We begin our look at which players the Buffalo Sabres might be targeting in free agency today starting with the center position. Zach did a write-up on Brad Richards earlier today, so for the purpose of brevity you won't find his name here, and you also won't find the popular Brooks Laich, as he re-signed with the Washington Capitals earlier today.
Before we get started, however, I must remind you that the market for free agent centers is extremely thin, especially in the playmaking department. You won't see a lot of guys that are putting up big points on this list because they don't exist this year -- if you're looking for someone like that then you're looking to make a trade. So, with that out of the way, here are five players I believe the Sabres should take a look at on July 1:
Jason Arnott: Arnott is a name that's been thrown around a lot recently as a potential replacement for guys like Mike Grier or Rob Niedermayer. He can still provide a decent amount of offense to the table, tallying 17 goals and 31 points last season, and will also bring toughness and leadership. Arnott's big question mark is his age -- at 36 years old, he has the same number of candles on his birthday cake as Rob Niedermayer. It's also debatable whether he can still be a second line center and hang with players like Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford, or if he would function better on the third line. Still, he knows what it takes to win, commands a good amount of respect around the league, and would be a great addition to the Sabres' locker room.
Tomas Fleischmann: If you're looking for a setup man who can provide offensive spark, Fleischmann might be worth a look. He tallied 31 points in just 45 games for Colorado and Washington last season before being sidelined in January by a pulmonary embolism. He still hasn't been medically cleared by doctors, so he's a bit of an injury risk, but that could drive his price down. Fleischmann can play both center and wing, but lacks toughness and above-average faceoff skills. Still, if you're looking to replace Tim Connolly's offensive talent without re-signing Connolly, the 27-year old Fleischmann might be your man.
Maxime Talbot: Talbot has been a fan favorite in Pittsburgh for a long time - not just because he scored the Stanley Cup winning goal, but because he plays a high energy game and plays bigger on the ice than his 5'11'', 190lbs frame would indicate. Talbot would fill in nicely as the penalty-killing replacement for a Grier or Connolly, and is still in his athletic prime at age 27. Unfortunately he won't put up many more than 10 goals and 25 points per season, is a little injury-prone due to his play style and sometimes struggles to shut down bigger forwards. However, he's a player who gives 110% on every shift and has developed into a fine leader on a Penguins team that already has more than its fair share of leadership.
John Madden: Let's get one thing out of the way right off the bat - John Madden is 38 years old. That being said, he's still a fantastic penalty killer and defensive center who could really anchor a top-notch shutdown line. He won't provide a ton of offense, but would make up for that in leadership qualities and work ethic (think of Chris Drury's arrival in Buffalo.) If you can get past his age, I still think Madden could be an effective third line center who would come fairly cheap.
Tim Connolly: Yes, Tim Connolly - before we go on I'll wait for you to stop screaming at your monitors ....... aaaaannnnd ....... there. As much maligned as Timmy has been in Buffalo over the past few seasons, the fact remains that he's one of the best play-making centers on the free agent market. He'd have to take a significant pay cut for most fans to tolerate his return, but with the inflated cap numbers we're seeing this year, his price may be too high for many fans, or GMs, to stomach. Whether you
love tolerate him or hate him, he can still be an effective #2 center for most teams in this league, and don't forget, he's an underrated penalty killer/teammate defender.
There are a few other players I had in my head for this list, and I'm sure you all have your favorite targets in mind as well, so let me know your thoughts on these players or who you think should have made the list in the comments.