FanPost

Sabres 2016

After a disappointing elimination from playoff contention, it is time for Sabres fans as well as front office to look to the future. In this post, I will look at what the Sabres’ organization might look like over the next few years. In particular, I’ll look at a snapshot for the 2015-16 season. Naturally, there will be a number of moves between now and then, but with the Sabres looking unlikely to be Cup contenders anytime soon, this is a useful way at looking at organizational assets and depth.

First, let’s look at a potential depth chart based on players under team control. Here, I’ll use only players who meet both of the following requirements:

-Are signed through 2015-16 or who will be restricted free agents in the next three years

-Played pro hockey for most or all of this season (AHL/Europe count, NCAA/Jr Hockey does not)

In this depth chart, I’ll also include ages for the 2015-16 season (ages as of Feb 1, 2016, using the hockey-reference convention for season age)

F

Ennis (26)-Hodgson (25)-Gerbe (28)

Leino (32)-Grigorenko (21)-Armia (22)

Foligno (24)-Larsson (23)-Flynn (27)

Adam (25)-Girgensons (22)-Tropp (26)

D

Myers (25)-Ehrhoff (33)

Weber (28)-Pysyk (24)

McNabb (25)-Ruhwedel (25)

G

Enroth (27)

Hackett (25)

Obviously, player development will be key, but what is encouraging is the number of players who will be in their mid-20s. Analysts have found NHL players tend to peak around age 25 (for instance, http://www.arcticicehockey.com/2010/1/21/1261318/nhl-points-per-game-peak-age). This 2016 team has 13 players in the 23-27 range, including four former first round picks. By contrast, this year’s squad featured only 10 players in this age range, of whom only Ennis and Stafford were taken in the first round. The total:

Gerbe-Ennis-Stafford

Flynn-Porter-Kaleta

Weber-Sekera

Brennan (traded)

Enroth

Next, let’s think about what this team would cost. The salary cap is scheduled to fall to $64.3M in 2013-14, and if it rises by 5% thereafter it will be nearly $71M in 2015-16. I’ll estimate that, on a per season basis, the RFA work out as follows: Ennis and Grigorenko get $4M apiece on their next extensions, comparable to Stafford, Hodgson gets $5M, Foligno and Pysyk $3M each, and the rest $1.5M. Some of these may be lower, some a little higher, but that is probably somewhere close (if anyone wants to take a closer look in the comments, I am curious to see what others think next contracts will be). In this scenario, those 20 players will combine for about $51M, leaving Buffalo about $20 million under the salary cap. This number will be slightly lower because Buffalo would carry more than 20 players, but could also be higher if Leino or another expensive player is bought out.

Besides the “future core,” there are three other potential sources to fill out the roster. There are (1) secondary prospects, (2) current Sabres who may be re-signed, and (3) free agent or trade acquisitions. The first group will be important for the long-term future and may help facilitate a trade in the short run, it is unlikely they will have a major impact on the parent club by 2016. The third group is more nebulous but possibly very important. The middle group is crucial, and now I’ll evaluate our upcoming free agent classes and what I expect from them. Future free agents that played on this year’s team:

Class of 2013 – Hecht, Scott, Ellis, Pardy, Sulzer. I don’t think any of these players are likely to be back, except maybe the HMCS John Scott will be re-commissioned for another year or two. The youth movement is underway. The 2013 UFA most worth watching may actually be Leggio.

Class of 2014 – Vanek, Ott, Porter, McCormick, Miller. The big year. I think Miller is extremely likely to be gone in the 2013 offseason for whatever assets the Sabres can get, and the fact that the Pominville trade included a goaltender makes that seem even more like a done deal. Vanek is less certain, but what is certain is that the Sabres can’t let him walk for nothing next year. If a good offer comes this summer, I think it will be accepted; otherwise, the rental market next midseason. In a perfect world, I would want to sign him to an extension this summer with the understanding that he and his agent could explore trades with other teams if he was unhappy with the direction of the team after the next year or two. While he is on the wrong side of the aging curve, Vanek-caliber players of any age are very rare. Ott’s situation may be the trickiest. I think everyone loves his energy and toughness, but is it wise to re-sign a non-star player who may well be declining as the team improves?

Class of 2015 – Stafford, Kaleta, Sekera. I may be in the minority here, but I will be very unhappy if Stafford is traded this offseason. He can’t possibly shoot below half his career percentage again, and thus I can’t see that his value can go down any farther. Hopefully a new season (and probably a new coach) will re-energize him and he can either produce for Buffalo or earn a higher return if he does need a change of scenery. Still, I'm not sure there is much to be gained from extending any of these players into their 30s, meaning we have up to two more years of Stafford and Sekera trade rumors.

For the sake of argument, let’s say the Sabres re-sign only Vanek. If they do not, they will almost certainly be interested in signing another scoring wing to play on the first line. Now, with about $10M to spare (or to add another big UFA in the position of your choice), the lines may update to:

F

Vanek (32)-Hodgson (25)-Ennis (26)

Leino (32)-Grigorenko (21)-Armia (22)

Foligno (24)-Larsson (23)-Gerbe (28)

Adam (25)-Girgensons (22)-Flynn (27)

Tropp

D

Myers (25)-Ehrhoff (33)

Weber (28)-Pysyk (24)

McNabb (25)-Ruhwedel (25)

G

Enroth (27)

Hackett (25)

I think this team has really good balance. If Hodgson and Ennis continue to improve, that is an extremely dangerous #1 line, with Grigorenko-Armia having a lot of upside to create a strong second scoring line that has the talent level to improve into a #1 line with time. Foligno, Larsson and Girgensons are strong two-way players that have the potential to bring the term “secondary scoring” back into Buffalo vocabularies. The defense lacks any true shut-down players, unless Myers ever recovers his early form, but there are a lot of capable guys who should be in their primes. The goaltending is a question mark, but there are two seasons to see whether Enroth or Hackett (or Leggio or Makarov) could turn out to be the answer in net. If the team is a player or two short at any position, they ought to be able to trade out of a prospect pool re-stocked with existing extra picks plus potential assets from future Miller/Stafford trades, or sign a front-line free agent if the team begins to show promise sooner.

Overall, the future-Sabres reminds me of the current St. Louis Blues: not necessarily a front-line contender, but a solid playoff team driven by youth, and a team with the ability to buy veteran depth at need and increase payroll as their young talent develops. In the short term, the Buffalo Sabres are a rebuilding franchise, but in the medium and long term, it is possible to see how the new building could look.



This is a FanPost written by a member of the community. It does not necessarily express the views or opinions of Die By The Blade.

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