There is no doubt that the Buffalo Sabres need a spark to save their season. There have been complaints of lack of leadership and inconsistency. Craig Rivet was recently a healthy scratch in back-to-back games, and it seems that the team just fails to show up some nights.
The longest tenured GM-coach relationship in North American sports, Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff, is on the hot seat, and something needs to be done in order to save their jobs.
First off, you will never find a more ardent supporter of the two men at the helm of the Buffalo Sabres. To do what they do with such a limited budget and in a small market is genius. Changing that will not help the Sabres.
What needs to change is the faces in the locker room. Tim Connolly is a great hockey player. Drew Stafford is a great hockey player. But they do not fit in this kind of system, and we need a change.
It hurts me to say this about Connolly, because I believe one of the worst days in Sabres history is when Peter Schaefer (then of Ottawa) knocked Connolly out in Game 2 of the 2006 playoff series between the two teams. Connolly was coming into his own and was our best player then and there.
Had he been there the rest of the playoffs, things could have turned out much differently. The point is, that concussion knocked his career off track. He can still play, but he is not the player that Darcy keeps telling himself he is.
Stafford, although off to an OK start, is prime trade bait. He’s sticking around because Darcy likes to see his homegrown prospects develop into everyday NHLers. The only problem is, Stafford needs a change of scenery. He has always been underachieving here, and it’s not a lack of effort. A fresh start could jump-start this kid’s game.
If I was GM for a day, I would try something that may be very rash, but it may be just what the Sabres need. I would offer Connolly (4.5 mil, last year then a UFA), Stafford (2.3 mil, last year then a RFA) and perhaps young D-man Chris Butler (.850, last year then a RFA) to the St. Louis Blues.
Why do the Blues need this package?
The Blues cannot ride the stellar play of playoff hero Jaroslav Halak much longer. Their power play is in a horrid slump, and they are 21st in the league in scoring, only averaging 2.5 goals per game. Connolly and Stafford may be able to spark an offense that lacks any names that jump out as big-time threats (besides maybe Brad Boyes).
The Blues have a bright, young defensive corps in Erik Johnson and Alex Pietrangelo. Butler would make this defense young and exciting, and he is a restricted free agent at the end of this year, which is very appealing to a GM who would want to retain rights. He’s dirt cheap, too, right now, at under a million on the cap. The Blues could use this to build a solid defensive base for the future. And for what it’s worth, Butler is from St. Louis.
Now what should the Sabres get in return? Again, if I were GM for the day, I would be hunting for some type of toughness that can score and lead, someone to set an example. I believe that is what David Backes is.
He was selected for the U.S. Olympic team last year, and in order to set the fire between Canada and the U.S. rivalry, he fought (in the weeks leading up to the Olympics) Canadian Olympic players Corey Perry, Jonathan Toews and Rick Nash. He does what he needs to in order to win.
He’s at $2.5 million, and this is his last year on contract with the Blues, set to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year. If the Blues don’t think they can sign him, why not trade him? This would bring some much needed passion to the Sabres' locker room.
The Sabres defense has been lacking of late. When you lose Toni Lydman and Henrik Tallinder (Tyler Myers’ mentor) you have to expect a decline. Steve Montador has been strong, though. Shaone Morrisonn was a so-so signing, and Jordan Leopold has been playing great. Tyler Myers is not playing well, Rivet is old and slow and has been slacking on his leadership duties, and Andrej Sekera is average.
The Sabres should take a run at D Barret Jackman (two years left, then UFA, $3.65 mil).
The former Rookie of the Year was recently placed on IR with a knee injury, which would hinder the idea of trading for him right now, but that may be a blessing for the Sabres, in the fact that they would be permitted to wait a bit and see if things work themselves out (Darcy’s favorite thing to do).
A healthy Jackman, Leopold, Montador, Myers, Morrisson and Sekera/Rivet is a good enough lineup for me. Ryan Miller would appreciate it as well, seeing as he hasn’t been playing well as of late either, and a stronger defensive corps in front would help.
This trade could help both teams, and seeing that Darcy really has nothing to lose, this may be an option. Money wise, the Sabres gain a bit of cap space, and the Blues would lose about $2.5 million in space, which they can very much afford with a current space of $12 million.
I think you would also have to throw a draft pick in there coming from the Blues, maybe a third-rounder. It may be crazy, but that is why I am not a GM.
Connolly, Stafford, Butler for Backes, Jackman and a draft pick.
Let me know what you think.
Brian Speers contributed to this article.