have 10 RFA’s whose contracts are expiring tomorrow. For those who don’t know how the RFA system works, I’ll break it down very simply for you. Any team can tender an RFA a contract BUT the team who has the rights to the RFA has the option to match said contract and sign the player before the team that offered the contract can have the player. This is exactly what happened to Thomas Vanek when Edmonton Oiler’s GM Kevin Lowe offer him a very large contract in ’08. There are draft picks involved if the offering team wins the contract but it gets a bit complicated.
I’m not going to break down every RFA we have up for new contracts because frankly I don’t think anyone cares about a guy like Michael Kotska or Derek Whitmore (at least not yet). That being said there are a few interesting names on the list of guys we have to resign.
Buffalo native Tim Kennedy is one guy that the Sabres will most definitely resign tomorrow. He’s young and has a massive upside. Pat Kaleta, another native of WNY, is also an RFA tomorrow. He will also definately get resigned but I wouldn’t be surprised if someone tendered him a contract. He’s the type of guy that teams would love to have. Annoying if he’s not on your team, awesome if he is on your team. Mike Weber is a guy that has been around for a couple years on and off and will likely get resigned. Don’t be surprised though if he is traded. He has had his shot a couple of times and time is running out for him to darn the Blue and Gold.
Among the names of guys that could get traded tomorrow for picks or the like are Mark Mancari and Marc-Andre Gragnani. Outside of the fact that they both are named Mark, these two both have had their chances with the organization and don’t seem to be fitting quite right. I wouldn’t mind shipping Mancari off but Gragnani has a great upside. He was a defensman that was converted to left wing but I wouldn’t mind putting him back on D. We need some good puck movers and MAG (new nickname? check) could be one.
Alright, that’s it for now. Check back in about 30 minutes for my analysis on who I think the Sabres will pick up. WARNING: I’m going to be brutally honest, not dreamfully optimistic.