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What Kind Of Free Agency Options Are The Sabres Looking At? Part Two – Replacing Defensemen

06/29/10
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This is part two of my three-part series on the impending start of free agency which started yesterday with a look at back-up goaltending possibilities. Today’s installment will focus on finding replacements for the imminently-departing Henrik Tallinder and Tonza Lydman while trying to solve the team’s dearth at PP QB.
*This write-up contains data procured from Cap Geek and Hockey DB.

Before I go any further, let it be known that I suffer no delusions about Darcy scoring a talented RFA with an offer sheet. It’s not in his nature and he’s been burned by them in the past (coughKEVINLOWEcough). With that being said, let’s have a little fun with this.

The Sabres will have five defensemen under contract going in to the 2010/2011 season: Tyler Myers, Craig Rivet, Chris Butler, Steve Montador, and Andrej Sekera. Toni Lydman and Henrik Tallinder are both UFA while Mike Weber and Marc-Andre Gragnani are both RFA. I fully expect both Weber and Gragnani will re-sign with the Sabres, but depending on how free agency goes, neither may even make the big club. Something inside me says it’s Weber’s time but we shall see. For the sake of simplicity, let’s move forward with this post assuming that the five under contract remain in place. Rivet, of course, will miss some time due to recovery from his shoulder surgery, leaving two open spots on the roster for opening day with Weber or Gragnani filling the 7th defenseman spot. Let’s have a look at two RFAs (again, highly unlikely but you never know) and five UFAs.

RFAs
Marc Staal
Born Jan 13 1987 — Thunder Bay, ONT
Height 6.04 — Weight 209 — Shoots L
2009/2010 Average TOI: 23:07 per game 2009/2010 Salary: $765K
Pros: Big, mobile, smooth skater, minutes-eater, LHD, young, defensive defenseman would compliment Myers’ playing style.
Cons: Would need either an offer sheet or a huge trade package for his rights, likely to command $4M-$5M during free agency if Sather fails to sign him.

Niklas Hjalmarsson
Born Jun 6 1987 — Eksjo, Sweden
Height 6.03 — Weight 205 — Shoots L
2009/2010 Average TOI: 19:39 per game 2009/2010 Salary: $666K (ahemAWESOME)
Pros: Big, zippy, would play big minutes on any team not stocked with Keith and Seabrook, young, would compliment Myers’ playing style.
Cons: Chicago considers him possibly untouchable, would need offer sheet or huge trade package for his rights, likely to command $3M-$4.5M in free agency if Bowman fails to sign him.

UFAs
Paul Martin
Born Mar 5 1981 — Minneapolis, MN
Height 6.01 — Weight 190 — Shoots L
2009/2010 Average TOI: 22:30 per game 2009/2010 Salary: $4.5M
Pros: Fairly young, plays a responsible game despite offensive prowess, would compliment the PP, has never played less than 70 games a season in the NHL (besides last season when he broke his arm).
Cons: Rumored to be expecting $5.5M.

Michalek Zbynek
Born Dec 23 1982 — Jindrichuv Hradec, Czech Rep.
Height 6.02 — Weight 210 — Shoots R
2009/2010 Average TOI: 22:38 per game 2009/2010 Salary: $1.5M
Pros: A defensive defenseman’s defensive defenseman, shot blocking machine, responsible with the puck.
Cons: Looking at a significant raise (rumored to be to the tune of $4M/4Y), Sabres have enough RHD on the club already.

Marc-Andre Bergeron
Born Oct 13 1980 — Trois-Rivieres, PQ
Height 5.10 — Weight 197 — Shoots L
2009/2010 Average TOI: 15:03 per game 2009/2010 Salary: $750K
Pros: One of the league’s foremost PP QBs, would come relatively cheap ($1.8M-2.5M?), hard shot would benefit Vanek and Goose at all times.
Cons: Defensively irresponsible.

Anton Volchenkov
Born Feb 25 1982 — Moscow, Russia
Height 6.01 — Weight 227 — Shoots L
2009/2010 Average TOI: 20:41 per game 2009/2010 Salary: $3.2M
Pros: Defensive defenseman, league leader in blocked shots, has reputation working for him.
Cons: Likes to throw elbows, looking for a raise that puts his salary north of $4M reportedly, basically the same player as Lydman.

Sergei Gonchar
Born Apr 13 1974 — Chelyabinsk, Russia
Height 6.02 — Weight 212 — Shoots L
2009/2010 Average TOI: 24:23 per game 2009/2010 Salary: $5.5M
Pros: A top-three PP QB in this league, hard shot, strong puck-rushing defenseman.
Cons: Aging, reportedly wants a 3-year deal at $5M, developed a negative reputation after poor showing in game seven against MTL in 2009/2010 Stanley Cup playoffs.

This could go a lot of ways. One option is for Darcy to offer sheet Marc Staal and sign MA Bergeron to play PP QB on the opposite unit as Tyler Myers. Another is to go with Sergei Gonchar as PP QB, which gives Mike Weber his chance in the NHL due to Gonchar’s high price-point. A third is giving Anton Volchenkov or Zbynek Michalek a big deal and then promoting MA Gragnani to play PP QB. Yet another way to go, a fourth even, is to go with Paul Martin and keep Toni Lydman for a bit of a discount. A fifth option (we’re getting close to the end) is to offer sheet Nik Hjalmarsson and try to retain Hank Tallinder for a discount. A sixth (and the cheapest) option would be to plug both Weber and Gragnani into the starting line-up. Lastly, the Sabres could just stand pat with both previous defenseman and return the exact same defense corps.

What I can see being the three most-likely avenues the Sabres would take are the Volchenkov/Michalek and Gragnani option, the Gonchar and Weber direction, and then the Weber and Gragnani situation. On the flip side, what I would hope for most is the Staal and Bergeron option. That one makes the most sense to me even if it’s the least realistic – a Staal-Myers pairing would take care of the first pair for a decade and Bergeron could be signed for only a couple of years until Nick Crawford is ready to take over as PP QB. But I would almost put money on the Gonchar and Weber idea – Weber has been groomed to be a meaner Jay McKee-type and Gonchar would give the Sabres a pre-eminent PP QB for three years. But given Darcy’s proclivities, who knows what’s going to happen on Thursday or beyond.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. 06/30/10 2:57 AM

    I like how I started the whole Lydman=Volchenkov thing and now pretty much everyone agrees haha.

    Also, I believe (might be wrong) that Volchenkov is injury-prone. If memory serves he hasn’t topped 70 games in four years.

  2. 06/30/10 9:49 AM

    Curiously enough, people talk about Michalek being a younger option than Volchenkov (myself included) when the two are only 10 months difference in age.

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  1. What Kind Of Free Agency Options Are The Sabres Looking At? Part Three – Forward Thinking | Buffalo Sports Now

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