NHL Trade Speculation: 5 Realistic Center Options for the Buffalo Sabres

Mike ChiariFeatured ColumnistJuly 5, 2011

NHL Trade Speculation: 5 Realistic Center Options for the Buffalo Sabres

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    It wasn’t too long ago that Steve Montador or Rob Niedermayer were considered significant free agent signings for the Buffalo Sabres. After a whirlwind week that saw the Sabres ink defenseman Christian Ehrhoff and forward Ville Leino to long-term deals, as well as trade for defenseman Robyn Regehr, it appears as though Buffalo can match any team in the NHL financially.

    The Sabres’ new owner Terry Pegula proved that he was more than just talk when he opened up his checkbook and provided Buffalo with one of the league’s highest payrolls. While most Sabres’ fans were thrilled with the change in philosophy, some still believe that greater measures need to be taken to make the Sabres true Stanley Cup contenders.

    The signing of Leino and subsequent suggestion by head coach Lindy Ruff and general manager Darcy Regier that Leino would play center was met with mixed reactions. Although Leino should add some diversity to Buffalo’s offensive attack, many think the addition of a true No. 1 center is still a necessity.

    While Regier intimated that he was happy with the team as is, he also said that he would continue to explore trade options. Prior to free agency, Regier said that a trade window would likely open a few weeks into the free agency period. With that in mind, Buffalo may still be in the market for another center.

    With plenty of depth on the wing, players like Brad Boyes, Jochen Hecht and even Jason Pominville could be moved in a trade for a center or a separate deal to clear cap space for an incoming center. The Sabres also possess considerable prospect depth, particularly on defense. When you add in 2012 draft picks, it is clear that Buffalo has the assets to acquire a legitimate top-line center.

    Here are five realistic center options the Sabres can acquire this offseason.

Marc Savard, Boston Bruins

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    This may seem like a crazy suggestion, but taking a chance on oft-injured Boston Bruins center Marc Savard could be just the thing to put the Sabres over the top. Obviously Savard has had major concussion issues over the past two seasons, limiting him to just 66 games in total, but when healthy Savard is among the NHL’s premier playmakers.

    Clearly the Sabres shouldn’t take a chance on Savard without some clarity regarding his progress in coming back from his concussion, but if it begins to look as if he can return next season, it could be a shrewd maneuver for Buffalo. Outside of injuries, the main thing that would prevent the Sabres from making a run at Savard is his $4 million cap hit for the next six seasons.

    If healthy, $4 million would be an absolute bargain for Savard, but that obviously isn’t the case at this point. One thing that might be attractive to Buffalo is the fact that it wouldn’t have to give up much more than a bag of used pucks to acquire him in all likelihood. With Savard’s uncertainty, Boston would probably take anything to clear his salary off the books.

    Should the Sabres trade for Savard only for him to make no progress in coming back from his concussion, there is a silver lining. Buffalo could place Savard on long-term injured reserve, and thus his salary would not count against the cap. When you consider that, the reward of a healthy Savard could very well outweigh the risk of a perpetually injured one.

Jason Spezza, Ottawa Senators

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    Since last season’s trade deadline, Jason Spezza of the Ottawa Senators has been rumored to be coveted by the Buffalo Sabres. In fact, a rumor suggested that the Sabres offered forward prospects Luke Adam and Marcus Foligno as well as a 2011 first-round pick for Spezza at last season’s deadline. When the Senators insisted that forward Tyler Ennis be added to the deal, however, the Sabres balked.

    If true, the Sabres probably made the right decision as Ennis is certainly capable of becoming a point-per-game player. Also, he currently has a cap of hit of just $875,000 as opposed to Spezza’s $7 million. Although it seems like Ottawa has been actively shopping Spezza, it certainly isn’t a foregone conclusion that he’ll ultimately be moved.

    At just 28 years of age, Spezza has plenty of good years left in the NHL provided he can stay healthy. Considering the Senators purged most of their veterans at last season’s trade deadline, there is little outside of Spezza to keep the fans interested. On top of that, Spezza may not be the best option for Buffalo.

    Not only does he lack the physicality you like to see from a top-flight center, but has also played in just 60 and 62 games respectively over the past two seasons. With his current salary, he certainly wouldn’t be without risk. If the Sabres truly identify him as a fit, though, they have the means to get him.

Jason Arnott, Washington Capitals (UFA)

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    As the lone center on this list who is actually a free agent, Jason Arnott wouldn’t cost the Sabres any assets and likely wouldn’t cost them much money to acquire. While it’s obvious that Arnott is no longer a top-six forward, he would give the Sabres the potential to have a strong two-way third line provided they can’t come to terms on a trade for a No. 1 center.

    Arnott was quite stagnant for much of last season as a New Jersey Devil, but seemed to find new life after departing for Washington at the trade deadline. Arnott racked up seven points in 11 games and was a big reason for the Capitals’ late-season surge that helped them secure the Eastern Conference’s top seed.

    Because of his struggles in New Jersey, Arnott’s numbers didn’t look quite as good as they were in years past. He finished the season at a minus-six cumulatively, but it was his first season as a minus player since the 1997-98 campaign. With his size (6'5" and 220 lbs.) and physicality, Arnott would add some sandpaper and playoff experience to a team that is looking to reach the NHL’s upper echelon.

    Arnott would also provide the Sabres with a nice secondary scoring punch as he has scored at least 17 goals in each of the past 12 seasons. With that in mind, Arnott wouldn’t be an insignificant signing like Rob Niedermayer was last season. He could be a legitimate contributor for a team on the rise and would be a nice consolation prize if Buffalo can’t land a bigger fish.

Paul Stastny, Colorado Avalanche

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    Along with Spezza, Colorado Avalanche center Paul Stastny has been rumored to be on the Sabres’ radar this offseason. At just 25 years of age, it may be difficult to fathom why Colorado would be willing to trade him. When you delve deeper into Colorado’s situation, however, there is reason to believe he could be had for the right package of players, prospects and picks.

    The Avalanche certainly aren’t against the cap at this point, but with possibly 10 restricted free agents yet to be signed, they won’t be as comfortable financially as by the end of the offseason as they seem to be now. The biggest issue is the pending restricted free agency of center Matt Duchene and defenseman Erik Johnson, as well as the unrestricted free agency of forward David Jones next season.

    Every indication is that Duchene will receive Stastny-type money next season, that being a $6.6 million cap hit. It certainly isn’t unheard of for a team to pay its top two centers that much, but Colorado has seemed to be in the business of clearing salary rather than adding it over the past year. If the Sabres offer some prospects from their impressive stable as well as a couple draft picks, Stastny could possibly be had.

    It’s also a possibility that Stastny could be had for less than anticipated. The Avs have made some head-scratching trades recently, most notably trading a first and second-round pick to the Washington Capitals for goalie Semyon Varlamov last week. Varlamov has potential, but the first-rounder could very well be a top-five pick.

    Also, many pundits criticized Colorado’s deadline deal last season that sent defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and forward Chris Stewart to the St. Louis Blues for defenseman Erik Johnson and forward Jay McClement. The Avs may not make the same mistake three times, but Sabres general manager Darcy Regier is certainly capable of fleecing the opposition as evidenced by his trade for Robyn Regehr.

Jarrett Stoll, Los Angeles Kings

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    As fantastic as it would be to acquire a big-name, elite center, it is quite possible that that type of player simply isn’t available at a reasonable price for the Sabres. An interesting and very logical alternative could be Jarrett Stoll of the Los Angeles Kings. Stoll would form a very promising trio of centers along with Derek Roy and Ville Leino.

    Although none of Roy, Leino or Stoll may be considered a true No. 1 center it could argued that they are all capable of being effective No. 2 centers. This would follow the model of the Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins in many ways as they featured David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron and Rich Peverley. The Bruins also leaned heavily on a stout defense and elite goaltending, each of which the Sabres should possess next season.

    Stoll has been a bit disappointing in his three years in LA, never registering more than 47 points in a single season. A change of scenery could be just what the doctor ordered, though. In Edmonton, Stoll had a couple seasons that suggest he could be a very capable No. 2 center, particularly the 2005-06 season in which he picked up 68 points, including 22 goals.

    In Buffalo, Stoll would have little pressure to shoulder the offensive load on the third line. With Nathan Gerbe and either Jochen Hecht or Brad Boyes as potential linemates, Stoll could easily put up between 50 and 60 points going up against the opposition’s lesser lines. There would also be very little risk involved with acquiring Stoll.

    The Kings are going to have pay restricted free agent defenseman Drew Doughty quite handsomely, and with Anze Kopitar and Mike Richards already in the fold at center, Stoll becomes expendable. Stoll’s cap hit of $3.4 million is quite reasonable and since he becomes a UFA after next season, the Sabres could easily walk away from him if things don’t work out and explore other options next offseason.