As I eluded to in my previous article, I think the Sabres have something going for them. They have an elite goaltender. A franchise defenseman, and a great young nucleus. With that being said, as demonstrated this spring, the team lacks leadership, and veterans that have "been there, done that" With free agents like Adam Mair, Mike Grier, Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman more than likely gone, the Sabres would be smart to bring in players that are older and can contribute instantaneously.
Here are five players that i think Buffalo should look at..
1) Brad Richards - Center- Dallas: It was obvious that Buffalo lacked a true no. 1 center. Tim Connolly (for the most part) was healthy all year, and was close to being a point per game player. With that being said, there were stretches where Connolly was really hot, and then there were times where times where he was downright heinous. Same thing goes for Derek Roy. Since Roy's 81 point total two seasons ago, his play has steadily decreased. With that being said, it has only been two seasons, which obviously shows he can still contribute highly in this league, just not in Buffalo. Moving Roy or Connolly (Roy probably is a better asset, as he is signed through the 2012/2013 season with a 4.5 cap hit) to obtain Richards would make Buffalo much more staunch down the middle. 91 points on a bad Dallas team this past season seems to show Richards is back. He is also a force on the powerplay, and everybody knows how atrocious the powerplay was this past season. Buffalo really should make a play to get Richards. It makes too much sense. Buffalo will certainly have more than enough in the cap to fit Richards. It's also a well known fact Dallas is looking to move him this summer, and Buffalo really needs to make a play on him. Draft picks get in done in today's NHL, and the Sabres shouldn't be afraid to part ways with a draft pick. Too many times we have heard Larry Quinn and Darcy tell us : We can't lose draft picks, they make our team better. Well, has this team ever won a cup doing that? No. Besides Myers/Ennis, and I'll give Kassian the benefit of the doubt, what stellar 1st round picks have Buffalo drafted? Fortunately, I have them written for you: Artem Kryukov, Jiri Novotny, Keith Ballard, (who Buffalo used to get Danny Briere), Dan Paille, Vanek in '03, Drew Stafford, Zagrapen, Dennis Persson, - Notice a pattern? Not exactly a stellar list. Why not use one to take a chance on a guy that can get you 90+ points, and would seemingly gel well with teammates. Imagine him and Thomas Vanek together.
2) Dan Hamhuis - Defenseman - Nashville: The Predators defenseman was rumored to be available at this past trade deadline, but Nashville elected to go in another direction. With that being said, Hamhuis is a steady two-way defenseman that can play the powerplay (a Sabre powerplay mind you, that was 0- for everything in the playoffs) He can kill penalties, and has been healthy his entire 6 year career. He is a bigger body frame at 6'1- 205 lbs, and moves the puck well, tape to tape passer that has incredibly high hockey smarts. Rarely will Hamhuis take bad minor penalty calls that result hurting his team. He'll probably be one of the more sought after defensemen this summer, and likely will command in the 4+ million range, but with Lydman/Tallinder leaving, and Rivet entering the final year of his contract, the team is losing veterans which would leave youngsters: Tyler Myers, Chris Butler, Andrej Sekera, Marc-Andre Gragnani - Mike Weber - Tj Brennan. That is a very young and inexperienced core that could should add some age back there.
3) Getting Rid of Paul Gaustad: Before I start, I personally like the "Goose" It's hard not to, but with the contract he is in, and the numbers he produces (not just goals and assists) it does not add up. Not enough production. His 4 year 10 million dollar deal is an exorbitant contract for a guy that plays the 4th line. Too many times throughout the season he goes through stretches where he is invisible, not to mention, he too has become an injury problem. And note this: For all the heat Jason Pominville, Tim Connolly, and Derek Roy received these playoffs (which they deserved) Paul Gaustad has played in 35 career playoff games - he has scored 0 goals - And before you tell me he is not suppose to score, are you going to pay a guy 10 million dollars to hit and win faceoffs? (which he did not do this spring by the way) Quick! Name a big playoff moment involving Gaustad. Cant think of one? Me either. I think Darcy can easily find a replacement for him.
4) Eric Belanger - Center - Minnesota/Washington: This a guy that fits anywhere on your team. He works hard, can win faceoffs, can play the powerplay, or the penalty kill. He finishes his checks, he makes players around him work harder, he isn't afraid to speak up when things are going bad, not to mention he can get you 15 goals and 40 points. He is only 5'11 and 190 lbs, but he plays with a big heart, and has a high motor. While with Washington these playoffs, he led the league in faceoff percentage, and seldom does he take a bad penalty. He can be had for cheap, likely in the 1.5 to 2, has great leadership that he can add to this team that is in dire need of it. I really think he would endeavor the most out of all the players on the list in Buffalo.
5) Mark Recchi - Right Wing -Bruins: Yeah, he's 41. He also has something nobody on this roster has. 2 Stanley Cup rings. He showed up (once again) these playoffs, never takes a shift off, and proves time and time again, a player like him is extremely valuable to your team. We saw it in Carolina, and now we are seeing it, again, in Boston. Add to the fact this past seasons - with the Boston Bruins - the lowest scoring team in the NHL, The "Recchin' Ball" had 18 goals and 43 points. That was more than Jochen Hecht, Raffi Torres, Drew Stafford, Mike Grier, Tim Kennedy, and Paul Gaustad. He would indubitably become a leader in this locker room. He would unquestionably propel Buffalo adding things that can't be coached: Hard Work, Determination, Smarts, and Knowledge.