It is that time on the NHL calendar where rumors are rampant, every fan is a general manager and every NHL team is trying to make the right move to propel them straight to kissing the Stanley Cup.
This time last year the Buffalo Sabres were making as big a splash as anyone. Sure, the New York Rangers came away with the biggest fish in Brad Richards, but the Sabres showed that the shackles were removed from Darcy Regier's wrists.
First came the blockbuster trade that saw Robyn Regehr, Ales Kotalik and a second-rounder head to Buffalo in exchange for Chris Butler and Paul Byron. Regehr was the hard-nosed, shutdown defenseman the Sabres have not had since Jay McKee.
Next came the acquisition of Christian Ehrhoff's rights.
This was a potential gamble, as Darcy was possibly giving away a fourth-round pick for nothing, but they were able to sign Ehrhoff to a 10-year, $40 million deal that solidified the back end for years to come.
Finally came the Ville Leino signing.
After losing out on Richards, Darcy looked to the next best option in Leino, signing him to a six-year, $27 million contract. Leino's puck-possession style of play and ability to play center (although he played wing in Philadelphia) made it an extremely sensible signing (ignoring how drastically he was overpaid, of course).
Evaluating those moves a year later is another article for another day, but needless to say, the Sabres need to do more this year after a dreadful December and January and missing the playoffs.
It's no secret that this year's free-agency pool was decidedly thin after Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, so Darcy may have to work the phones to get a deal done.
Here are three moves I think the Sabres reasonably can make to get them back into the upper echelon of the NHL this upcoming season.
1. Trade for Paul Stastny
For those of you who have snooped around (and believe) the hockey rumor mill, this has been a trade that has been discussed many times by Darcy Regier and the Colorado Avalanche's general manager Greg Sherman.
The thought process is as follows: The Avalanche have three potential No. 1 centers in Matt Duchene, Ryan O'Reilly and Stastny. Duchene and O'Reilly are both 21; Stastny is 26. Duchene was just swindled by Sherman when he signed a two-year, $7 million contract a few weeks ago. O'Reilly's contract is up, but as a restricted free agent, he will make something in the neighborhood of Duchene. Stastny makes $6.6 million per year with two years left on his deal.
Basically, the Avalanche have the luxury of trading away Stastny because of the talent behind him. That gives the Sabres an opportunity to pry him away from them at a reasonable price.
But the move would make a lot of sense for the Sabres and the Avalanche.
It would most likely take an established top-six forward, a younger defenseman and a pick or a prospect to land Stastny—a price well worth the return.
Here's the logic behind that claim: The Sabres, since the shift of Tyler Ennis from wing to center at the end of last season, have two 22-year-old, highly skilled centers that have No. 1 potential in Ennis and Cody Hodgson.
Derek Roy's erratic style of play and complete inability to play against the other teams' top lines have made him irrelevant in Buffalo. The addition of Stastny immediately gives the Sabres three top-six centers, with all three able to either grow into the No. 1 role (in the cases of Ennis and Hodgson) or to take it over immediately (in Statsny's case).
Overnight, this would create one of the deepest scoring teams in the NHL, reminiscent of the Briere-Drury-Roy pivot lineup the Sabres sported in 2006-2007.
The potential cons of this deal?
First, is Stastny's salary. $6.6 million is a lot of cash—plain and simple. The move would necessitate salary going in the other direction, which makes players like Derek Roy (with one year left at $4 million) and Andrej Sekera (with three years left at $2.75 million per) likely candidates for the move.
Second, Stastny's production has dropped the past two seasons, but that is more likely due to the increased ice time Duchene and O'Reilly have seen than to a drop off in his abilities. But after scoring at just about a point-per-game clip in his first four years, Stastny has notched 57 and 53 points the last two years. While not necessarily first-line numbers, he has scored at least 20 goals in each of his five full seasons (he only played 45 games in 2008-2009 due to injury), and a center that can notch 20-plus is an asset.
Lastly, this has been discussed ad nauseum for years on the NHL rumor sites. Say what you will about the rumor mongers that run them, but if a trade is being discussed, they typically get wind of it. One has to wonder how hard Darcy has tried to pry Stastny out in the past.
2. Give Mikhail Grigorenko Every Opportunity to Make the Team on Day One
The Sabres showed their meddle last week at the NHL draft in Pittsburgh by drafting Mikhail Grigorenko with the 12th pick overall.
A lot of questions surrounded Grigorenko, from the stereotypical ones about his work ethic to the outlandish ones about his real age ("Is he 20?"), but one thing that was clear was his talent. Nevertheless, with the questions swirling, Grigorenko dropped from a top-three pick to the Sabres at 12.
In his first year in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League playing for NHL legend Patrick Roy's Quebec Remparts, Grigorenko potted 40 goals and 85 points in 59 games plus 10 points in 11 playoff games, despite battling mononucleosis at the time.
In a nutshell, Grigorenko has the ability to become the big, highly skilled center the Sabres have lacked since the days of Gilbert Perreault.
NHL pundits do not throw around Evgeni Malkin comparisons lightly, but this kid garnered a number of them in the months leading up to the draft. To put it simply, the kid can play.
Historically, the Sabres under Lindy Ruff have employed the "work your way up the ladder" strategy with their prospects. That has changed in the past few seasons, with Tyler Myers, Tyler Ennis, Brayden McNabb and Marcus Foligno getting their chance with the big club well before anyone would have thought.
Grigorenko certainly has the level of talent Myers displayed early in his Sabres career to make a push to make the team on day one.
Will Lindy let the kid show his stuff?
Assuming status quo, there is an excellent chance Grigorenko will get the same nine-game tryout Myers aced in 2009.
If the Sabres do not think he is ready, they can send him back to Quebec to get another year of juniors experience without the first year of his three-year contract kicking in. However, if he is ready, the Sabres have an 18-year-old talent that could make any trade talk regarding a No. 1 center irrelevant.
At his introductory news conference, the running joke was that Grigorenko would wear his hometown hero Alexander Mogilny's 89 for the Sabres. I don't think Sabres fans would mind seeing another 89 lighting up the scoreboard in the years to come.
3. Trade for Bobby Ryan
This potential move comes with hesitation.
The Sabres have been linked to the Ducks and Ryan since last November. The worry is that it will take a king's ransom to get Ryan out of Anaheim. But, despite the hesitation, it is clear the move would be great for the Sabres.
With Zach Parise still on the market (as of noon on July 2), some may ask why not make a D-Day like push for him?
Parise is indeed a game-changer. He's a leader who can score and distribute as well as anyone else in the league. It just seems that Darcy is a bit gun shy after opening up the wallet for Ehrhoff and Leino last summer.
If Darcy was to sign Parise to the nine- or 10-year deal at the price he's likely looking for, including the $24 million in signing bonuses over the next two years, his tenure as the Sabres GM has just found its new, and likely final, focal point. If Parise were to underachieve, it would mark the end of Darcy as we know it (and the end of the wonderful parody Twitter account @FakeDarcy, too).
Therefore, Ryan seems like the "safer" play. He's 25 and has not scored less than 31 goals in any of his four full seasons in Anaheim.
While Ryan is not a center, he would instantly gel with Cody Hodgson. If Thomas Vanek could create any kind of chemistry with him, a Ryan-Hodgson-Vanek line would be lethal.
There are three huge potential issues with going after Ryan that need to be addressed, however.
First, despite all the upside, the fact remains that he has played with Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf the past few years, which has certainly helped his production. How great is he going to be when he is removed from that line?
Second, he has been clear in wanting to go to Philadelphia since word of his desire to leave Anaheim leaked. He's a New Jersey guy, and the assumption is he wants to play near home. While he does have three years left at $5.1 million per year, that may be all the Sabres would be able to keep him for.
The third and biggest potential con to making this trade would be what would need to go to Anaheim in exchange. It was reported that a trade was all but done last November that would have sent Ryan Miller to Anaheim for Jonas Hiller and Ryan, but then the Milan Lucic incident happened. Would you be willing to make that trade again after Miller's last 30 games and Hiller's apparent inability to stop a beach ball last season? Most would probably say no.
So what would it take to get Ryan?
Darren Dreger reported on July 2 that it would take a "number of pieces," including a second-line center. Derek Roy may fit this description, but it more likely means Tyler Ennis plus other considerations. Given his play after returning from injury last season, that will be a tough pill to swallow for many Sabres fans.
When all is said and done, the Sabres need to make some move this offseason. A top-six forward will completely change the dynamic of the team, creating three scoring lines almost instantly. But which move will Darcy make?
We can only hope last summer doesn't make him gun shy this summer.
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