As the 2009 NHL Playoffs continue on into early June, the Buffalo Sabres find themselves on the outside looking in once again for their third straight year. So how do they correct that? Play like they did during the 2005-06 campaign.
(NOW- This past year, 2008-09)
(THEN-The 2006-07 campaign)
(SOLUTION- What they need to do this off season)
The Sabres had two elite centers in Daniel Briere and Chris Drury, and not to mention Derek Roy, who was still developing as a top center. Regardless, Drury was the man to count on, and won faceoffs at big times, like his faceoff win and goal with 7.8 seconds left in the playoffs against the New York Rangers in Game 5 to keep the Sabres alive.
The team has been strong at center, but doesn't have many guys who were noticeably consistent at draws when it was much needed. Roy was consistently around the 40 to 60 percent range with faceoffs this year.
Paul Gaustad was all over the place and was very inconsistent, but had many games where he was above 70 percent, and one game where he was perfect. Still, he isn't a go to guy when your down one with a minute left in the third.
Tim Connolly, who is one of our elite center men, sadly is in the 20 percents with most of his games, but somehow keeps getting the call in the late minutes. Finally, our best face-off man comes from a man we traded for at the trade deadline back in March, Dominic Moore.
Moore was in the 45 to 60 percent range all year in draws, and was a major reason the Sabres decided to acquire him. Maybe they were remembering how important faceoffs were in tight situations, and needed a man to fill that role.
Trade or sign a guy or two who you can truly trust at times to win the draw to set up a scoring chance. The Sabres need a guy they can send on the ice and have faith in, something we don't have with any of our centers right now. Here is a guy I think the Sabres should make some serious offseason talks to.
Jamie Lundmark—The guy makes $600,000 a year, and could be an asset to the team by winning draws in clutch times (he had four games with 100 percent faceoffs, and six games above 80 percent). For that cheap, bring him in and let him take draws.
The Sabres had good young developing players such as Jason Pominville, Maxim Afinogenov, Drew Stafford, and Ales Kotalik, all who had a 25 point plus year. Afinogenov was sixth on the team in points with 61, almost triple what he's put up in the last two years (28 and 20).
The Sabres still have most of their wings from the playoffs back in 2006, and now Stafford is more of a contributor, but we might see him go this off season.
Daniel Paille is more of a player as well, as is Patrick Kaleta, who doesn't put many points up, but is our enforcer now (sorry Andrew Peters). Afinogenov has stopped producing, and Clarke MacArthur doesn't deserve a starting spot.
Alright, so I think were pretty set on the wingers, but might need to add one top line winger, and two third or fourth line wingers too. Here is a guy that the Sabres might want to look into during free agency this off season.
Mark Recchi—For a guy that is 41 years old, he put up 61 points last year. He is a veteran, and could lead this team if the Sabres management can sign him. He's also very cheap as he came off a year earning only $1.25 million.
Agh, flashback to the good days with Brian Campbell getting 48 points, Dmitri Kalinin not absolutely sucking and getting 29 points, Teppo Numminen put his heart monitor down and notched a nifty 29 points as well. In addition, Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman ACTUALLY played WELL as a pair! Agh those were the good days.
Well, we have a 40-year-old defenseman who thinks he's 25 and who we believe can still cotribute, probably the worst defensive pair in hockey with Lydman and Tallinder, who cant even watch the front of the net (I cant even count how many times last year after a goal against us that Lydman was just turning in circles in front of our net).
Jaroslav Spacek is our best defenseman by far, he had 45 points last year. Chris Butler played well last year in the action he saw, which could help in the future, but still, I don't think he is ready to be a full time player next year.
Andrej Sekera played really well for his early career, and is looking to take a top four spot next year. Craig Rivet played well, as expected, leading the team, and nailing 24 points, 22 of those being assists.
Don't be upset at his low numbers however, he isn't much of a goal scorer, but enforces on the ice, and takes control of his team, which was a major reason he was granted the captain role around the first week he met his new team.
The Sabres need a young defenseman, but also need good proven guys back there as well. This off season, the Sabres should be looking to get one young player who can still play, and two proven guys all ready. They should also let go of Nathan Paetsch, Numminen, and Tallinder. Here are some ideas:
Jay Bouwmeester—At least make a run for him and keep offering to him until you go over $5 million.
Marc-Andre Bergeron—He had back surgery in April, but if he can return fully and play like he has been, then he can be a 30 to 40 point player.
Filip Kuba—He is a proven defenseman, and had 40 points last year at defense for Ottawa. It would be nice to get a guy who can contribute as much as he did last year, as he had 37 assists.
The Sabres are set with Ryan Miller, and could bring up Jonas Enroth for next year just to get some experience in. They may also need a back up.
All in all, the Sabres need some work during the off season, and if the management of Larry Quinn and Darcy Regier don't make any major moves to satisfy the fans who've stuck around during this two year playoff drought, it could get ugly in Buffalo.