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Vulgar Statistics: Who To Keep

01/10/14

I was all set to do an advanced statistical analysis on this, but it’s probably not necessary.  To most reasonable minds, if you took the Sabres roster and eliminated anyone that wouldn’t play for a contender, you’d probably get something like this:

XXXXX – XXXXX – XXXXX

XXXXX – XXXXX – Matt Moulson

Marcus Foligno – Zemgus Girgensons – Steve Ott

Brian Flynn – XXXXX – XXXXX

-

Christian Ehrhoff – XXXXX

Mark Pysyk – XXXXX

XXXXX – XXXXX

-

Ryan Miller

Jhonas Enroth

Going quickly down the list, Hodgson, Ennis, Stafford have too many deficiencies in their games without the bottom six intangibles, Myers is overpaid, and McBain, Tallinder, Leino, McCormick, Ellis, D’Agostini, Weber, Scott, and Sulzer just aren’t good enough.  I’ll leave the jury still out on young guys that haven’t gotten much of a chance to play.  But there are obviously several steps between this team as it is right now and being a contender, which makes Tim Murray’s job slightly more complicated.

His two primary goals will probably be to focus on simply getting better, and on making sure the team is able to move the wrong players out and the right players in when some of the younger guys grow capable of playing in the NHL.  That last one means he’ll need both a bit of wiggle room in terms of cap space and also some players that are somewhat expendable.  Let’s look at who is coming back under contract next season:

XXXXX – Cody Hodgson – Drew Stafford

XXXXX –  - XXXXX – Ville Leino

 Mikhail Grigorenko - Zemgus Girgensons - XXXXX

Brian Flynn - Matt Ellis - Johan Larsson

-

Christian Ehrhoff – XXXXX

Tyler Myers – Mark Pysyk

Mike Weber – XXXXX

-

XXXXX

Jhonas Enroth

That’s $40.66M in cap space according to CapGeek’s Armchair GM tool, about $12M from the cap floor, or $5.81M available per open spot, which is kind of absurd.  There are three players I would absolutely bring back, those being Matt Moulson, Steve Ott, and Ryan Miller.  Miller because duh.  Moulson and Ott are a little less obvious.  I think that when bringing in a bunch of young players, you need at least one guy at their position with a body of high level success.  We have Christian Ehrhoff on the defense, Matt Moulson is that guy on the offense.  (Otherwise if you get rid of Moulson it’s Drew Stafford or Tyler Ennis…ew).  Steve Ott, when taken for what he is, not what Buffalo fans think he is, or want him to be, I think is a very effective player.

What those guys sign for is obviously unknown at this point.  Since the team seems intent on keeping Ott as its captain, I’ll say $3.5M for 4 years (up from $2.95) for him, and since Moulson is due for a payday, I’ll say $5.5M for the same length (up from $3.13).  Ryan Miller is a difficult case, especially considering that the Rangers re-signed Lundqvist to a monstrous $8.5M per cap hit for seven more years at the age of 31.  Ryan Miller is currently 33.  How does Buffalo marry Miller wanting to win with the fact that they’ll suffer a serious setback if he leaves and they don’t get a king’s ransom for him?  Unfortunately, probably by offering him a monster contract.  I think in Miller’s case though, the reach is going to be more in the length than in the overall dollar amount.  Some win-now teams might be in the mood to offer him $8 or $9 per for two or three years when he hits free agency.  The Sabres can sweeten that by offering him a longer contract to lessen the cap hit, $7M for five years and gamble that a hyper-intelligent, hyper-prepared guy like Miller is going to be a viable option when he’s 38.

Those three moves sneak the Sabres above the cap floor with $24.66M remaining for four spots plus backups and give you this heading into next season:

XXXXX – XXXXX – Drew Stafford

Matt Moulson – Cody Hodgson – Ville Leino

 Mikhail Grigorenko - Zemgus Girgensons - Steve Ott

Brian Flynn - Matt Ellis - Johan Larsson

-

Christian Ehrhoff – XXXXX

Tyler Myers – Mark Pysyk

Mike Weber – XXXXX

-

Ryan Miller

Jhonas Enroth

It’s fairly easy to realize that guys like Miller, Moulson, and even Ott have a place on good hockey teams.  The hard part is making sense of the mess of third-liners the Sabres have accumulated this season.  What young players have first (Hodgson, Armia) and second line (Girgensons, Ennis, Foligno, Grigorenko) potential?  At what point does “still young” become “never going to get it.”  Who is worth keeping around and who is expendable?  Who, if anyone, is going to be able to move up and leave space on that third line for solid possession players like Linus Omark and Matt D’Agostini who can score?

I think, in the absence of legit top 10 top line prospects, the Sabres are just going to have to lack a “legitimate” top line.  I see them aiming more for last season’s Blues model where no forward averaged more than 20 minutes a game.  They certainly had a top line in Oshie, Backes, and Steen, but it wasn’t one that could light the league on fire scoring and the Blues found success rolling three lines that could play competent hockey in each zone.  If you think that guys like Girgensons and Foligno are more second line players, and if the team can open up some space by getting rid of Drew Stafford and Ville Leino, then players like Omark have a place on the team moving forward.  Considering that Omark (and D’Agostini) right now are probably just happy to be in the NHL and likely won’t command much salary, I think they’re worth an extended look either as potential answers, or temporary fillers.  (Maybe by the end of the season we have our questions answered.)

So here’s where I’m at:

  • Tyler Ennis – I haven’t seen enough out of Ennis to want to commit to him as a top six player.  Considering that the team is still going to suck, I wouldn’t hate a little bit longer of a look, but I have to imagine he’s looking at a long term landing spot, not a tryout.  I say trade his rights.
  • Marcus Foligno – Third line production with (we hope) second line potential and consistency issues.  He’s definitely a player I want on my team in the right role.  He certainly doesn’t have as much potential as Tyler Ennis did a few years ago so I wonder if he could be had for a $2.5M bridge deal.
  • Cody McCormick – He’s being paid too much to do virtually nothing.  I let him walk if he won’t sign a two way contract.
  • Zenon Konopka – Same as above.
  • John Scott – Same as above.  Thing is, you’re going to need at least one of these guys to be depth, if not start a bunch of games.  My choice of the three would probably be Konopka.
  • Linus Omark and Matt D’Agostini – Both relatively young (26, 27) players with solid possession play and few points that haven’t gotten great chances in the NHL.  I would imagine, given recent events, that both are happy just to be in the league at this point.  I think we’ll know more about what we have come the end of the season, but these are two guys I’m looking at very closely, especially Omark as D’Agostini has a larger body of work to be judged by.  Right now they make $1.15M combined.  I’d see what I could to offer them both one year “tryout” deals with the willingness to replace one or both if some of the younger players develop.  I don’t honestly know what that amount is, so I signed them both for $1.5M.
  • Henrik Tallinder and Jamie McBain – I’m re-signing whichever of the two is going to be cheapest with the hope that both Zadorov and Ristolainen are going to be playing regular minutes in the near future, and hoping one of them can fill out the 6th spot right away.  Let’s take McBain at $2M for 2 years to get him to UFA status and see if there’s any upside left in his game with the preparation that he might be scratched a lot for Zadorov come that second year.
  • Kevin Porter – Seems like the ideal AHL/NHL guy.
  • Chad Ruhwedel, Brayden McNabb, Luke Adam, Matt Hackett – AHL
  • Alexander Sulzer – Gone.

One year contracts are kind of rare, but since the Sabres have so many players where the other option is “don’t play,” I don’t think they’re that much of a stretch.  That leaves us with this heading into next season:

Zemgus Girgensons – Cody Hodgson – Drew Stafford

Matt Moulson – Steve Ott – Ville Leino

Linus Omark – Mikhail Grigorenko – Marcus Foligno

Matt D’Agostini – Brian Flynn - Johan Larsson

Matt Ellis

-

Christian Ehrhoff – Mark Pysyk

Tyler Myers – Jamie McBain

Mike Weber – Ristolainen / Zadorov

McNabb

-

Ryan Miller

Jhonas Enroth

And roughly $14M in cap space depending on what you sign the extras for.  It’s not a good lineup, but the idea isn’t to be good, it’s to be malleable, because (hopefully) Grigorenko, Zadorov, Ristolainen,  Armia, and whoever they draft this offseason are going to need regular spots very soon.  Here’s what you’re looking at heading into 2015:

Zemgus Girgensons – Cody Hodgson – XXXXX

Matt Moulson – Steve Ott – Ville Leino

XXXXX – XXXXX – Marcus Foligno

XXXXX – XXXXX - XXXXX

Drew Stafford (UFA), Mikhail Grigorenko (RFA), Brian Flynn (RFA), Johan Larsson (UFA), and Matt Ellis (UFA) all come off along with the guys I signed to one year deals.  The team is perhaps looking to move Ville Leino and will have a larger body of work from which to figure out who has a long term future with a good Buffalo Sabres team.

Christian Ehrhoff – XXXXX

Tyler Myers – XXXXX

Mike Weber – XXXXX

Mike Weber is, sadly, with us another year after this.  He is the player I would most like to move out of anyone on the roster.  I’d call him a possession black hole, but that would mean the puck moves to him, and we all know that isn’t the case.  If Myers keeps oscillating between “terrible” and “good enough to be worth $3M,” I think the team just has to cut its losses at that point.  A top four of Ehrhoff, Pysyk, Ristolainen, and Zadorov doesn’t sound too bad.

Ryan Miller

XXXXX

We’ll know more about what to do with Enroth and Hackett.  My guess is, if Miller re-signs, one of them is traded.

That lineup leaves us with $40M in cap committed and presumably $30M to $35M left to fill 10 spaces, keeping in mind that some of those 10 spaces are going to be filled by young players with reasonable contracts.

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