5 Storylines of the Buffalo Sabres Offseason
The Buffalo Sabres had one of the worst seasons in NHL history this season. In the midst of the firing of their head coach and general manager, a general manager search and the hiring and resignation of a president of hockey operations, the Sabres were busy struggling on the ice.
While a season like that is sure to enliven the offseason rumor mill, here are the Sabres' top storylines for their offseason.
1. Which Sam Is the Better Sam?
When the Sabres head to the podium in June to make the second selection in the 2014 NHL entry draft, all signs point to them picking a guy named Sam.
Sure, there are other possibilities, namely Aaron Ekblad, Leon Draisaitl and Michael Dal Colle, but assuming the Florida Panthers choose Ekblad first overall, it seems likely the Sabres will go with either Sam Reinhart or Sam Bennett.
Reinhart is a more offensively minded center who is considered "cerebral." Assuming status quo with the roster, the Sabres arguably do not have a player with Reinhart's offensive upside in their system, with Mikhail Grigorenko potentially being his only peer.
Reinhart would bring a sorely needed offensive punch to the Sabres' top-six forwards.
When scouts talk about Bennett, it's almost impossible to go without hearing the phrase "200-foot player." He can score and defend, garnering him comparisons to Jonathan Toews and Anze Kopitar, and would likely play in all situations for the Sabres.
General manager Tim Murray expressed his interest in both Reinhart and Bennett in an interview with WGR 550 Sports Radio, so which one, if either, he settles on will be a guessing game until the last minute.
2. How Active in Free Agency Is Tim Murray?
A rebuilding team always needs to approach free agency lightly, and the Sabres find themselves in a precarious position entering this year's spending spree.
The problem for the Sabres is simply this: They need to spend upward of $20 million this offseason to reach the cap floor, but the addition of expensive free agents could derail a team's rebuild.
Sure the Sabres have their own free agents, both restricted and unrestricted, to sign, but the reality there is they will not be all too expensive to re-sign. The Sabres will likely need to dip into the free agency pool to meet the $52 million salary-cap floor.
The popular candidate is current Tampa Bay Lightning winger and former New York Ranger captain Ryan Callahan, a Rochester, N.Y. native.
The Sabres are in a better position than most to throw a ton of money at the perennial Selke Trophy candidate, but meeting his alleged $6 million per year asking price could hurt the team in the long run.
Other potential big names on the UFA market include two former Sabres in Thomas Vanek and Matt Moulson, as well as Paul Stastny, Matt Niskanen, Ales Hemsky and Mike Cammalleri.
One can expect the Sabres to be active in free agency, but common sense tends to say that they'll stick more to depth and role players instead of looking to make a big splash.
3. Who Will Stay and Who Will Go?
The Sabres were massive sellers at this year's trade deadline, and the general thought is they may not be quite done.
First off, let's be abundantly clear: Ville Leino is done as a Sabre.
The only reason to bring him back is to ensure they reach the cap floor, as discussed in the last slide, but that should not, and will not, be seen as a possibility.
So with Leino gone, other Sabres have had the trade winds swirling around them. Christian Ehrhoff, Drew Stafford, Chris Stewart and Tyler Myers all were names floating around at the trade deadline before Tim Murray essentially said that all players under contract for next season wouldn't be moved until the offseason, if at all.
Now, well after the deadline, those rumors continue to persist, especially those including Ehrhoff and Stafford, per thefourthperiod.com. The return for Ehrhoff would need to be extremely high, and Stafford is in a contract year, so it remains to be seen exactly what the future holds for them.
Also something to consider, the Sabres have a pretty decent group of restricted and unrestricted free agents.
Tyler Ennis leads the way for the RFAs, with Marcus Foligno, Cory Conacher, Chad Ruhwedel, Matt Hackett, Nic Deslauriers and Luke Adam joining him. One would expect most, if not all, to return.
John Scott, Zenon Konopka, Matt D'Agostini and Henrik Tallinder represent the team's UFAs. All would be candidates for veteran depth positions on the cheap, but it's a toss up as to whether or not they'll be back.
4. Will the Youth Movement Be Delayed Another Year?
The Sabres are widely seen to have one of the best, if not the best, prospect pool in the NHL, and many of their players have been moving toward being able to play NHL minutes the past few months.
Tim Murray has been pretty forthcoming in recent weeks, revealing that he expects his choice at No. 2 in June to be returned to juniors next season. This should not be much of a surprise, especially seeing the Sabres are not expected to be much, if any, better next season.
But this plan may be telling as to what the plan is for the other young prospects in the system for next year as well.
The Rochester Americans made a good run toward the end of the season to make the Calder Cup Playoffs, but were bounced in the deciding fifth game earlier this week against the Chicago Wolves, the affiliate of St. Louis Blues.
A roster full of prospects with AHL experience will bode well for the Amerks next season, with players like Joel Armia, Dan Catenacci, Rasmus Ristolainen, Chad Ruhwedel and Mikhail Grigorenko showing promise in their rookie campaign.
If the goal is to play these kids the most and give them a taste of winning, the Amerks will be loaded, with Mark Pysyk, Nic Deslauriers and Rasmus Ristolainen really being the only players unequivocally ready for the NHL.
Regardless, it seems Murray is ready and willing to let his prospects mature another year instead of forcing them into the NHL lineup.
5. Who Will Ted Nolan Bring in as His Assistants?
With Ted Nolan signed on for a possible three more years, the next question for the Sabres is: Who will be on the bench with him in October. Assistants Joe Sacco, Teppo Numminen, Jerry Forton and goalie coach Jim Corsi either have been fired or offered different positions in the organization.
Nolan officially got his support from the Sabres front office in the form of a three-year extension, but there are doubts as to his ability to develop a young team. His new assistants will be leaned upon heavily in this regard.
The list of potential assistants for Nolan is going to be long and will include former players and coaches. The biggest necessity for any assistant is going to be systems knowledge, including the power play and/or penalty kill.
Former Sabres and former coaches will likely be the targets for the Sabres. There are some recently fired head coaches, namely Adam Oates and Kirk Muller, that are unlikely to find another head coaching position that could become candidates.
This type of guessing game is fruitless, as everyone has a different list of potential candidates, but what those candidates need to bring to the table is clear: the ability to develop the Sabres' youth. Who that will be will be determined in the next few weeks.
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