The only other SBN blog I read every day is Amazin' Avenue. One of the many things that makes AA so great is that in the offseason they hold a offseason plan contest (fondly know as an AAOP). It's one of the highlights of the year. You get to flex your GM muscle by forming an organizational philosophy and molding a roster. There are prizes, but it's mostly just a lot of fun. We don't have an offseason plan contest here at DBtB but I though I'd try my hand at a DBtB offseason plan-esque post; plus Bucky Gleason did such a horrible job that I feel it necessary to salvage the exercise of armature GMing. Just as a note, these things aren't supposed to be judged on their plausibility, but rather their execution.
Watching this year's playoffs has cemented in my mind something that I have been noticing in successful teams for the last few years; puck possession. It's a simple idea really; if you have the puck, your opponent doesn't. If your opponent doesn't have the puck, they can't shoot it. If they can't shoot the puck, they can't score.
You might ask "well that's all well and good, but how do you become good at puck possession?" There are a few ways to increase time with the puck. These include faceoffs, aggressive forechecks, and hits. When you win faceoffs, not only are you controlling the puck more, but your opponent is controlling it less. In fact, there have been studies done that indicate that winning faceoffs in the offensive zone is the equivalent of a few seconds on the power play. When you have an aggressive forecheck you cut down the opponent's time to move the puck which results in more turnovers. When you hit the other team, you limit their space to make plays and force them to move the puck before they want to. If the Sabres want to be more successful, I think it would behoove them to strive to become a puck possession team.
The way this team is currently constructed, their best chance of winning a Cup looks to be within the next 3 years. That window is due to the age of few important players: Ryan Miller is 31, Jason Pominville is 29, Thomas Vanek is 28, Robyn Regehr is 32, and Christian Erhoff is 29. This means that we should be looking to add players who will help now and push us over the top. However, we don't have to necessarily - and shouldn't - mortgage the future to do so.
Note: for the purposes of this exercise I will assume the salary cap will remain at $64.3M even though the league informed GMs that the temporary cap will be set at $70.3M.
Tyler Ennis: There is no doubt he needs to be resigned. His stock is high but I don't think that will inflate his new contract too much. I expect something around 3-years at an average of $2M each.
Patrick Kaleta: He plays an unheralded role, but an important one. He's not irreplaceable but he fits the system well. I would expect a 2-year contract with an average just under $1M per year (let's say $950K).
TJ Brennan: He's the #8 defenseman on the depth chart. He likely won't see NHL playing time so his contract won't count against the cap. I would expect something like a 2-year contract with an average of $900K per year.
Payroll after RFAs: $61.44M
Jochen Hecht: A great system player who brings a stabilizing presence and around 20 goals a season. Unfortunately do to three concussions within a year, it's likely the end of the road for him. I would expect he gets offered a job within the organization in a player development type of role, possibly even in Jay McKee's vacated coaching seat in Rochester. His absence opens up $3.525M in cap-space.
Brad Boyes: There's no chance he sticks around. That's $4M in cap-space opened up.
Payroll after UFAs: $61.44M
Money to spend: $2.863M
Target: Zach Parise
As the top FA available he brings a great all around game, top-line offense, and some reported leadership (although his Devils captaincy seemed to be more of a "please don't leave, look at how much we love you" move than it was a "you're the unquestioned leader of this team" move). In short, every team would love to have him on their roster. One of the reasons he's such an attractive piece is that not only does he have enormous offensive talent, but he is a monster on the forecheck. This would fit in nicely the renewed commitment to the puck-control game plan. Along with all that talent, Parise also brings what will be a hefty price tag - so hefty in fact that the Devils most likely won't be able to bring him back. Coming off a 1-year, $6M deal, he's probably looking for a long-term contract at an average around $6.5-7M per year. Now we don't have any more cap space than the Devils do, but the Devils only have 13 players under contract for 2012/13; we have 18. This means that we can move the necessary contracts to fit him in (something the Devils can't).
So, let's say we can get Parise to sign up for 10-year contract that averages out to $6.5M per. How can we fit that on our roster? One move that would open up the necessary money would be to trade Derek Roy who has a $4M cap-hit (combined with the $2.863M would be enough for Parise's $6.5M). However, that would be like trading 80 cents for a dollar; you come out ahead, but not by a whole lot. Additionally, Roy's perceived value is at an all-time low. We wouldn't get nearly enough in return to make trading Roy worth while.
Another option would be to move both Leopold and McCormick. Leo's $3M plus McCormick's $1.2M would open up $4.2M in cap-space. With Sulzer resigned and McNabb waiting on the doorstep, losing Leopold would not hurt as much as losing Roy and with Foligno now up with the big club presumably to stay, McCormick's muscle is expendable. The return for McCormick likely wouldn't be much, however, Leo could fetch a decent package of usable parts or be used as an avenue to move up in the draft.
The lines would likely look like the following:
There are some downsides with signing Parise though. The first is that he would be the only offseason acquisition we wold be able to make and we'd be right up against the cap. In fact, not only would his contract restrict what we could do this offseason, but it would hinder our payroll flexibility for years - although if there is a player to take that risk with, at only 27 years of age, Parise would probably be it. The second downside is that we have to rely on Ellis as our 4th line center since it's doubtful Regier would call up Adam only to have him play under 8 minutes a night. Ideally Ellis is available as an emergency call-up from Rochester, not a mainstay on the roster. The third downside would be that we weaken our defensive corps. Without Leopold, we have to count on Sulzer and Weber. Now of course McNabb is waiting in Rochester, but the depth is not as strong and we should know how important depth is after the season the Sabres just had. An additional downside would be that by signing Parise, we only address one of the three areas of concentration (the forecheck) while leaving the other two (faceoffs and hits) as is.
Target: Dustin Brown
Now it's very possible that Parise gets a larger offer from some other team and he goes for the money (I'm sure the Islanders would love to correct the mistake they made when they passed him over with the 15th pick in the 2003 draft). It wouldn't be the end of the world either because there are multiple ways to improve this team. One such way would be to acquire Dusitn Brown from the Los Angeles Kings. Brown isn't the offensive juggernaut Parise is but he's every bit as tenacious on the forecheck and is one one of the best and most frequent checkers in the game (he came in second in the hits category with 293 last season). Why LA would look to move their captain I don't know but there were rumors they were open to it during the season. I didn't buy it then and I still don't (especially after his playoff performance) but it would be worth our time to keep our ears to the ground. With these two players long shots, let's turn our attention to more realistic moves.
Receive from San Jose: Joel Pavelski and the #168 overall pick in the 2012 draft (6th round)
There is little doubt that big changes are coming in San Jose after yet another failed playoff campaign for the team. GM Doug Wilson (or whoever is in the position come the summer) would most likely like to move Patrick Marleau, but finding a taker for his $6.9M cap-hit will be difficult. I don't believe Thornton will be a target to move but in any case his cap-hit of $7M is equally hard to move. That leaves Joel Pavelski on the chopping block. Although Pavelski is listed as a RW, he is strong in the faceoff dot with a 58.7 Winning% on 864 draws (third most draws taken on the Sharks). He also finished second on the Sharks in takeaways with 73. Both marks would lead last year's Sabres. In addition, Pavelski reached the 30-goal plateau for the first time in his career (although his overall total points total took a hit dropping by 5 from his 2011/12 mark). He also raked up 84 blocked shots (6th on the Sharks).
As for what San Jose would want in return, they are fairly top heavy in terms of roster construction and have one of the lowest rankings in terms of prospects in the league. A package of Jordan Leopold, the higher of our two 2nd round picks (#42 overall) in this year's draft, and prospect Riley Boychuk should do the trick. With Leopold they have a very solid defensive corps of Dan Boyle, Brent Burns, Leo, Douglas Murry, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic. The #42 pick and Boychuk help rejuvenate their suffering system. Cody McCormick is also included in the deal for salary reasons.
Pavelski comes with a $4M cap-hit for 2 more years . With Leo's $3M and McCormick's $1.2M coming off the books, that leaves us with $3.063M in cap space.
Trade to Winnipeg: Mike Weber, the #12 overall pick in the 2012 draft, the #44 overall pick in 2012 draft (from Calgary), and a 3rd round pick in 2013.
Receive from Winnipeg: Evander Kane and a 5th round pick in 2013
There are some rumors bubbling that Kane and the Jets are at odds. The rumors would have you believe that Kane is not happy in Winnipeg and want's out. Whether or not this rumor is true, the package above is quite a lot for the Jets to turn down as it would give them both the 9th and the 12th pick in this year's draft plus two more (the 39th and 44th picks) in the second round, plus a usable defensive-minded defenseman and a 3rd rounder next year. That could do a lot of good for a team in need of help pretty much everywhere - especially if Ondrej Pavalec jumps ship to the KHL. The package is modeled after what the Sabres would likely have to give up as compensation if they were to submit an offer sheet plus the inclusion Weber. However, since this is a trade and not an offer sheet, we stave off any negative repercussions that would surely follow.
Why target Evander? Even though he's probably not the Kane many Buffalonians would prefer, he's undoubtedly a great young player. Not only would his 30 goals have put him tied for the Sabres team lead in goals, but the 20-year old's 173 hits would have put him one ahead of Regehr's team-leading mark. Kane also brings an intimidating presence given his fight history. Kane doesn't directly help us become a puck possession team, but he does give us a bonafide young power-forward to build around.
Once Buffalo property, Kane is signed to a 5-year contract that averages out to $4.5M per. With Weber's $950K going the other way, that leaves us $487K over the cap.
Trade to the Islanders: Drew Stafford and the #21 overall pick in the 2012 draft.
Receive from the Islanders: The #4 overall pick and the #65 overall pick (3rd round) in the 2012 draft.
This move might be controversial after Ennis and Foligno found some magic with Stafford, but we have to clear money somehow and it allows us to move up in the draft to pick a top-rated center. Hopefully Mikhail Grigorenko is still available with the 4th overall selection, but if not, Alex Galchenyuk or RW Filip Forsberg should be. However, if for some reason tall three are off the board at #4, we can always move down and recoup some of the picks I've given up and target Radek Faksa.
The Islanders do this deal because Stafford gives them the 30-goal potential they hope will come from the player they were projected to draft with the 4th overall pick and allows them to draft a player like Martin Frk or Brendan Gaunce with the 21st overall pick.
This deal leaves us $3.513M under the cap.
Sign: Zenon Konopka to a 1-year, $900K contract.
Zenon Konopka is essentially a much cheaper version of Paul Gaustad minus a handful of goals and points a year but with a greater physical presence. He finished the season with a 58.9 Winning% in the faceoff circle; in the playoffs it rose all the way up to 70.7% while taking 22.1% of the Ottawa's total draws. He also contributed 193 PIM's and 54 Hits despite only playing in 55 regular-season games for the Senators last season. As a fourth line center, he moves Ellis back to Rochester. With his contract we come in $2.613M under the salary cap.
Drew Stafford, Jordan Leopold, Mike Weber, Cody McCormick, Riley Boychuk, 2012 #12 overall pick, 2012 #21 overall pick (from Nashville), 2012 #42 overall pick, 2012 #44 overall pick (from Calgary), and a 2013 3rd round pick.
Joel Pavelski, Evander Kane, Zenon Konopka, 2012 #4 overall pick, 2012 #65 overall pick (3rd round), the 2012 #168 overall pick (6th round), and a 2013 5th round pick.