Buffalo Sabres' Three Biggest Draft Story Lines
This will be a six-part series highlighting what the Buffalo Sabres' draft plans may be, including an individual look at all four picks the Sabres have in the top 52.
The Buffalo Sabres will have a busy 48 hours, not only having two of the first 16 picks in tomorrow's draft, but also having a few of their stars on the trade block.
That means, no matter how deep this draft is, every Sabres fan will have one eye on their Twitter feeds to see if Thomas Vanek, Ryan Miller or Drew Stafford has been moved.
So here is a look at the three biggest story lines for the Sabres entering into the draft tomorrow.
1. Will Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek Be Moved?
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In what has been the burning question since locker clean out day, the Sabres and General Manager Darcy Regier are finally forced to make a decision about two of their best players.
Both Miller and Vanek have a year left on their deals, so their value will decrease significantly once the draft ends on Sunday. If they are going to be moved, it'll be this weekend.
Miller has had the most buzz around him, especially since a rumor that he was headed to the Philadelphia Flyers picked up some steam in the past few days. The Sabres would not part with Miller cheaply, so the Flyers do not seem to set up as the best trading partner. Other teams that will likely be looking Miller's way include St. Louis, Phoenix, Edmonton, Colorado and the New York Islanders.
The rumors surrounding Vanek have been much more subdued, likely because he has always been the one that the Sabres were most likely to keep. However, his value should be somewhere close to what Rick Nash got Columbus when he left for the New York Rangers, so Regier might be tempted. As it stands, there are few teams in the league that wouldn't want Vanek based on his position and play, but his $7.14 million owed this season may make him impossible with the lower salary cap unless the Sabres retain a good portion of his salary.
If Miller or Vanek were to be traded, they would almost certainly net a first round pick tomorrow, but only if it falls below the top six. The price to move up in the draft is high enough, but plucking a top pick, especially in the top four, seems impossible. There are likely no plausible scenarios in which one or both of Vanek and Miller will net a top-four pick, and Edmonton may be the earliest potential option for Vanek or Miller at pick No. 7.
Also keep an eye on Drew Stafford who is likely in play and could be part of a package to either move up or pick up a few more picks in the mid-rounds.
2. Will the Sabres Move Up in the Draft?
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After Miller and Vanek's future, the next question on Sabres fans' minds is whether or not the Sabres will—or will be able to—move up in the draft order.
The last few weeks have shown exactly how expensive it will be to do so, with it being revealed that the Calgary Flames' general manager Jay Feaster offered Colordado all three of their first-round picks—Nos. 6, 22 and 28—for the first overall pick, which was unceremoniously denied.
In this draft that's a huge haul, with all three of those picks likely to make some sort of impact in the short-term for your team.
While the Sabres would love to get in the mix in the top-four, the reality is the prices may be prohibitive to do so. Regardless of what you may think about the current makeup of the Sabres, they cannot give up that much in order to take one guy, because they need more than one guy to fix their issues.
The first pick that looks "available" is the fifth pick, with many rumors swirling that the Carolina Hurricanes are willing to trade down. If Darcy were to move up to five, it would likely be to draft Valeri Nichushkin, the huge, talented winger from Russia, who has a chance to go in the top four.
Calgary and Edmonton are other possibilities, but that would only be to secure a guy you felt either of them were about to take. Assuming the Sabres stay put at the eighth pick, it is likely they take either Sean Monahan or Elias Lindholm, both of whom Calgary is likely to target as well. So if the Sabres want their pick of the two and not the one that falls to them, they may want to flip up two picks. Edmonton likely has eyes on defenseman Darnell Nurse, so the only reason to get above them is to grab him.
Despite prices, the phones will be busy today and tomorrow morning.
3. Will Any of the Big Available Names Entice the Sabres?
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There are a few bigger names available in the trade and free agent market than most would have expected a couple weeks ago, and the Sabres may be in on a few.
The biggest may be Vinny Lecavalier who was recently bought out of his contract in Tampa Bay. While it may not be likely that the former Rocket Richard Trophy winner will come to Buffalo, the Sabres will certainly be in the action surrounding him. A big, second-line center definitely not devoid of skill, Vinny would allow Tyler Ennis to move back to wing and you could place rookie Joel Armia with him to grow, much like Steven Stamkos was in Tampa.
Vinny will not be cheap though, likely commanding $5 million-plus a season for at least two or three years. Never mind the fact that the Sabres will have to go up against at least 15 other teams, including Montreal, his hometown.
Another big name floating around is Kris Letang, the offensively-potent defenseman for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Given the raid on the team's defensive depth last season, Letang will shore it up immediately, but at quite the cost. It is rumored that he wants upwards of $7.5 million a season, never mind how much it would take to acquire him—likely a first rounder, a top prospect and a young roster player.
Other potential names to keep an eye on: Paul Stastny, who has been connected to Buffalo numerous times in the past two seasons, Dave Bolland and Sam Gagner.
On the free agent market, Steven Weiss will garner a lot of attention from the Sabres. Weiss injured his wrist prior to the trade deadline last season which nixed any potential trades, but he is a gritty, goal scoring center that has the ability to pot 20 goals. He won't be cheap, but he'll be worth the $4.5-5 million he'll command for the Sabres.
What Will Be Left on the Other Side?
When it all settles, it seems like the Sabres team we saw take the ice two Octobers ago may be pretty well gutted.
If Vanek, Miller and Stafford were to be moved, only nine members of that 2011-12 opening day roster will be in the same uniform come October 2013.
It seems that the writing is on the wall for Miller, but Vanek is likely to be back. Stafford is a toss-up, with the right deal being all it will take, but it seems like he'll be in a Sabres sweater to start as well.
It also seems unlikely the Sabres will be able to move up into the top four to grab one of Nathan MacKinnon, Seth Jones, Alexsander Barkov or Jonathan Drouin, but if they want Nichushkin they have the ability to grab him by swapping the eighth for the fifth pick with Carolina. Yet, despite that option, it seems more likely they'll end up with Monahan or Lindholm at the eighth spot, assuming no trades are made above them, which may not be a safe assumption.
Regardless, this should be an interesting 48 hours for Sabres fans.