Buffalo Sabres: 5 Things They Need to Achieve Success Next NHL Season
If I were Darcy Regier, I would embrace the pain of not getting into the playoffs right now, a little less than a month before the trade deadline, and put on the big "For Sale" sign in front of the organization's lawn and start re-shaping it right now.
The Buffalo Sabres are a good team with a boatload of very good prospects but these prospects alone won't take the team to the Stanley Cup that this organization sorely wants.
This year, the Sabres had no excuses to have such an awful season with Terry Pegula's pockets, but the hockey gods frowned upon the acquisitions made last summer and sent the injury bug to get the Sabres.
Here are several things that the Sabres need to do in order to prepare successfully for playoff contention next season.
Trade Drew Stafford and Derek Roy
Last year, Drew Stafford missed 20 games and scored 57 points. With this production, Stafford had a lot to do with the push to the playoffs the Sabres made after the All-Star Game. Last season was a career year for Stafford and it was expected of him to carry this momentum into this season and continue to be a huge part of the Sabres organization.
Derek Roy was the second-half MVP for the Sabres last year. Having missed 47 games due to injury, Roy returned and scored a point in every game he played. Roy's inspired play along with Stafford's production got the Sabres into the playoffs.
This year, it all went south for both players. Despite being the third- and fourth-best producers on the Sabres lineup, their meagre production of 23 and 25 points respectively is a big part of the reason that this ship is sinking.
If I am Darcy Regier analyzing this situation, why not start the demolition process with these guys?
Stafford is never going to be a regular 30-goal scorer but he is young and there are some teams that would kill to have this production.
Roy, at the top of his game, is one of the premier small centers in the game. Up until last season, Roy had played more than 70 games and scored more than 63 points for five seasons.
Almost 29 years old, Roy might be a valuable trade chip. With a cap hit of $4 million, the Sabres might be able to move him for another valuable player with a better pool of suitors for this player.
Fire Lindy Ruff
The Buffalo Sabres organization and the city of Buffalo are extremely grateful for the services of Lindy Ruff over the course of 14 seasons. Lindy has worked under very hard circumstances with almost no resources, and still made this team a playoff team for the majority of his coaching career.
This season, however, Ruff has no excuses for the performance of the team. Despite all the injuries suffered by the players, Ruff hasn't been able to shape this team into a contender despite having a Vezina Trophy winner at goal in Ryan Miller, a Calder Trophy winner manning the defense in Tyler Myers and several All-Stars in the first lines.
This team needs a new direction and Ruff's time in Buffalo seems to have elapsed.
There are some good coaching options not only in the AHL, but men like Randy Carlyle and Jaques Martin are on the market and might be better options—especially Martin—than Ruff behind the bench.
In the Sabres' prospect pool, only Daniel Catenacci is under than 6'0" in the top 10. The Sabres' prospect pool has certainly gotten taller, but the players they have been producing are not as tough as necessary for competition in the NHL.
Players like Zack Kassian and Marcus Foligno can turn into physical presences in the offense to balance the very small bodies of the gritty Nathan Gerbe and Tyler Ennis, but because the game has become increasingly more physical over the last three years, these guys can't carry the load alone.
The only untouchables in the group are Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville, and with Paul Gaustad being most likely gone this summer, the only guy in the lineup that can be categorized as a bruiser among the forwards is Cody McCormick.
Despite the Sabres having excellent skilled prospects like Joel Armia, they need toughness. Since they don't have the cap space, the draft is a good opportunity to acquire the necessary physicality and skill, almost in the likes of Devante Smith-Pelly, for a Stanley Cup run in three to five years.
This year, as the Sabres might have the chance of having a lottery pick, they might be in position to draft a guy like the aforementioned Smith-Pelly.
Give Jhonas Enroth More Playing Time
Jhonas Enroth, in my opinion, is one of the best backups and one of the most promising young goalies in the NHL. Last year, Enroth was an integral part of the playoff push, turning in some very good games down the stretch and allowing Miller to be little bit more fresh for the playoffs.
This year, Miller had a concussion but didn't miss as many games as other concussed players in the past. Since this is the case, Enroth hasn't been able to get chemistry with the defense and Miller has been frustrated because of his poor appearances.
For the Sabres even to think about being part of the playoffs next season, they need to develop Enroth in order to make him a premier serviceable backup like Tuukka Rask and Cory Schneider.
Giving Enroth more playing time will enhance his skills and his chemistry with the defense, and in turn, will give Miller more time to rest and recover from the wear and tear of the NHL season.
The Sabres, for the past while, have employed the same strategy as the New York Rangers—riding their starter until he gives out. However, it makes no sense.
Enroth is a much better backup than Martin Biron and Miller is not playing at the same level as Henrik Lunqvist.
Get Cost-Efficient Players
The most successful franchise of the last decade is the Detroit Red Wings. Taking a look at their players, there's a discrepancy between them and other teams.
In Detroit, they have the most cost-efficient players in the league. All the players that are listed as centers make, collectively, almost $18 million. Their highest-paid player is Pavel Datsyuk at a cap hit of $6.7 million.
In Buffalo, the players listed as centers make a little bit more than $18 million. The highest-paid centers in our roster are Derek Roy and Brad Boyes, both making $4 million.
I did not break down the rest of the roster because the Red Wings make the Sabres' expenditure look silly. Jimmy Howard makes a lot less than Ryan Miller, Henrik Zetterberg makes less money than Thomas Vanek and Johan Franzen makes less than Jason Pominville. Except for Datsyuk, Lidstrom, Zetterberg and Kronwall, all the other players are paid less than Ville Leino.
The Sabres need to look at themselves and ponder if these players are worth the money that they get. I know that Leino, Vanek and Pominville are immovable on the offense as well as Myers and Ehrhoff in defense, but there are a lot more pieces that Regier can move for more cost-efficient players.
You might be inclined to say, "You need to give them a chance to play when they're healthy." This argument doesn't fly. The Pittsburgh Penguins have been without Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal for significant time and still are in fifth in the Eastern Conference.
Terry Pegula needs to look at his organization and see that his experiment unfortunately has failed and they need to move on from this chapter in order to be successful soon. This season might have been a fluke, but as things stand, they don't look very promising at all.
The organization needs to go through a complete restructuring in order for the Sabres to be the winning franchise that Pegula desires them to be.