Buffalo Sabres Might Be One (Realistic) Player Away

Kevin FlynnContributor IJanuary 11, 2010

BUFFALO, NY - JANUARY 08: Tyler Myers #57 and Thomas Vanek #26 of the Buffalo Sabres celebrate Myers' second goal of the game against the Toronto Maple Leafs at HSBC Arena  on January 8, 2010 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
Rick Stewart/Getty Images

Goaltending and defense are not the problem for the Buffalo Sabres.

Most fans and hockey viewers would agree with this.

The bottom 6 forwards can be dangerous and provide a steady forecheck that have won the Sabres quite a few games.Not much of a problem here, either.

Fixing the inconsistent and occasionally invisible top two forward lines has to be the key objective for the Sabres at the upcoming trade deadline.

General Manager Darcy Regier has stockpiled some of the best borderline top six players in the NHL, with the likes of Tim Connolly, Jason Pominville, and Drew Stafford.

All of them can chip in a goal or two and provide some firepower, but the team lacks a reliable contributor night in and night out. One more player could potentially shore up the Sabres' top lines. A gritty, solid, two-way veteran would be invaluable for the playoff run, but the price will not be cheap.

Cross off names like Ilya Kovalchuk and Vincent Lecavalier from the wish list since Regier tends to shy away from high-priced superstars at the deadline.

Looking to the struggling teams in each conference is a much more reasonable option.

Some of these franchises, like the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference or Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference will be looking to get something in return for the unrestricted free agents they are unlikely to re-sign this off-season.

Centers Matt Cullen of Carolina and Saku Koivu of Anaheim are just a few that will be available.

Another player that could be a victim of the salary cap crunch in Chicago is forward Patrick Sharp. A physical but talented scorer who can easily slide into the top 2 lines, Sharp is still young at 28.

His contract is rather steep ($4 million through next season) but a package deal involving a player like Clarke MacArthur, Toni Lydman or Henrik Tallinder (should the Sabres not plan to re-sign either of them) and a pick or prospect could keep the payroll within reason.

The Sabres' depth on defense allow them to part with an overpaid Lydman or Tallinder in exchange for the skilled forward they need. It is unlikely that they will re-sign both with promising prospects in the pipeline and so much money tied into their forwards.

While it may not make sense to add another expensive forward, a solution could be moving Pominville or Jochen Hecht.

Pominville has struggled to match his production of past years, but still ranks third in scoring with 29 points in 44 games. His point totals are indeed a reflection of the balanced offense but he has noticeably struggled at times.

Hecht has been on fire as of late, but is far from a bargain at $3.5 million a season. There probably are not too many teams looking to add a 32 year old forward with limited offensive firepower, but his defensive play and leadership could be intriguing to a team looking to rebuild.

It may take a bold move to bring in the forward the team needs but the Sabres could easily sit back. This team does have a good thing going. However, relying on goaltender Ryan Miller and rookie defenseman Tyler Myers could backfire.

Fans saw how lost this team is without Miller last season when he was injured, dropping out of the playoff race.

The offense can score goals but it would not hurt having one more weapon, a player that can be counted on. Thomas Vanek, Derek Roy, and the others could heat up and make this whole point moot. Either way, replacing MacArthur or Stafford or dropping them down to the bottom six for a player like Cullen, Sharp, Ray Whitney or Alex Tanguay of the Tampa Bay Lightning could make this team even tougher to defeat.

In order to get over the hump and finally lift the Stanley Cup, Darcy Regier and Larry Quinn might have to do something out of character: take a gamble.