I've read all the staff GMFAD posts and many of the Fanpost versions and to my mind they all suffer from the same problem. None of the proposed rosters are any good.
Not that they don't represent an improvement over the current roster, but the best of them build a team that might, if everything goes perfectly, sneak into the playoffs as a low seed. And just to get to that point the proposals all spend tons of the team's draft & prospect capital. My philosophy of team building is this: under no circumstances should a team trade away first round draft picks just to back into the playoffs. And under no circumstances should a team with a shallow prospect pool trade away young guys with potential just to to back into the playoffs. If those trades can win you a Cup, go ahead. But not to get swept by Boston in a 1st round playoff series.
Instead, I think the Sabres should take a lesson from my favorite soccer team, the Chelsea Football Club. For those who don't follow English football, Chelsea have won 5 championships in the past 15 years, but struggled a couple of seasons ago as age, injuries and a revolving door of coaches pushed them down the standings. Then the real trouble started. The club was banned by the league from acquiring new players for a whole year (eventually halved on appeal) over a relatively minor infraction involving youth players. A team in need of a refresh was unable to sign anyone new. Worse still, to balance their books they ended up selling off their best player. But it turned out that was the best thing that could have happened to them.
They were forced to bring their top prospects into the team and give them a chance to prove themselves at the highest level instead of being loaned to lower league clubs. They played the babies and lo and behold they were great. Guys like Tammy Abraham, Kurt Zouma, & Mason Mount weren't supposed to be on the team, much less starters and they became solid players. Christian Pulisic is a bonafide superstar. They ended up finishing 4th in a 20 team league.
So here's what I want the Sabres to do: nothing. Don't trade away the #8 overall pick or any other picks. Don't re-sign any UFAs (you can maybe talk me into bringing back one of either Larsson or Girgensons but not both). Don't let any of the RFAs go. Don't make any big free agent signings. PLAY THE BABIES. All of them. Guess who's back playing 2C? That's right Mitts. Thompson, Ruotsalainen, Asplund, Borgen. All of them are playing in the NHL this year. Cozens too obviously. This year's #1 pick? Depends who it is. If they pick one of the Swedes, send him back for another year so he can get top line minutes. If it's a North American kid, don't send him back to junior. What's he gonna learn there? Bring him in to the big club. Yeah I know it's burning a year of control. Sometimes you have to just have to bite the bullet though for the greater good.
PLAY THE BABIES. Play Mitts on the PK. Put Ruotsalainen on the PP. Special teams were atrocious last season. Could these guys do worse? This season is about letting these kids prove they belong in the NHL. Yeah, they won't win many games but they weren't going to win anyway. Let this be a year for growth. Let the kids go out there against the best players in the world and let them fail and then get come back the next game and fail again and again and again until they learn how to get it right. Or not. Time to find out what they can become. Some guys will succeed and develop into solid NHLers. Some will not. But now you know which is which a hell of a lot sooner.
One caveat though is this: the thing that kept Chelsea from finishing ahead of Manchester United in 3rd place was their league-worst goalkeeping. In order for this plan to work they need a more reliable pair to keep rookie mistakes from turning into goals and there will be lots of those. So I'd try to bring in a competent veteran goalie for a year or two and ship out Hutton. Maybe his eye surgery was the miracle he needed to save his career but I'm not willing to take that chance. Chicago will need a goalie next season and they might like Hutton from his time in STL. Send him there. I like the idea of bringing in Korpisalo from CBJ. He's got 2 years left on his contract, he's fairly cheap, and they have 2 Latvians pushing him for playing time. He might be available.
The other thing they need to do is balance out the d pairings. That means getting rid of either Risto or Montour. Frankly, I can't see anyone giving up anything of value for Risto, so Montour is the one who gets traded here. Winnipeg has like 5 dmen under contract for next season and a lot of cap space. I'm not crazy about any of their prospects though except Heinola who they'd be insane to trade. So take whatever draft picks they're willing to part with.
This plan will work well with the rumored internal cap they may be planning to install next season. Once they re-sign the RFAs and trade Montour & Hutton they come in somewhere around $70 mil. There's another benefit too. Chelsea has long been one of the most despised teams in the Premier League. They won their titles on the backs of guys like Didier Drogba who had a reputation for diving and whining, John Terry who banged a teammate's fiance and was charged in court with racially abusing an opponent, and Claude Makelele who was perfectly happy to foul his own mother to stop an attack. But mostly they were seen as a nouveau riche club who didn't belong hanging out with the big boys (if you don't believe in European football's caste system, check out the virulent and sometimes violent protests against RB Leipzig in Germany). But last season's team was downright likable. They were the scrappy underdogs. When was the last time you could say that about the Sabres? They've been underdogs but not the lovable kind. But put a team of kids out there and say, hey we're taking the training wheels off. Yeah, they're going to lose a lot but what happens if they outperform expectations, win a few extra games? Who doesn't want to root for guys like that? It's like last season's Senators. They sucked and sucked bad but they were better than anyone thought they'd be.
So please, let the Sabres go out there next season, PLAY THE BABIES, and be like Ottawa. Wait, did I really just type that? You win 2020.