Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Don't discount the Sabres in the Rick Nash sweeps


First off, owner Terry Pegula and his charges are not afraid to "go big" while in pursuit of talent for the team. Last year they were prepared to make a significant offer to Brad Richards. Granted, it didn't work out as Richards basically pulled a Lebron James--entertaining offers, yet pretty much having his mind made up.

Pegula has the financial wherewithal to go toe-to-toe with the big boys. Whether the player actually wants to head to Buffalo is another thing.

Which brings us to Rick Nash. The big Cam Neely-type power forward is ready to move on. Columbus Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson is ready to move on as well as evidenced by Nash being shopped at the deadline.

The problem for the Sabres at the time was that they were not on Nash's short list of teams he'd be willing waive to his no trade clause to go to.

According to Chris Nichols of sportsnet.ca, the short-list of five teams, apparently, "has expanded," although Nichols admits that neither Howson or Nash's agent, Joe Resnik, had confirmed this.

There are quite a few no trade clauses out there, and for the most part, the number of teams on the list is closer to 10. That gives the host team more of an opportunity to get fair value.

Would Buffalo be on the list?

Why not? It's not like the team is a Siberian outpost of the NHL. They have a good team that's in the process of a retool and have some excellent young talent emerging. They also have an owner in Pegula who is commited to winning and has shown that he'll put his money where his mouth is.

Going back to last off-season, the Sabres made some moves that got the attention of the league:  they convinced veteran d-man Robyn Regehr to waive his no-trade clause to come to Buffalo and they landed top free agent defensman Christian Ehrhoff by trading for his rights and signing him to a deal that worked for both sides.

The Sabres could also put together a package of picks, prospects and maybe even a vet or two to make a serious pitch for the right winger.

But, maybe more importantly, they also have an "inside connection" in Columbus Senior Advisor Craig Patrick.

Patrick was the former general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins, a team that Pegula is well acquainted with. And, when Pegula made his $88M donation to Penn State for the foundation of a Division-1 college hockey program, Patrick was there. It was enough to have this blogger speculate that Patrick might be a part of Pegula's inner-circle with the Sabres.

Pegula has shattered any preconceived notions as to the Sabres and how they'll be run. He's all-in and has directed his charges to do what's necessary to build a Stanley Cup winner.

And if he and his team feel Nash would bring them closer to their stated goal, there's no reason to think that Nash to the Sabres is impossible.

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.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Some thoughts while recovering from computer woes

The yard looks good, the garden's mostly in and the newspaper has once again been a source of information.

That's what happens when technology gets put on hold because of a virus, or in this case a couple of them.

It was a good thing. The Stanley Cup Finals is set with New Jersey taking on Los Angeles, but not too much going on in Sabreland. The draft is approaching, and with two first-round and two second rounders, it'll be interesting to see what GM Darcy Regier does.

Time to play a little catch-up.

R.I.P Paul Cyr

The ninth overall selection in the 1982 draft, Cyr had a relatively short career (470 games,) and it's a shame that a heart attack at the age of 48 made his life even shorter.

Sabres ink defenseman Alexander Sulzer to a one-year extension

The "throw-in" in the Zack Kassian  (and Marc-Andre Gragnani) for Cody Hodgson deal with Vancouver this past deadline played very well, especially beside his fellow German countryman, Christian Ehrhoff.

Athird-round pick in 2003 by Nashville, Sulzer was well traveled with minimal minutes in the NHL. But the Sabres, due to injuries, gave him the opportunity to showcase his talents, and he took advantage of it.

It makes for an interesting off-season for the team when it comes to defensemen. Buffalo has Ehrhoff, Tyler Myers, Robyn Regehr and Jordan Leopold in as their top-four. Sulzer and Andrej Sekera round out the defense corps.

Mike Weber is in the mix for a bottom-pairing/depth d-man. Thrown in rookie Brayden McNabb who's set to stake a claim on the blue line and the possibility of T.J. Brennan making a push and that's nine d-men who are NHL ready.

That doesn't include former first round pick (#23-overall, 2010) Mark Pysyk. The captain of the Edmonton Oil Kings in the WHL saw his junior career come to an end this past week.

For years Regier has been building defensive depth and the organization is loaded with prospects on the blue line.

Obviously, somethings got to give.

Quick notes on the Stanley Cup Finals

Both the New Jersey Devils and the Los Angeles Kings made it to the Finals this playoffs with a relentless forecheck, solid defense and great goaltending. Both sides have the star power to beat top-notch goaltending as proven when the Devils beat Henrik Lundqvist of the NY Rangers and the Kings beat Mike Smith of the Phoenix Coyotes.

Ageless Martin Brodeur of the Devils and young Jonathan Quick of the Kings are both bonafide #1 goalies and should put an end, for now at least, to the debate on the importance of having a top-notch goalie in net for a championship team.

The Sabres have Ryan Miller in net and a defense that's on par with both teams. But what they don't have is the tenacity of a relentless forecheck and bonafide star power up-front.

How they address that in the near future is yet to be seen, but you can bet owner Terry Pegula has his charges searching for that type of player.

"The Dominator" looking to get back in the NHL

Dominik Hasek has been playing overseas since leaving Detroit in 2008 with two cup rings and it would seem as if he's looking to get back into the NHL.

He was in Detroit recently and hinted that he and his agent have some kind of plan.

Buffalo, of course, will be in the rumor mill mix as a potential destination for the former Sabre, but...really?

Hasek is 47 years old and although he's in great shape, his Gumby-like attributes have diminished with age. Maybe not a significant drop-off yet, but he ain't in his 20's or 30's anymore.

Hasek will be in the Hall of Fame as soon as he's eligible. Maybe he should sign with the team who's cap he'll wear during his enshrinement. He said that it would be Detroit, completely shunning Buffalo where he garnered his Hall Of Fame credentials.

Maybe he'll let by-gones be by-gones and don a Sabres cap.

Doesn't matter. Sign with the team, retire and go into the Hall.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Preds get bounced, intro to the 2012 draft

The Nashville Predators got bounced from the playoffs in the second round last night. They dropped their series to Phoenix four games to one.

The Buffalo Sabres have their own pick (#12) and the Preds first round pick this year in the 2012 draft thanks to GM Darcy Regier sending Paul Gaustad and a 4th-rounder to Nashville. Right now it looks as if they'll get a pick that lands somewhere in the #21 area.

Two things we know about the draft right now:
  • The top picks at forward are dominated by Russians--RW Nail Yakupov, C Alex Galchenyuk, and C Mikhail Grigorenko.
  • Defenseman are once again prevalent as International Scouting Services place four d-men in their top-seven--Ryan Murray, Jacob Trouba, Matt Dumba, and Morgan Rielly.
Presumably that takes up seven of the first 10 picks.

Fast-rising C Filip Forsberg, who some have going top-three, and LW Teuvo Teravainen are locks for the top-10.

The talent-level drop-off point in this year's draft seems to be right around the #6/7 area, well ahead of where the Sabres will start the draft.

But, there seems to be some question marks in the draft, not necessarily the talent-level of the top picks, but whether or not Edmonton, who has the #1-overall pick, and Columbus with the #2 will trade down.

For Edmonton, this will be the third year in a row that they have the #1 overall pick. In 2010 they took Taylor Hall and in 2011 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. In the three drafts prior they took three forwards--Sam Ganger (#6-overall, 2007,) Jordan Eberle (#22, 2008,) and Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson (#10, 2009).

With, arguably four of the top-five picks in this draft being forwards, it's not the ideal situation for a team that would love to add a blue chip d-prospect to their organization.

Columbus is also a question mark with the #2 pick.

The Blue Jackets need help everywhere, and may be looking for a top-line RW as franchise cornerstone Rick Nash, may be on the move.

Seems pretty simple, doesn't it?

With the #2 pick they take either Galyenchuk or Grigorenko as their highly skilled, top-line center.

But, remember Nikita Filatov? Drafted in 2006 as somewhat of a gamble with the NHL and the KHL in a tug of war for Russian talent, the extremely gifted Russian winger taken #6 overall got off to a slow start, went into (then) coach Ken Hitchcock's doghouse, and was eventually traded for a third-round pick in 2011.

Would the team be willing to take a gamble (although less of one now) to take another Russian?

Would they move Nash for a bounty and settle upon Forsberg as their new, top-line RW?

Would they draft down to gather more picks (*cough, cough...Buffalo?)


As for the Sabres, all we know is that they have two first-rounders and two second-rounders and some strong prospects who could make for an intriguing package to move up in the draft.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Bills may have found themselves a new scouting tool

Veteran quarterback Vince Young had a brief workout with the Bills last week that ended with a mutual "thanks" from both sides, but no contract offer.

So the Bills still have an opening for a quarterback.

One of the 10 signed free agents by the Bills post-draft was Richmond QB, Aaron Corp. He was recently signed as a free agent and will compete for a roster spot.

But, apparently, they used an unusual method for scouting another potential QB--YouTube

John Wawrow of the Associated Press writes that the Bills have invited Monmouth (IL) quarterback Alex Tanney to rookie camp based upon a five minute video that highlights his uncanny accuracy throwing the football.

Can he play football? Can he continue to grow? Should Ryan Fitzpatrick be shaking in his cleats?


Who knows?

But ya gotta give the Bills some credit, first for being open-minded and reaching out to him and second because they managed to beat out Pittsburgh.