The words “free agency” send chills down the spine of any Buffalo Sabres’ fan within hearing distance, but the Sabres are beginning to learn how the off-season works.
In the first 12 hours of free agency last year, the Sabres lost both Daniel Briere and Chris Drury to the highest bidder, and also lost a combined 164 points.
This year was much different for the free agency-torn Sabres. The day before the free-agent market opened, the Sabres resigned Paul Gaustad to a four-year deal. At a total of $9.2 million, the tough center is well-worth the money and a good leader to have in the clubhouse.
Buffalo made very little noise on the first day of free agency, but did much better than the previous year’s disaster. The Sabres inked goalie Patrick Lalime to a two-year deal, $4 million contract. Lalime has solid career numbers and will be expected to play more games as a backup than Jocelyn Thibault did last season for the Sabres.
Buffalo has only parted ways with two players thus far – the first was defenseman Dmitri Kalinin, who was signed by the New York Rangers in an attempt to strengthen their defense. Kalinin had spent his entire career with Buffalo, but was coming off of his worst season, producing only eight points and finishing with a -7 +/- rating.
The second player to leave Buffalo was winger Steve Bernier, who was acquired by the Vancouver Canucks for two draft picks. Bernier had just nine points in 17 games with Buffalo.
Later on that day the Sabres acquired 33-year-old defenseman Craig Rivet and a seventh round pick from the San Jose Sharks for two second round picks. Rivet had 35 points for the Sharks this past season and GM Darcy Reiger confirmed that Rivet will play an important role on the ice.
Even though the free agent market wasn’t overpowering this year, the Sabres made out very well. They have strengthened their defense and they have a reliable backup goalie which should earn them a couple of more wins than last season.
The starting six this year for Buffalo on defense will most likely be Rivet, Jaroslav Spacek, Henrik Tallinder, Toni Lydman, Nathan Paetsch, and Andrej Sekera. Sekera showed a tremendous amount of potential toward the end of the season last year and will probably make a run at one of the top spots if given the ice-time.
It must be remembered that Buffalo wasn’t going into the signing period with the idea of signing any big names. They are keeping space free to re-sign winger Jason Pominville and goalie Ryan Miller.
Overall, Buffalo looks a lot better going into the upcoming season than they did last year. But the Sabres better re-sign their two priorities or it will create quite a bit of tension in the locker room, which is the last thing they need.