With the NHL Draft in the books, we can finally turn our full attention to July 1, the day free agency begins. But in order to do that properly, let's first take a look at where the Buffalo Sabres currently stand and how they might improve their roster through free agency.
Here are the positions and types of players I think Buffalo needs to find, in order of importance. You
might will disagree with this list, so feel free to tell me what a moron I am in the comments, but please at least offer a suggestion of you own so that I can do the same. After we finish up here, we'll spend the rest of the week identifying some players that might fit the holes we'll talk about today. And away we go.
1. Playmaking Center
This is the one part of the list where I don't think anybody will disagree - Buffalo's biggest organizational weakness is clearly their lack of talent at the center position. Whether you think Derek Roy is a #1 center or not (and that's a debate for another time) you can't argue that having Jochen Hecht as the team's next best option down the middle just ain't gonna cut it.
If the Sabres are looking to compete with other successful teams, then they must get stronger at the center position. In the Cup Finals you had names like Sedin, Kesler, Malhotra, Bergeron, Krejci, and Peverly down the middle. That's a bit of a step up from Roy, Hecht, Gaustad and McCormick if you ask me.
Now, as for the "playmaking" part of this role, I'm of the belief that Buffalo doesn't need a center who scores a ton of goals, but rather one who can set up our other talented scorers to do their thing more effectively. If you can get 3-5 more goals each from Vanek, Pominville, Ennis, Boyes, and Stafford, then you've just added a 20 goal scorer without even factoring in any goals this new player might score himself. Get someone who can play either in front of or behind Roy and can make his wingers more effective and it will go a long way toward helping Buffalo reach their goal of winning the Stanley Cup. Or just winning a playoff series.
2. Veteran Bottom Six Forward
And this is where our lists most likely diverge. Most people would prefer a top scoring winger or another shutdown defenseman, and while I agree that those things would be nice have, the addition of Robyn Regehr combined with our current surplus of scoring wingers means that the Sabres can pass on those options. And remember, there are 29 other teams out there that want all-star wingers and lockdown blueliners, and we can have them all.
The potential losses of Rob Niedermayer and Mike Grier from the ice and locker room will leave a void that must be filled. You argue for or against those two players all you like, but the fact remains that Buffalo still has a fairly young team that looks to those types of guys for guidance and advice. I'd love to see Buffalo get a gritty two-way forward who can fill in for the probably-departing Connolly on the penalty kill, chip in 8-12 goals, and help lead the team off the ice as well.
3. Defensive Defenseman
Going into this new season, four of the potential starting six defensemen Buffalo has are guys who are more well-known for their offensive acumen than their defensive prowess -- Myers, Sekera, Leopold and Gragnani. With Shaonne Morrisonn on the outside of a starting spot looking in, the Sabres might look to clear the slate with him and pick up another blue-liner to help lock down the crease. In that case, it makes sense to go for a defensive player to help even things out, and who knows, maybe they could get someone better than Regehr to pair with Myers.
4. Top Scoring Forward
We're trending more toward the luxury items now. As I said earlier, I'm fine with our current stable of scoring wingers, particularly if we can get a center that will provide more offensive spark than the corpse of Tim Connolly did. Would it be nice to have a 40-goal scorer? Sure, but there were only five of them last year. A 30-goal scorer, you say? Well there were only 29 of them in the NHL last season and we already have two. How greedy are you, anyway? Sheesh.
5. Backup Goaltender
So what do you think of where my Sabres priorities lay? Let me hear about the changes you'd make in the comments.