Defensive options for the Sabres in free agency

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Free agency begins tomorrow, and the Sabres need to spend serious money. Now without Ehrhoff, a new defenseman will be one of the items on their shopping list.

The Sabres will likely need to add a defenseman or two through free agency or a trade this off-season, especially after they decided to part ways with Christian Ehrhoff last season.

This group of free agents isn't full of fancy toys, but the Sabres need to spend a lot of money and there are some players that could make be a fit. Now $20 million away from the cap floor, moves will certainly be coming.

Willie Mitchell

Mitchell, 37, just capped off his fourth season in Los Angeles with his second Stanley Cup with the Kings. After the season, Los Angeles announced they would not be bringing him back, meaning he will be on the market.

This season Mitchell scored one goal and 11 assists in 76 games. On one of if not the best teams when it comes to advanced stats, Mitchell was fourth among defenseman in Corsi and Fenwick percentage. He logged just over 20 minutes of ice-time in both the regular season and playoffs.

Mitchell is finishing up a two-year deal with the Kings which carried a cap hit of $3.5 million. At his age he would only get a one or two year deal, meaning his salary would be off the books when the Sabres are ready to start trying to be good again.

Henrik Tallinder

The Sabres could decide to simply bring back Tallinder on a new one or two year deal if they were pleased with his leadership abilities this season. He'd be one of the easiest defensemen to sign as he not only is already here and familiar with the situation, but also won't garner the same interest that others will.

Unless Murray overpays to get to the salary floor Tallinder won't be as expensive as other options. That usually is a positive, but not in the Sabres current situation. He played 64 games in Buffalo this season, totaling two goals and six assists.

Anton Stralman

He's one of the top available defenseman in this year's free agency class, and he is looking to get paid. The Rangers blueliner had a solid season for the Eastern Conference champions, but contract talks between the two sides are not going well. He reportedly declined a Rangers offer of three-years and $9 million, so to land him you'd likely need to up either the price or the term.

Stralman is a seven-year vet who has spent time with Toronto, Columbus, and most recently a three-year stint in New York. He scored one goal and 12 assists in 81 games this season and has very favorable fancy stats. He had the best Corsi and Fenwick percentage of any Ranger who played more than 11 games.

Brooks Orpik

A few years ago, Orpik would have been far and away the guy that you'd want to sign. However, his play has tapered a bit as of late. He's been tied to the Sabres in some way or another for a while due to the fact that he grew up in Amherst and went to Nichols.

The rugged 6'2" 220 lbs. defenseman has never been the biggest scorer in the world, but during his top seasons he produced about 20 points. This year he only put up two goals and 11 assists. If you're looking for a guy to replace Ehrhoff's offense, its clearly not Orpik. Last season he was one of the worst players on the Penguins in shooting percentage to go along with his middling Corsi and poor Fenwick against slightly above average competition.

At 33 Orpik isn't getting any faster and with his style could lose his effectiveness even two or three years down the line. With this crop of free agents the odds are that he'll be overpaid to a long-term deal by a team like Edmonton who is desperate for defensive help. Based on buying out their best defenseman, the Sabres don't seem that desperate.

Other names to note

As has been a trend since the lockout, this free agent class is even weaker than the one previously. There aren't many other options, especially since players like Dan Boyle and Stephane Robidas will get interest from contenders.

Another option for the Sabres could be to sign a restricted free agent to a contract, since they have plenty of draft picks for compensation. The contract wouldn't be big enough to warrant giving up a first round pick, as Murray wouldn't even consider that. He could still sign a player from a team with cap issues, like Alec Martinez or Torrey Krug, to a middle of the road offer sheet that will only lead to some second round picks lost.

Then there's always the option of a trade, which could make more sense in the Sabres current situation. By getting a player already under contract the term could be shorter than if they signed a free agent to a brand new deal this summer.

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