To say the Buffalo Sabres have underachieved this season is like pointing out that Peyton Manning’s situation with the Indianapolis Colts is uncomfortable.
As painfully obvious as it is, it’s the sad truth and there are many criminals who can be accused of stealing Terry Pegula’s money.
Drew Stafford has 9-goals, 54-games into a 4-year $16-million contract. One less goal than Luke Adam who currently plays for the Rochester Americans and a meager four more than the team’s gruff penalty minute leader Patrick Kaleta.
Derek Roy, who had 35-points in 35-games last season before injuring his quad, is currently healthy. With his health he has struggled, putting up 27-points and a minus-10 rating in 54-games.
Those numbers are compiled by a player who receives the second most ice-time of any of the team’s forwards, only behind leading scorer Jason Pominville.
Off-season acquisition Ville Leino has 15-points in 45-games played, but is being paid $4.5-million for each of the next 6-seasons for his alleged intensity and prowess in the post-season, which will in all probability not be needed this year.
Brad Boyes was picked up at the trade deadline in 2011 from St. Louis to come in and provide a strong physical presence and a bullet shot at center, but he has mostly skated on the wing and netted only 8-goals in his 64-games since donning the blue and gold.
For a team that was hyped as a pre-season contender and supported by a fast start out of the gates, uncomfortable doesn’t quite say it.
As February 27, 2012 approaches and the Sabres playoff chances continue to fade, fans are wondering whether this team, once full with Stanley’s promise, should be buyers or sellers come the NHL trade deadline.
Despite a hot start after the All-Star break, the Sabres have settled back into the inconsistent roller coaster they were riding for the first half of the season.
Now that they are healthy, with the exception of the head coach, there really are no excuses left for management or the players to lean on.
Ryan Miller has been the only player with early-season struggles, who has significantly raised the level of his play since the break. He has had a renewed focus and will to keep this team afloat in the playoff hunt, but lately he’s needed to pitch a shutout just to give his offense a chance.
Up front, team Captain, Jason Pominville (53-points) and Thomas Vanek (43-points) continue to be the only two players this team can count on to produce any sort of offensive presence on a nightly basis.
With teams now sending their scouts off to scour the rosters of the NHL’s pretenders for willing trade partners, it’s time for General Manager, Darcy Regier to take an honest look at the team he has built.
It’s long been rumored that the Sabres GM has been unwilling to place a realistic value on his homegrown talent.
That rumor was confirmed in December when Toronto Maple Leafs GM, Brian Burke said, “We’re great friends and he’s a good guy but when we’re talking players, he’s talking one language and I’m talking a different language. That means one of us is unreasonable and I think it’s him.”
Sitting second-last in the Eastern Conference and last in the Northeastern Division, there are those who believe the recently healthy Sabres can still make a playoff push.
These fans still want to see the Sabres brass put the pedal to the metal and make a play for a key addition at the deadline like Rick Nash or Shane Doan. However, the Sabres need to admit they are a team comprised of solid pieces, but a soft core.
In order to strengthen the core, Regier needs to hit the AB Ripper X and start working the phones to rid the team of some unnecessary fat.
Brad Boyes is at the top of that list, because of his expiring contract. Despite lousy offensive numbers Boyes does have the ability to play solid defensive hockey and can contribute in the shootout, where he has scored 5-goals and has a 71.4% shootout percentage this season.
Paul Gaustad may be a more enticing option for a team looking to add physicality and a dynamic face-off man. However, the price tag on the Goose will be higher than Boyes. The Sabres are already lacking in the center department and moving one at the deadline would take some serious bargaining of a top prospect or pick despite Gaustad’s expiring contract.
As disappointing as Stafford and Roy have been so far this season, they may still garner some attention on the trade market. There’s always a team that thinks they have the remedy to coax excellence from underachievers. Clearly Stafford has it in him, at least in contract years. Its possible Regier could bargain one or both of these players into a high pick or top prospect.
Another player the Sabres should consider dealing because of his skyrocketing value and $5.3-million cap hit, is one of the only Sabres who is producing, Pominville.
Pominville could be an alluring piece for the Sabres to move if there are draft picks and a premier center prospect involved. In this kind of bold 2011 Flyers-type move the Sabres would also be making a statement to the rest of this roster that no one is untouchable and even the captain will be moved if success on the ice is not the bottom line.
Unfortunately that kind of transaction would take a bold initiative never before exhibited by Regier. The more likely position of the Sabres at the NHL trade deadline will be maintaining the status quo and possibly trying to shed some salary in the form of moving an under-performing veteran for a few low picks or a prospect.
On the back end the Sabres have a ton of NHL talent and it could be used to lure a trade. There are three seemingly untouchable Sabres defenseman; Myers, Ehrhoff and Regehr. Leaving; Andrej Sekera, Jordan Leopold, Mike Weber or Marc-Andre Gragnani as the subject of trade discussion.
Leopold would produce the most attention based on his pedigree and solid numbers. He is in the prime of his career, but he has been a liability in the defensive end, turning the puck over as much as any other Sabres blue-liner.
By selling off some of the producing pieces, it’s likely the Sabres will finish within the bottom five and enter the lottery for top prospect of the Sarnia Sting in the OHL, right wing Nail Yakupov.
Even if the Sabres don’t pick first, there is still a handful of top centers in this year’s draft the Sabres could consider; Alex Galchenyuk (OHL, Sarnia Sting), Mikhail Grigorenko (QMJHL, Quebec Ramparts), Zemgus Girgensons (USHL, Dubuque Fighting Saints) and Radek Faksa (OHL, Kitchener Rangers) all rank within TSN’s top-20 prospects. Plus, the more salary they can shed now, the wider the door opens for free agency.
The worst thing Sabres management can do at this point is nothing substantive. It’s time for Darcy Regier to realize this team isn’t good enough. He clings to his guys like a junkie clings to a fix, but like any addict, the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem.