GM for the Year - Where the Sabres need improving

Is Varlamov a goalie the Sabres should target this offseason?

Bit of a cheeky title, but I mainly just wanted to use it to address the mood of fans in the wake of the team sputtering and losing its playoff positioning. Many in the community feel that Kevyn Adams did not effectively address the team’s needs and weaknesses in the off-season or at the trade deadline, so I’d like to expand the normal GM for a day to a full year, that way I can make moves that I feel would have this team in a better spot today. So, with the benefit of hindsight I’d like to announce my revisions: nothing!

I understand that when looking at players who signed for bargain contracts, and seeing some of our guys struggle, it becomes easier to point the finger at Kevyn. You have to remember though that going into this season our squad was, without a shadow of a doubt, the most volatile team in the league to predict. I mean look at our lineup on opening night.









Fitzgerald, Bjork, and Hinostroza as scratches.

Although people had expectations for each individual, the fact of the matter was that the team was filled with question marks.

Thompson- A flash in the pan or something more?

Skinner – Worth the contract?

Tuch – Played less than half a year, can he be consistent?

Cozens – Subpar year, will he take the next step?

Quinn/Peterka/Krebs/Power/Samuelsson – Rookie wall or easy acclimation?

Okposo – Gas left in the tank?

Asplund – Selke candidate actually?

Olofsson – 1-dimensional or will he round out his game?

Mittlestadt – Part of the long term plans or needs a change of scenery?

Dahlin- Norris trophy or nah?

Jokiharju – Middle or bottom pair guy?

Bryson – Worth keeping around?

Lyubushkin – Can he solidify the team defensively?

Comrie – Numbers as a backup meaningful?

Anderson – Can he even play at his age?

Different people had different pre-conceived notions about how each player would fare, but there’s no denying that the team as a whole had one of, if not the biggest, talent floor and ceiling differences in the league. Without knowing how the team would perform, why spend big in free agency? I could take it a step further and say that signing even the bargain contracts just takes away our ability to evaluate the team. MAYBE Dylan Strome would’ve signed here, but what would he do for us? Our floor might go up a bit, but who’s losing ice time? IMO, we had cap space not because we’re cheap, but because we truly didn’t know yet who we’d want to replace in that lineup.

Besides, NOT signing anyone has brought us a top 5 scoring offense, so nobody should be really regretting that, right? On defense and in net I can understand the frustration since KA’s solutions didn’t come with a lot of hype, but they were low risk acquisitions; an attempt to find a Domi or a Strome at a position of need. I’m fine with him not spending at the cap and I personally wouldn’t have done anything different even in hindsight.

The value of this season, in terms of determining what we have, has been great. Most of the above questions have been answered, and even better, most were answered in an overwhelmingly positive way. Mittlestadt and Cozens have been revelations, all of our rookies have grown immensely and show great promise, and our superstars put the league on notice; not much more I could ask for!

But there’s even better news in that most of our conference rivals went out and spent big, going all in this year for the Cup. Most will be in cap hell this year and all but one team will face massive disappointment. It’s the perfect opportunity for us to lock up solid FA’s without overpaying, or help teams in financial need by taking talent off their hands. So for all these reasons I give KA, Granato, and the team an A for the season to this point, far exceeding my expectations. However, while NOT pulling a Tim Murray is certainly an achievement, this upcoming off-season will determine if our front office has what it takes to address our now VERY clear needs.

What I would do? Keep every asset we have and utilize our cap space to acquire a few quality pieces to take this team to the next level through Free Agency. A lot of the contending teams will find themselves out of the UFA market due to price tags which means most players will either have to take a fair value deal for their services or take more money from a bottom tier team. So who are the targets? Let’s first review our needs:

1. Bottom 6 forward depth. Looking for probably 2 guys who can play bottom 6 roles for the team as well as 1 middle six type of guy that can be moved up in the lineup without issue in the event of an injury.

2. A couple of Dmen; 1 bonafide top 4 RHD and 1 bottom pair to force Stillman/Lyubushkin into the press box.

3. Veteran goalie. With Levi still 3ish years away and Comrie not the answer, we need a quality goaltender with loads of experience to fill the Craig Anderson role while hopefully playing more games.

The Targets:

For need 1 there’s no shortage of targets. Old friend Evan Rodrigues has done a remarkable job on both Pittsburgh and Colorado the past few years and would be a great pickup with a solid 200ft game. Combining him with another defensively competent and experienced forward like Jesper Fast would really help improve team defense. Tyson Jost has proven worthy of keeping so long as his asking price is reasonable, but Hinostroza would need to take a pay cut to be worth retaining. As for the middle 6 forward I’d look to target somebody with more offensive upside considering an Olofsson trade is likely to happen. Michael Bunting would be a good option for this that likely wouldn’t break the bank, Max Domi also comes to mind.

For need 2 there’s a few places I’m looking. Many people have already mentioned guys like Radko Gudas or Scott Mayfield; I’d prefer Gudas for sure but either one would be a great partner for somebody like Johnson while he acclimates to the NHL. For the top 4 role I’m excited to introduce the idea of Damon Severson from the Devils. With the acquisition of Meier you have 2 large extensions looming between him and Jesper Bratt. They have several other players with expiring contracts that they’ll have to deal with, and Severson will likely be replaced by either Simon Nemec or Luke Hughes long term. Considering they’ve extended Siegenthaler and already have Marino and Hamilton penciled in, it doesn’t seem reasonable to keep Severson over Ryan Graves, especially if Severson wants to get paid. On Buffalo he’s a perfect fit as a player still in his prime, shoots right, plays a complete game, and doesn’t lack size at 6’2. According to Evolving Hockey’s skater similarity model, his best comparison is Jeff Petry, who signed a contract with the Montreal Canadiens in 2015-16 at the same age as Severson at a rate of 7.97% of the cap. Bringing that up to date for today, that means Severson could be reasonably had for $6.5mil for 6 years. I fully believe he’d be effective for the entire length of the contract much like Petry was, and he’d be the most important addition of the off-season as a quality player and enabler for Owen Power to reach his ceiling.

Lastly there’s need 3, goaltending. Frederik Anderson comes up here a lot and I like him as a possible solution, I’ll just throw out a few other suggestions that could work as well. My personal favorite is Semyon Varlamov; he’s fallen off a bit this year due to the incredible play of Ilya Sorokin, but I think he’d be a quality and steady presence for the team and somebody who can command the defense in front of him similar to Anderson. I also think Adin Hill would be a potential steal if Vegas doesn’t keep him, a much safer bet than Comrie was and still just 27 years old.

Plugging in these additions gives us a lineup like:









Jost/Hinostroza and Lyubushkin competing for spots..

As you can see the top remains untouched because don’t fix what ain’t broke, but the bottom of the lineup gives me far more confidence than before, and ways to get better matchups for the kids. If/when injuries occur I feel more comfortable with our depth, and we still have guys like Kulich and Savoie who can audition if we want them to. All this without trading any assets! If people price themselves out than this can change, but I see no reason why we couldn’t put this lineup together and still have plenty of cap space left over.

I chose to forego proposing trade packages for guys like Olofsson and Bryson because I’m not doing a full mock draft for this exercise, and I believe the best trade opportunities for the team would be to include either or both to maneuver up the board on draft day in one of the best drafts in recent memory. I believe it would be wise for the front office to find their targets similar to last year and use pieces that aren’t in the long term picture to help them get THEIR guys.

This can’t be emphasized enough because as we transition to being true contenders all the picks we have now will become even more important in avoiding the cap crunch that many other teams are facing. Look no further than the Maple Leafs, who are having to mortgage ALL future prospects in order to get teams to retain salary on trade deadline acquisitions as they desperately try to win before Matthews becomes a UFA and Tavares falls off. Talk to any Leafs fan and they look at Matthew Knies as the true franchise savior simply because he looks to be an impact player who won’t be costing them $11mil per year. The more of those a team has, the more complete a team you can build. Keep the picks, make them count, and build yourself a dynasty, not just a cup winner.

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.