Free Agency began just over 32 hours ago and the Sabres addressed one need but they may have become weaker in another area of concern.One of the Sabres biggest weaknesses during the 2008-2009 season was their lack of offensive production from their blue liners.
This was a weakness all last season and with the departure of Jaroslav Spacek it figures to get worse. Spacek led all Sabres defensemen in every offensive category with eight goals, 37 assists and 45 points. He also scored four power play goals which was over half the rest of the defense.
The Sabres added Steve Montador yesterday but he is more of a physical defensive defenseman. Montador had four goals and 17 assists for 21 points last season. Although Montador is not known as an offensive-defenseman he does have some offensive talent and he is a smooth skater. Make no mistake about Montador, he was brought to Buffalo because he is a physical player and not an offensive player.
The two moves that occurred yesterday could have a far reaching effect on the team that nobody anticipated. There is no denying the Sabres needed to get tougher but they also need to get more offense from their defense. Here is a loo at the Sabres defensive statistics both with and without Spacek.
For a team that has struggled to play physical and has average to weak overall defense, this looks like an outstanding move. The team plus/minus is a plus 15 with Montador in comparison to Spacek and Montador had 105 more penalty minutes.
|2008 - Jaroslav Spacek||80||8||37||45||2||38||4||0||0||0||130||6.2|
|2008 - Steve Montador||78||4||17||21||17||143||0||0||0||0||117||3.4|
There are a couple of glaring differences between Spacek and Montador. Spacek scored four power play goals and Montador had zero. Montador racked up a total of 143 penalty minutes and he was a plus 17. Montador obviously fills a huge need defensively but who can run the power play?
The Sabres had previously wondered if Andrej Sekera could be that offensive force on the blue line. At this point in his career that looks unlikely. He has some obvious talent and he is an outstanding skater but at the end of last season he regressed in every aspect of the game. Sekera needs to focus on finding his game and not being the go-to guy to provide offense from the blue line.
Marc-Andre Gragnani is another in house option for the Sabres. Gragnani had nine goals and 42 assists in 76 games for the Sabres AHL affiliate the Portland Pirates last season. Gragnani played four games with the Sabres last season but was used sparingly. In his short time with the Sabres he never really showed his offensive skill and had zero points.
The Sabres best options appear to be outside the organization via trade or free agency. There is no use speculating who the Sabres could get via trade but there are a couple options available through free agency. The two players that come to mind immediately are Mathieu Schneider and Marc-Andre Bergeron. Both players have offensive skill with Schneider being the veteran and Bergeron still young at 29 years old.
|2008 - Mathieu Schneider||67||9||23||32||-12||64||6||0||2||0||128||7.0|
|2008 - Marc-Andre Bergeron||72||14||18||32||5||30||7||0||3||0||140||10.0|
Bergeron seems like the better choice at this point but there is a possibility that he could be looking at a three or four year contract. The Sabres seem reluctant to commit to anyone for that long considering what happened with some of their own players that have regressed since signing new deals.
Bergeron will not bring a physical presence to the team but he could be the quarterback of the power play. He had seven power play goals last season which matches the total for the entire Buffalo Sabres defensive corps. It's tough to gauge salaries in the market this year but if the Sabres could sign him for $2-2.5 million per season they could fit him in the budget. They admitted to offering Spacek at least $3 million for one season so they would be in the same neighborhood.
If they can't land Bergeron than Schneider could be a possibility. He is 39 years old which is a concern but he does bring some offensive talent. He had nine goals last season but he is a bit of a defensive liability these days. He has definitely seen better days and should be considered only as a one year stop gap.
It doesn't matter which route the Sabres take to upgrade their blue line but they can't go into next season without addressing this need. There are plenty of reasons the Sabres missed the playoffs last season but the one that is most often overlooked is their lack of offense on the blue line.
If you were Darcy Regier what would you do to increase the offensive production from the defensive corps?