Free Agent Frenzy Not Likely In Buffalo

GoodbyeGerbeThe Buffalo Sabres are rebuilding.  Danny Briere isn’t walking in that door (he finally went to Montreal, where he’s been rumored to go for years).  Nathan Gerbe is going out the door.  I’m sad to see Gerbe go, but he wasn’t scoring enough to justify being top 6, and as tough as he is, just wasn’t suited long-term for a checking line role.  I hope he ends up in a great spot for him.  Whatever city he ends up in is getting a great person.

When you’re rebuilding, your free agent pick ups are usually pretty limited.  You’re not getting the older big name guys (Iginla, as an example) as they want to win this year.  You don’t want the lower-tier guys for the most part, as the idea should be to see how your young players do with an increased role.  Certainly, if Grigorenko is here all year as was stated, I don’t want him in the press box or toiling away 9 minutes a night.

Andy Boron at Die by the Blade covers some potential targets, but the Mikhail Grabovski situation intrigues me.  He’s a player young enough that you may be able to sell him on a rebuild, and if he wants to stick it to the Leafs, that works too.  He won’t come cheap, but the Sabres have cap space to spare with only Cody Hodgson left as a significant RFA left to sign (Sorry, Flynn).  More so, if Miller gets traded.  I’d want them to keep Vanek if they bring in Grabbo, but if a deal came along…well, make it work.

The idea of a Miller/Vanek trade intrigues me.  Is the deal for a player?  Who still needs a goalie?  Beyond watching for that, my only other prediction is Darcy makes a good, solid move that no one was expecting, because he’s a black hole of information and we never know what’s cooking here.  Go Sabres.

Shifts in Strategy

The Sabres have made some moves.  They usually do this time of year, especially since Pegula bought the team.  The theme so far has been to get tougher.  John Scott, a feared fighter (murdersaurus!) who will probably see limited action, was the first signing of FA for Buffalo.  More intriguing is the trade, sending Derek Roy out to Dallas, and getting Steve Ott and Adam Pardy in return.  Pardy is probably just a spare part that had to be tossed into the deal, and at $2 million, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get the Shaone Morrisonn treatment in Rochester.  Buffalo has too many D to find a spot for him here.  I mean, I’d rather have Sulzer as the seventh guy at $725,000.

No, the interesting part of the swap is Roy/Ott.  I’ve defended Roy in the past, but it seems clear his welcome had worn thin with many people.  The team trades away offensive production for ‘grit’ and penalties.  Ott will not be a top 2 center, which leaves a hole to fill if you assume Hodgson is the number 2.  Ennis showed some skills as a C late last year, but it’d be risky to run him out there without a larger sample size to judge him on.  That leaves another trade as an option, and while I know Darcy can find guys that we think aren’t available and make it happen, I just can’t see who it is who is going to fill that role that Roy leaves empty.

The X factor in this is Bobby Ryan.  Not a C, but if you want to replace Roy’s scoring potential, there you go.  Perennially over the 30 goal mark, Ryan could add some punch on the right side, where Stafford has failed to find consistency.  Unfortunately, Derek Roy had been one of the guys mentioned going back as a return, so now you’d be left with figuring out who Anaheim wants in return.  Ennis?  McNabb?  I don’t think we’d be getting off easy here, and many of us fans wouldn’t like what we’d lose.  Alexander Semin?  Somehow I don’t think he would get along with Lindy Ruff, but I wouldn’t fault the team for trying it out, if the cap hit can be managed.

Buffalo is in an interesting spot here.  The old ‘core’ is getting slowly replaced by new guys, with Roy, Campbell, Goose and others out of town.  Can the young guns like Ennis, Gerbe, McNabb and the like step up?  Will there be a stud center on the team due to a trade out of left field?  The Sabres aren’t far out of the playoffs, but there hasn’t yet been a move that says “Yep, they just got closer”.  Big time right now for both Darcy and Lindy.

Ehrhoff and Circumvention

Look we all know that a 10 year contract for Christian Ehrhoff is kind of ridiculous, but it’s within the rules.  In face, the rules were ALREADY modified once to stop cap circumvention, and this is STILL fine, so for that part of it, I have no problem.  It’s a risk, but you have to take risks to win the Stanley Cup, and the cap number is not that onerous if Ehrhoff doesn’t match his goal total of the past two years.  I know what gets some people’s goat (*cough*Lambert*cough*) is the use of ridiculous ‘signing bonus’ numbers to work the system.

But what is REALLY AWESOME is how it is now the Buffalo Sabres who are ticking off the other fanbases in the league.  Seriously, when was the last time ANYBODY was mad at the Sabres for working the system, or scoring a coveted free agent, or anything, really?  I don’t mean other fans hating an individual (Hi Kaleta) but actual irritation and anger towards the Buffalo organization.  It’s kind of refreshing, to be honest.

So, as free agency begins in earnest today, Buffalo is a player.  They matter, and that bothers the other markets, makes them mad they have to contend with all the usual suspects AND the Sabres.  The team has another club in the bag for how to build, adding the big honking driver of free agent madness to the irons of trades and the wedges of drafting and developing players in the system.  No more laying up and relying on chipping it close and tapping in for par.  ‘Par’ is what the previous regime was all about.

Void Them ALL, Let God Sort It Out

So you are telling me that the NHL has voided the crazy awesome Kovalchuk contract?  And is looking into some of the other super-longterm deals?  Nice!  But hey, there are plenty of other deals that don’t make sense, so I have a proposal:

  1. As part of the next CBA, roll back salaries again and lower the cap.  $60 million + is getting too high.
  2. After that, set a hard limit on the allowable length of contracts (5 years?  7 years?).
  3. Void all contracts that exceed that length.
  4. Have a contract draft (like an expansion draft) – teams can protect a certain number of NHL player contracts (10?), the rest get voided.  BOOM.
  5. Following that is REAL ULTIMATE FREE AGENT FRENZY the likes of which the league has never seen.  I suppose if you want to wuss out a bit, give the home team a week or two of exclusive negotiations with their former players.

Okay, I admit that this isn’t entirely serious towards the end there.  Imagine, though, how awesome it would be – every team in the league could get out from under their bad contracts, players could re-sign for what they are actually worth, and the balance of power could be shifted dramatically.  Every fan of every team would be interested…no more could fans of some teams sigh and fuss because ‘we like our core’ or ‘we are priced out of the market’.  You KNOW you’d enjoy it.

Kaleta Under Contract

I had a really long, alliterative title thought up for this but I’ll spare you.  What’s important is Patrick Kaleta is back with the Sabres for 2 more years, at the very reasonable price of $1.815 million over those years.  When most folks were expecting $1.3 million +, that’s a deal.

Darcy’s arbitration play worked like a charm, and Kaleta is thrilled to be back.  It’s a win-win, for once, for the Sabres.  Patty needs to stay healthier, if he does, he might up his goal total to the 15 goal range, which for what he plays a night is a huge contribution, along with the insane number of penalties he draws.  By the way, if you want to have some fun, check out the comments about Kaleta at TSN or some of the other national news outlets, you really get a sense of how hated (and as such, feared) he is.

Tim Conboy

You know, I was listening to WGR on the way in to work today, and I was momentarily floored…were they really asking about our favorite Tim Connolly memory? Did we find a sucker to trade for him? But no, it was Tim Conboy, most famous (to us at any rate) for letting a 5’5″ player goad him into attacking from behind.  Anyway, Conboy is on a two-way contract so will stay in Portland unless there is a rash of injuries.  Would be interesting to see how interactions between him and Gerbe would go.

Derek Whitmore and a Whole Bunch of Crickets

Derek Whitmore (RFA) signed a 1-year deal with the Sabres, keeping him with the Portland Pirates this year.  He was a solid contributor there, scoring 18 times last season.

Beyond that, it’s quiet all throughout the league.  A few development camps are keeping the beat writers busy, but everyone is waiting for Kovalchuk to find his way to a team.  The teams in the hunt for Kovy aren’t signing or trading anyone until they know they need to, but once he signs there will be a chain reaction.  There are a few teams that NEED salary to reach the floor, so either they will overpay the lackluster free agents that are out there, or they will have to trade for some big money players.  Just wish it would happen now, and give us something to write about.

Get to know Rob Niedermayer

The Buffalo Sabres came out of nowhere and signed Rob Niedermayer to a 1 year deal today.  It’s worth $1.15 million.  He is, of course, the brother of somewhat retired D-man Scott Niedermayer.  They won the cup together in Anaheim a few years back.  Rob (short for Robin, thanks Heather) is 35, and has played 16 seasons in the NHL.  Here is the first video you find of him if you search ‘Rob Niedermayer fight’ on Youtube:

Nice.  He’s had a 20 goal season, but is more likely to get you 10-15.  As a center, he was second best on the Devils last year in faceoffs.  He’s billed at 6’2″ and 210 pounds, and plays like he knows it.  This video of Rob being interviewed by Lindsay Soto is popular, not sure why:

Anyway, he most likely fits in as a checking line center with Grier on one wing, with the other one possibly in flux.  Ennis, Kennedy or someone else.  Moves could happen, people!

Curious about Kaleta

Much has been written about the importance of Patrick Kaleta to the Sabres, often including some classic cliches about straws stirring drinks or what not.  There have even been statistical analysis comparing Kaleta to Ilya Kovalchuk, quite favorably.  So hearing that the Sabres have taken Kaleta to salary arbitration has made some folks nervous.  Here’s why I wouldn’t worry.

Firstly, it means Kaleta should be back with the Sabres.  Either they sign him before his hearing (which happens quite a bit) or he’ll get the deal from the arbiter.  Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, Patty cannot be signed to any offer sheets.  This move keeps the other GMs in the league out of the fray, especially the ones with bigtime cap room and a need for grit.  It’s a reduction in the variables involved in the contract equation, which is always a good thing.

Worst case scenario I suppose is this getting to arbitration…but I don’t think Darcy Regier is exactly Glen Sather in there.  I don’t think Kaleta will come out in tears.

Get to know Jordan Leopold

Meet your new defenseman, Jordan Leopold.  He is a 29 year old former 2nd round draft pick of the Anaheim Ducks.  You may know him best as being on the Calgary team that went to the Cup finals the year before the lockout, which was his best year for point production (33).  He bounced around a bit after that, going to Colorado for parts of three seasons, going back to Calgary, then splitting last year between Florida and Pittsburgh.  He had a solid season last year, with a career high in goals (11) between the two teams.

As pointed out by Mike Harrington over at the Buffalo News, Leopold’s playoff numbers are not awe-inspiring – 15 points, all of them assists, in 54 games, with 10 of those during that 03-04 flames run (26 games).  He got squeezed a bit in ice time, averaging 4 min less per game with Pittsburgh for instance this year.  He led the Flames in ice time in the playoffs last year, however, so that’s no excuse.  He is more of puck-mover than a big hitter, though he is big enough that it should be part of his game, so that’s a knock against him.  Still, he can play a lot of minutes and is young enough that he could get slightly better.

I know a lot of you are thinking 3 years, $3 million per is a bit high, but it doesn’t really bother me.  Yes, it’s the same deal that Lydman signed, but Leopold is 3 years younger, and they should be prime years.  If Jordan can notch 8-10 goals, nailing down the second pairing and second PP unit, $3 million is just right.  A solid, Darcy Regier-type pick.  I hope it works out.  Hit the jump for a few videos of Leopold: Continue reading “Get to know Jordan Leopold”