Buffalo Sabres: Complete Guide to the 2013 Offseason
With the Stanley Cup Final now over, however, and as we get closer to the NHL entry draft and NHL free agency, talk is beginning to ramp up for every team around the league once again.
Here is a comprehensive guide to the Buffalo Sabres' 2013 offseason, covering the NHL draft, right through the 2013-14 season outlook.
1. Draft Plan
The 2013 NHL draft will provide the Buffalo Sabres with a phenomenal opportunity to bolster their farm system, as they hold 10 picks through seven rounds.
More importantly, though, is the fact that the Sabres possess four picks in the opening two rounds, including the eighth and 16th overall selections.
Looking through the Sabres' pool of prospects, it's clear that Buffalo needs to add more top-end offensive talent to its system.
With three of their five best prospects being defensemen, according to hockeysfuture.com, the best-case scenario for the Sabres in the first round is to have a defenseman like Rasmus Ristolainen, Nikita Zadorov or Darnell Nurse go off the board in one of the seven picks prior to theirs.
That would all but ensure they are able to scoop up a forward like Elias Lindholm or Sean Monahan.
With the 16th overall pick, adding to their depth in goal could be the best possible choice, with quality goaltending being another issue within their farm system and a player like Zachary Fucale potentially slipping as far as pick No. 16. The Sabres may also choose to further bulk up their skill up front by selecting someone like Kerby Rychel, Bo Horvat, Adam Erne or Frederik Gauthier.
From there on out, it's all about selecting the best player available, especially in the second round, where there should be some considerable talent remaining thanks to the deep nature of this year's draft class.
2. Salary-Cap Numbers
According to capgeek.com, the Sabres have about $14 million in cap space to play with this offseason.
With only a few free agents to sign, the Sabres appear to be in a good position salary cap-wise.
Thanks to the trade that saw Jason Pominville depart to Minnesota and a plethora of young forwards making under $2 million per season, Buffalo should have enough money left over after dealing with their own players to make a move or two on the free-agent market.
3. Buyout Candidates
The most obvious buyout target for the Buffalo Sabres this offseason is Ville Leino.
Brought to Buffalo following a career 2010-11 campaign that saw him register 53 points in 81 games, Leino was expected to do much of the same for the Sabres.
But 79 games and just 31 points later, Leino's contract has become an albatross for the Sabres, who would otherwise be stuck with the 29-year-old for another four seasons at $4.5 million per.
If Darcy Regier doesn't elect to buyout Leino, it'd surely come as a surprise.
Without many other outrageous contracts on the books, the second compliance buyout for the Sabres isn't as obvious.
While Jhonas Enroth was recently inked to a new two-year deal, if the Sabres were to choose to part with Ryan Miller, it'd most likely be through some sort of trade in order to extract as much value as possible.
4. Which Free Agents Are Leaving?
With only six free agents this offseason (only three of which are unrestricted), it's expected that most of the team's core will be sticking around.
The only guarantee at this point in terms of free agents that won't be back is long-time Sabres forward Jochen Hecht, who has chosen to retire.
The other two unrestricted free agents—defensemen Adam Pardy and Alexander Sulzer—could also be on their way out, since neither of them has been a key part of the Sabres' defensive core.
Pardy suited up for just 17 games in Buffalo this season (though he was a plus player), and Sulzer has also had problems staying in the lineup throughout his career.
5. Which Free Agents Are Arriving or Staying?
After such a disappointing 2013 campaign, and recent transactions that have come back to bite the Sabres (see: Ville Leino), it wouldn't be too surprising to see the Sabres lay low in free agency and continue to rebuild using young players.
One signing surely at the top of their priority list, however, will be to ink restricted free agent Cody Hodgson to a new deal.
Beyond that, the Sabres may look to sign a quality depth defenseman like Grant Clitsome and another forward or two to help their bottom six.
With Buffalo's ownership and management, though, it also isn't out of the realm of possibility that they may decide to make another push and sign a few big names this offseason.
6. Trade Possibilities
It doesn't seem like any big trades are imminent in Buffalo, but there certainly is a chance that the Sabres could part ways with their long-time franchise cornerstone, goalie Ryan Miller.
Talks about whether Miller has a future in Buffalo have been ongoing, and a few reports from this spring do leave reason to believe that it's time for the American netminder and the organization to part ways. The recent re-signing of Jhonas Enroth also plants a seed of uncertainty with regard to Miller's future in Buffalo:
Enroth's two-year deal in Buffalo: $1.25 million per year— Pierre LeBrun (@Real_ESPNLeBrun) June 20, 2013
This, of course, doesn't guarantee anything, especially considering that owner Terry Pegula came out the other day and announced his support for the re-signing of the veteran goalie.
7. Prospects on the Rise
Heading into the 2013-14 campaign, if there is one Sabres prospect to watch out for, it's Mikhail Grigorenko.
This is, after all, the same Grigorenko who was expected to be a top-three selection in 2012 but slipped all the way to No. 12 after some scouts began developing his level of commitment.
The 19-year-old Russian center didn't seem to disappoint the Sabres in 2013, though.
He played over half the season with the team, tallying five points in 25 games.
The real key here, however, is that the Sabres thought enough of Grigorenko to burn a year of eligibility on his entry-level deal by allowing him to play so many games.
This season, Grigorenko figures to be a fixture in the Sabres lineup, and with his abilities, Grigorenko could really turn some heads.
Another prospect to keep a close eye on will be whomever the Sabres select at No. 8 in the June 30 NHL entry draft (assuming they don't trade the pick away).
Whether they end up with a forward like Elias Lindholm or Sean Monahan, or a defenseman like Darnell Nurse or Nikita Zadorov, the Sabres will be adding a player with elite talent to their farm system.
8. 2013-14 Season Outlook
With such a young roster and so many picks in the upcoming draft, the Buffalo Sabres are in a perfect position to start re-building for sustained success in the future.
It's not very likely with their current roster that the Sabres can make a push for the postseason in 2013-14. And with the free-agent market so thin, it won't be easy for the team to try and come up with some sort of quick-fix rebuild, either.
Look for the Sabres to continue to develop their young players, like Mikhail Grigorenko, Tyler Myers and Cody Hodgson, and probably finish around the same area in the standings as they did this year.
Mind you, a turnaround campaign from Ryan Miller and a resurgent Ville Leino could help the Sabres come closer to a playoff position. Still, the defense just isn't quite there.