Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Setting up the Sabres off season

With all eyes focused upon the upcoming season, it should be noted that two summers from now, the 2013 crop of potential UFA's is loaded with talent up-front.

Just a few of the names that are slated to be unrestricted free agents after the 2012/13 season:  Pittsburgh centers Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal, Anaheim center Ryan Getzlaf and winger Corey Perry, New Jersey center Patrick Elias, St Louis center Andy MacDonald and Dallas winger Brendan Morrow. All of the above have Stanley Cup rings.

There are others like Calgary winger Jarome Iginla, Philly winger Scott Hartnell, San Jose's Ryan Clowe and New Jersey center Travis Zajac. None of this group have a Stanley Cup ring yet, but all will command some big bucks on the free agent market.
And, with a group like that, odds are that at least one of them will hit the market.

As for this year's crop of pending UFA's, it's pretty thin once again.

Uncle Terry [Pegula] showed last year that he's not afraid to dole out the cash to build a winner. Unfortunately the 2011 crop of unrestricted free agents was thin as well. The Sabres did land defenseman Christian Ehrhoff and there may be some hope that Ville Leino's first season with the club could be looked at as a mulligan, but $67M worth of contracts for those two proves that July 1 represents a reach and a certain overpayment.

Meh. It's nice to have the luxury of an owner who recognized that free agency can be, and usually is, a reach and overpayment, yet remains is uninhibited by the dollar amount of the "frenzy."

That being said, Sabres fans are probably gonna hate the following approach. Would the organization come out this July 1 and say, "discretion is the better part of valor" this off-season?

After 41 seasons without a Stanley Cup banner, 15 years since reaching the Stanley Cup Finals and five years since winning a playoff round--not to mention three of five seasons out of the playoffs, including this past season--can you ask them for more patience?

You could, but it probably wouldn't go over very well, especially when you've retained the longest tenured GM/Head Coaching tandem in hockey--a tandem that is loathed either as a duo or individually by a good portion of the Sabres fan base.

But, this off-season they should back off. It doesn't mean that they should stand pat and worship the status quo, it just means that there really isn't a player save for maybe Zach Parise, who would really have an impact in an area of need. Wasting cap-space on another Ville Leino-type contract would be counter productive.

Of course, lot of what the Sabres do July 1st will depend upon what happens at the draft. The Sabres have two first round and two second round picks. Most expect them to make a serious attempt to move up in the hopes of landing an impact player.

But, they're still looking at $57M in salary for 18 players for 2012/13 and $43M in salary for 11 players in 2013/14. Using the present $64M NHL salary cap, that leaves them with $6.5M in room this season to sign six players, including RFA Tyler Ennis and $21M to sign 12 players in 2013/14 including RFA Cody Hodgson. Ennis and Hodgson, by the way, right now are looked upon as top-nine/top-six centers in a center-thin organization.

Let's go back to some of the unrestricted free agents that are slated to hit the market in 2013:  Crosby, Staal, Getzlaf, Perry, Elias, Zajac, Iginla, Clowe, Morrow, MacDonald.

If you're gonna go big, 2013 gives a team the opportunity to do that, but ya gotta have cap-space to do that.

It's an important off-season for the Sabres. Last year, Pegula and company showed the hockey world that they would do what's necessary to bring in the players that they wanted, hell they were ready to go big to land big fish Brad Richards.

They also seem to be transitioning from "the core," aka, "the Rochester Guys" (Derek Roy, Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek) to "the new core" featuring Tyler Myers, Tyler Ennis, Marcus Foligno and, possibly, Brayden McNabb and Cody Hodgson.

GM Darcy Regier has the task of simultaneously adding to the team for the upcoming season while also creating cap-space for the following season(s) should an impact free agent be within their grasp. And as shown at the trade deadline when he he added for the present while building for the future, he's capable of pulling it off.

Word on the street is that the cap for the upcoming season will be somewhere around $69M. As previously mentioned, the Sabres are roughly at $57M for this season with 18 players signed. That would leave them with $12M in cap-space to sign five players.

They could create even more space this season and possibly next by moving players they feel no longer fit into their plans, namely "core" players who's cap hit is anywhere from $4m to $7M.

It's a group that includes 29-year old C Derek Roy (UFA 2013,) 28 year old LW Thomas Vanek (UFA 2014,) 29 year old Jason Pominville (UFA 2014,) and 31 year old goaltender Ryan Miller (UFA 2014.)

Who will be on the move?

We'll see.

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