Let me start by stating in no way shape or form have I given up on this season yet (Though maybe I have blinders on). While this season isn't panning out like most of us had hoped, I have to look at the grand scheme of things before I break out my pitchfork and my Fire Regier sign.
First thing I would like to take a look at is next years team as this years team as far as Darcy is concerned is for the most part complete excluding maybe a deal at the deadline (examining next years team will give us better insight into how realistic a deadline deal that will please the fans is). All the numbers I post here will be
courtesy of stolen from capgeek.
We'll start with the UFA's and RFA's for next year.
Cap Space $6,753,810
Its obvious that the sabres want to pick up a top level player in the coming free agency, if they want to do that they will need to clear up some cap space, I would expect them to let Boyes, Stuart and Guastad walk. I would expect them to either resign Hecht to a low contract or deal him to a contender at the deadline for a draft pick or a prospect and then try and resign him. I also expect Leopold to be dealt for picks/prospects. Ennis and Brennan will both be tendered and any offer sheets will be matched. Gragnani and Kaleta I believe will either be traded at the deadline or will be tendered but any offer sheets the sabres will take the compensation and run. Ennis's injury plagued season may have done us a favor and cost him some money but I expect something along the lines of Sekera's current contract (2.75 million dollar cap hit). TJ Brennan I could see as a two way 1 million a year for 2 years. That would take us to roughly 6 million under the cap.
I believe that the sabres will trade for one of next summers top free agents at the deadline in order to get a headstart on the negotiations and to get him to see "hockey heaven". When I look at the crop of next years free agents the candadite that seems to match best with the sabres is Zach Parise (Gasp! It's not a centerman?). Once again next years class of centerman is weak to say the least. With that being said for multiple reasons the devils make the perfect trading partners for the sabres. First they are clearly not going to resign Parise. Second they aren't going to resign him because they are currently running a tight budget. This second reason is the big one, because of all of the years under Golisano Darcy knows exactly what the Devils are looking for in a tough financial spot, good deals on mediocre players and they want prospects and draft picks. Enter the Sabres, mediocre players and prospects aplenty.
Predicted Deadline Trade
Zach Parise 6.00 cap hit
Trading Drew Stafford satisfies the fans and the media, Brad Boyes contract is up at the end of the year and we are paying for him to be a Devil so that we can fit in Parise under the cap this year, Corey Tropp is what the Devils really want because he has one more year then he can be tendered, Drew Stafford gives them a right now NHL winger to put into their lineup. The only reason this trade works is because the Devils know that Parise is a goner.
With Stafford being the only player signed through next year that currently has a cap hit on an NHL roster that brings next years salary cap down to 10 Million under the cap to sign Parise to an extention (think Erhoff's deal structure but worth more money). After that the sabres cap commitments drop considerably, after signings it would be around 15 million under the cap for 2013-2014 with the lineup for next season looking like this:
Vanek Hecht Parise
Ennis Roy Pominville
Adam Leino Kassian
Ellis* McCormick Foligno*
*Players likely to be in the minors and replaced by short term free agent deals with spare money