Sunday the Buffalo Sabres said goodbye to arguably their most offensively prolific player since Pat LaFontaine and Alex Mogilny donned the blue and gold.
This season has largely been a nightmare for the Sabres. Vanek was almost assuredly not going to re-sign given the state of the team. The Sabres and general manager Darcy Regier did what they needed to do and got some valuable assets for him.
So where does the team go from here?
For all intents and purposes, the Sabres have two remaining players from the "old core" in Drew Stafford and Ryan Miller. Those two are in totally different positions right now, with Miller becoming a wanted commodity with a number of goaltending injuries across the league and Stafford enduring another tough season.
Looking at the situation realistically, both Miller and Stafford could be in different cities very soon, and that may be the best move for the future of the franchise.
The Sabres have put on the charade of a youth movement this season, but they have yet to fully commit to it. When Kevin Porter and Pat Kaleta play more minutes in a game than Mikhail Grigorenko and Johan Larsson, you are not committing to the youth.
Say what you will about Grigorenko's purported lack of compete level, or whatever Ron Rolston is calling it today, playing Grigorenko less than ten minutes per game on the fourth line is not good for his development or for the team's chances of winning some hockey games.
Yes, Porter has mercifully been sent down to Rochester in the past week, but that hasn't meant much for Grigorenko's playing time. He's seen his ice time decrease from over 16 minutes against the Florida Panthers, to less than ten minutes against the Dallas Stars on Monday.
Will this change with Vanek gone? It should.
Joel Armia and Corey Tropp are on their way back from injury and Tropp could play as early as this weekend. Both should be afforded that opportunity as soon as possible.
This is especially true considering who they would be replacing in the lineup. Kaleta and John Scott have held more pugilistic roles the last two seasons, and after Scott's hit on Loui Eriksson the pair may be deemed two of the least liked players in the NHL.
A team cannot afford to have its talented players, especially if they're young, in the cross hairs because of two fourth-line guys taking liberties with opposing players. Since his run at Brad Richards last year, Kaleta may be the most scrutinized player on and off the ice, and his ten-game suspension for a chicken wing to Jack Johnson's head is a good indicator of that. Scott, when he returns from what is sure to be a lengthy suspension of his own, will find himself in a similar position.
No matter what you think of the suspensions and how deserved they were, they hurt the team as a whole in the short and long-term.
In a perfect world, Tropp would see himself slotted in as a bottom-six player, likely in place of Kaleta. He's a much more talented version of Kaleta without the stigma he has attached to him. No debate needs to be had to justify an Armia for Scott swap when his hand gets right.
This has already come to pass to some degree on the defensive side, with Nikita Zadorov and Rasmus Ristolainen joining Mark Pysyk as lineup regulars, with Zadorov likely staying beyond his nine-game grace period.
So will the Sabres turn it around if they do this? No, but they're not winning games now, so why not go all-in on the youth to see what they have?
Worst-case scenario is they add a top-three pick to their roster next October.
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