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What Kind Of Free Agency Options Are The Sabres Looking At? Part Three – Forward Thinking

06/30/10
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Here is the conclusion to my three-part series focusing on the Sabres’ possible options in free agency. Part one posted Monday focused on getting a new back-up for Miller whereas part two published yesterday set about finding some new blueliners for the fold. Today’s installment brings it all together by shaking up the forward ranks through a number of means – ditching players under contract, bringing in veteran warriors, and maybe even tossing a couple of offer sheets around.
*Today’s final edition features data gleaned from Cap Geek and Hockey DB, with an assist from NHL Numbers.

In my previous two posts I dealt with filling positions strictly through signing free agents, but if the Sabres are to re-build their forward corps it’s going to take some wheeling and dealing. First, I wanna prepare a preliminary forward roster. Let’s go ahead and pencil in Patrick Kaleta for 2010/2011 (there’s no way he goes anywhere else, but it does pique my interest that Darcy has yet to re-sign him). Connolly and Roy won’t be going anywhere per Darcy’s admission, so they stay put. Vanek, Pominville, Hecht, and Gaustad all have contracts that make them untradeable. Grier just got re-signed and he’s wunderbar, so he ain’t goin anywhere. Finally, Ennis proved himself to be too valuable to send back to Portland, so he’s earned his spot with the big club. I’m gonna let Kennedy get picked away by an offer sheet and send Gerbe and Stafford to squads for picks. That leaves:

Vanek-Roy-XXXXX
Hecht-Connolly-Pominville
Ennis-XXXXX-Grier
XXXXX-Goose-Kaleta

This leaves the Sabres with holes at 4th line LW, 3rd line C, and a RW for line 1A (for all intents and purposes, VR?? and HCP are lines 1A and 1B). Let’s get to work, shall we?

RW For Line 1A
RFA
Bobby Ryan
Born Mar 17 1987 — Cherry Hill, NJ
Height 6.02 — Weight 218 — Shoots R
2009/2010 Production: 35g+29a 2009/2010 Salary: $1.865M (includes bonuses)
Pros: Big kid, plays bigger, two consecutive 30g season, could be franchise RW, would unlock Roy and Vanek’s true potential possibly.
Cons: Expensive taste (turned down 5yr/$20M deal from ANA), everyone wants a piece of Bobby Ryan, Darcy doesn’t deal in RFA offer sheets ever.

UFAs
Lee Stempniak
Born Feb 4 1983 — West Seneca, NY
Height 5.11 — Weight 202 — Shoots R
2009/2010 Production: 28g+20a 2009/2010 Salary: $3.5M
Pros: Versatile (plays both wings equally well), can go on dominating streaks.
Cons: Inconsistent, can go on invisible streaks, has yet to play with true top-line talent.

Bill Guerin
Born Nov 9 1970 — Wilbraham, MA
Height 6.02 — Weight 220
2009/2010 Production: 21g+24a 2009/2010 Salary: $2M
Pros: Veteran warrior, brings leadership, clutch guy, still going strong at 39, can still handle top-line minutes
Cons: Likely to re-sign in Pittsburgh

I’d be remiss and rather angry if Drew Stafford were still a Sabre in 2010/2011. I know he’ll walk following the upcoming season, but I want him gone now. Darcy doesn’t have many RWers to pick from this free agency, but there are a few options as listed above. Bobby Ryan is clearly the cream of this year’s RW crop, but he’s an RFA and Darcy doesn’t deal in them (considers them dishonorable). He’s my miracle choice which means it won’t happen. But Stempniak and Guerin are both solid choices on the wing, especially Guerin. He’s like Doug Weight or Mark Recchi were to Carolina in 2006 – that wily veteran who put a team over the top, as he proved in 2009 with his Penguins. With a previous year’s salary of $2M, he’s definitely within reach and would be a great option to play with Vanek and Roy on 1A. Whereas Stempniak, while talented and capable of going on point streaks, is maddeningly inconsistent in his own right.

C For 3rd Line
UFA
Mike Modano
Born Jun 7 1970 — Livonia, MI
Height 6.03 — Weight 212 — Shoots L
2009/2010 Production: 14g+16a 2009/2010 Salary: $2.25M
Pros: Great leader and mentor, can still produce in right role, plays all aspects of the game, is pretty cheap for what he brings.
Cons: Most likely to sign in either Minnesota or Detroit (my personal opinion).

John Madden
Born May 4 1973 — Barrie, ONT
Height 5.11 — Weight 190 — Shoots L
2009/2010 Production: 10g+13a 2009/2010 Salary: $2.75M
Pros: Cup-winning experience, leadership, strong hitter for his size, unlikely to re-sign in Chicago.
Cons: Primarily excels at PK (Sabres are already a prolific PK team), production isn’t what it used to be.

Matthew Lombardi
Born Mar 18 1982 — Montreal, PQ
Height 5.11 — Weight 191 — Shoots L
2009/2010 Production: 19g+34a 2009/2010 Salary: $2.35M
Pros: Productive center, still relatively young, can play any amount of minutes.
Cons: Probably looking for a big raise after a productive season.

Let’s call an apple an apple here and not an apple an orange – Paul Gaustad is a glorified 4th line center playing on and off the third line. For the sake of cohesion, I’m thinking he oughta take over at 4th line center where he can go back to kicking a**es and taking names. To fill the vacancy at third line center, I’ve picked out a defensive center in Madden, an offensive center in Lombardi, and the best of both worlds in Modano (all of which made roughly the same money last season). Modano would be my personal pick, as he brings scoring, defensive responsibility, and sage mentoring to the youngins all in one package. However, my personal feelings tell me he’ll finish his career in Minnesota (where it started) or in Detroit (where he’s from). Lombardi would bring a scoring touch which would take advantage of Ennis’ natural abilities and help bolster Grier’s numbers, but he’s likely seeking a raise and a long deal. Madden, however, seems to be the best fit. He’s defensive, which meshes well with Grier, but can show flashes of scoring ability, which would be augmented by Ennis’ playmaking. He also brings the leadership and experience that winning a Cup can only bring.

LW For 4th Line
UFAs
Brad Winchester
Born Mar 1 1981 — Madison, WI
Height 6.05 — Weight 215 — Shoots L
2009/2010 Production: 3g+5a, 108PIMS 2009/2010 Salary: $800K
Pros: Huge, imposing, could put up 15 points on the 4th line, kicks a**.
Cons: Uhm, as a fourth liner, none really.

Eric Nystrom
Born Feb 14 1983 — Syosset, NY
Height 6.01 — Weight 195 — Shoots L
2009/2010 Production: 11g+8a, 54PIMS 2009/2010 Salary: $687.5K
Pros: Brings an offensive game for a bottom six forward.
Cons: A little light on the PIMS as a 4th liner.

Matt Ellis
Born Aug 31 1981 — Welland, ONT
Height 6.01 — Weight 210 — Shoots L
2009/2010 Production: 3g+10a, 12PIMS 2009/2010 Salary: $500K
Pros: Defensively proficient, grinds with the best of ‘em, excellent puck protection.
Cons: Does not offer a scoring or intimidation threat on any line.

With Goose’s defensive responsibility and faceoff prowess and Kaleta’s big hits and back-checking proclivities, what kind of LW is plugged in can change the dynamic of the line. Winchester’s presence would give the Sabres a goon squad capable of throwing punches with anyone. Adding Nystrom could aid Kaleta in making scoring opportunities from unexpected players. Retaining Ellis would turn the 4th line into a pre-eminent grinding/puck protection line with very few defensive lapses. Honestly, the cheapest addition to the team could be the hardest to pin down as there are no bad additions to the 4th line unless Darcy hires a hugger like Boogaard, Laraque, or *shudder* Peters.

There is an interesting option to be considered, which is putting together an Ennis/Roy/Vanek line and then putting the newly-signed Lee Stempniak on the third line at LW. Just another possibility.

The hockey holiday that is Free Agency Day is tomorrow, and who the hell knows what Darcy is gonna do except the man himself. Here’s hoping for some pleasant surprises.

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