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Fixing the Sabres Long-Term - Can it be done?


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We all know the Sabres are a swimmer in the ocean holding on to a life raft and trying to stay afloat.  TP got lucky that the Bills have become excellent because they got the right guys in charge.  I just finished an Athletic article on McDermott and what a great hire.

However building a football organization is much easier then building a hockey one.  No guaranteed contracts, drafting mature players who you expect to step right in etc....

The question right now is whether this "rebuild" of the Sabres 3.0 is salvageable?  I think it is, but I'm not sure KA is up to the task, but he is so raw who knows.  He certainly is no Beane experience wise.  That doesn't mean he can't succeed, but it makes it that much harder.  The team just doesn't have enough talent up front and in goal to win on talent alone.  They also don't have a coaching staff or enough experienced players steeped in winning to help them all buy in.

Short-term we need playoff caliber goaltending for the next 3 years.  UPL maybe the future or even Portillo, but that is years away.  Ullmark is a solid NHL goalie, but his terrible save % on the PK gives me serious pause.  I actually want MAF.  He is a proven winner and leader.  Right now Staal is the only one we have.

We also need to hope that the kids come in and make a difference over the next 2 years.  Samuelsson, Johnson, Bryson, Cozens, Quinn, JJP and others step up quicker then expected helping to salvage this mess.

However internal prospects won't be enough.  We need the guys to stop being soft and I have the first part of the solution.  I'm bucking RK upstairs.  His D system has done a great job of suppressing the opponents opportunities, but his special teams and offense are awful.  He also has them playing soft.  He also is killing Dahlin by to much structure and not enough creativity.  As a team, to much perimeter and not enough forechecking.  The solution is easy.  Hire Mike Grier to coach this team.  He isn't soft, has received excellent reviews as an Ast Coach, is part of the Sabres family, and understands how to build a winning environment. If he coaches as he played, relentless, this team will change in a hurry for the positive.  

I'm also trading Hall at the deadline to get more depth in the organization up front.  I'm not investing another long-term deal in a 30 ish player.  Outside Jack, Cozens and maybe Reinhart, are their any true core pieces in our forward group?  I'm also taking a page out of the McDermott playbook and deciding to trade away any guys who aren't committed to winning.  DR let Ruff and Drury set that new tone.  MAF and Grier can change the tone here.  So far I've seen only 3 Sabres who have put forth real effort all 5 games; Lazar, McCabe and Risto.  That's it.

Identifying who to keep and who to let go is hard and this is where KA's inexperience hurts us.  IMHO there are only 4-7 players on this team that I want long-term and a couple I'd be fine with keeping.  They are Dahlin, Risto (really), Cozens and Jack.  I'm fine with Reinhart and Jokiharju, if he makes progress also, and possibly McCabe. I want to get faster and more physical.  

The first step is playing the kids as soon as we are truly out of the playoff picture, which should be soon.  R2 and Mitts need a long look see this season to see if we have anything there.  I might even throw Quinn in for 6 games or so to see how he does.  I'm probably also recalling Bryson and Samuelsson to give them a taste of the NHL and see how they react.  

Other then the core guys mentioned earlier, I'm done with most everyone else including VO.  I'm buying out KO after this season.  I'm trading Hall as I mentioned earlier, unless I can find a taker for Skinner.  I'm hoping (giving them an incentive) Seattle takes Miller off our hands.  I'm extending Risto because we need a physical presence and his improvement over the last season plus is remarkable.  I may extend McCabe, because we have no else like him and he meshes well with Risto.  I'm keeping Ullmark for now to learn from MAF and also to balance PT.  Everyone else, trade or let walk.  I'm also only taking FAs if I can from winning organizations.  I know this doesn't guarantee anything (see Conor Sheary), but at least they understand the buy in to succeed.  

The truth is this season is probably no longer about a playoff birth.  It's about KA evaluating the organization top to bottom, from RK down to the 4th liners in Rochester.  If he is honest with himself, he'll probably see what I see, a few good pieces that need to be kept and taught to win and the rest that can be flushed away.

There is a reason that there are no Bills drafted players on the Bills that weren't drafted by McDermott, that there are 12 ex Panthers on this team and that Jerry Hughes is the only holdover from the previous administration.

Edited by GASabresIUFAN
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Ya, good post. 

For me, I am of the opinion that the mere decision of them yielding to another "evaluation" year sets the team back potentially years. They won't win until they chose to make that their biggest priority. Punting another season by choice ingrains that further as "what this team does". 

If you don't share that view (and I know you don't) - the game plan you laid out for that particular pathway seems pretty solid to me. 

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5 minutes ago, PASabreFan said:

Good post. But, no offense, I want to cut myself.

It was as painful to write and it was to read.  We kept layering mistake upon mistake and have so little to show for it.  TM trading away key assets for ROR and crap plus poor drafting. JBot rebuilding the D, but trading away a gifted 2C for some magic beans, $8 in savings and then didn't replace him.  4 different coaches ranging from rigid, to inexperienced to motivational to great guy without a system.  Edmonton has done the same thing we have for longer and they still suck and they have two of the top 10 players in the NHL.  

On the plus side Jbot really did a good job fixing the D. McCabe and Risto were here, then he added Montour, Miller, Jokiharju and Dahlin.  Miller is the only real dud (and needs to go). Dahlin and Jokiharju are so young and have so much potential. If we can get them to reach that potential we'll have something special on the back end.  We also have depth to replace guys as they move on assuming a couple of Laaksonen, Bryson, Johnson and Samuelsson can take the next step (hoepfully sooner then later).   That's the one area of this team I'm not worried about.  

On the negative side the goaltending and forward group.  Jbot tried to create some competition for Ullmark with Hutton and failed and since he traded away ROR we really have been running with one top line and 3 3rd and 4th lines.  This year we hoped Staal would be a stop gap at 2C, but the tank looks empty. Therefore we have a top line, 2 4th lines and a couple of stray pieces.  Fortunately, most of the guys are on short deal and can be replaced except the 2 big mistakes of KO and Skinner who consume 20% of our cap.  

I'd like Montour, but you have to give to get and we still need a 2C sooner then later.  I want Cozens at center of the 3rd line now to get him ready for a long-term bigger role and maybe even 2C next year.  I'm also willing to trade VO.  I think he is a one trick pony.  I know others disagree and will rightly ask how do you replace his scoring.  

Some of the changes will be dictated by player development and other my the FA and trade market place, but KA really needs to listen to any and all offers.

 

 

 

  

 

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4 minutes ago, Thorny said:

Ya, good post. 

For me, I am of the opinion that the mere decision of them yielding to another "evaluation" year sets the team back potentially years. They won't win until they chose to make that their biggest priority. Punting another season by choice ingrains that further as "what this team does". 

If you don't share that view (and I know you don't) - the game plan you laid out for that particular pathway seems pretty solid to me. 

We still need to try to win.  My first move is a move toward winning by getting MAF here.  That is both a short-term and medium-term step toward winning.  I'm also not about trading Hall or Montour for draft picks.  I want hockey trades to fix this messed up forward group.  I should have made that clearer.  I want new RWs, I also want guys with term or youth to build with.  However this is evaluation season regardless.  KA didn't hire RK, if he doesn't get results he and his staff could easily be done.  So many guys are on short-term deals because KA rightly wants to evaluate what he has and doesn't have, however you don't bring in Hall and Staal to lose.  Unfortunately even they can't solve all this issues here and more talent and better coaching is needed

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6 minutes ago, freester said:

No way I’m going with an inexperienced head coach. It’s bad enough we have a GM who doesn’t know what he’s doing.  

I thought about that when I picked Mike Grier.  That is why I'm keeping RK in the organization.  My thought process is the Mike is the behind the bench guy and RK is more the liaison between Mike and KA and helps set the vision for the club.  An unusual structure I know, but I want Mike's toughness, intelligence, player experience and winning experience coaching this team.  McDermott was never a HC before Buffalo.  It's about finding the right leader.  

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5 minutes ago, tom webster said:

This organization is fine and set up to be even better in the coming years. No drastic changes needed. Both Sam and Hall will be here long term unless Sam is traded for a top defenseman.

Sorry Tom, but you aren't watching the same soft listless team I and many others are watching.

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9 minutes ago, Gatorman0519 said:

Can we expose Skinner?  It would be great to get rid of his and Okposo dinosaur contracts.  

No.  He has a NMC.  Also no way we can move KO's deal either unless he somehow goes on LTIR permanently.  

Skinner might be someone Seattle would take for a hefty price, but that could be worth it.  We might have to eat some contract and give up a high draft pick or two.  The better solution is getting him a real center to play with and hope his scoring touch returns.

Edited by GASabresIUFAN
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8 minutes ago, GASabresIUFAN said:

Sorry Tom, but you aren't watching the same soft listless team I and many others are watching.

No apologies necessary. I’m so confident I will give you two tickets to the game of your choice if the team doesn’t make the playoffs. No strings.

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1 minute ago, tom webster said:

No apologies necessary. I’m so confident I will give you two tickets to the game of your choice if the team doesn’t make the playoffs. No strings.

I do love your unbridled optimism 🙏

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17 minutes ago, GASabresIUFAN said:

We still need to try to win.  My first move is a move toward winning by getting MAF here.  That is both a short-term and medium-term step toward winning.  I'm also not about trading Hall or Montour for draft picks.  I want hockey trades to fix this messed up forward group.  I should have made that clearer.  I want new RWs, I also want guys with term or youth to build with.  However this is evaluation season regardless.  KA didn't hire RK, if he doesn't get results he and his staff could easily be done.  So many guys are on short-term deals because KA rightly wants to evaluate what he has and doesn't have, however you don't bring in Hall and Staal to lose.  Unfortunately even they can't solve all this issues here and more talent and better coaching is needed

I don't believe this to be true. 

You don't bring in Hall for one year and proceed to spend the year evaluating the roster. If you bring in a player like that, the goal is/should be to win, now. 

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1 minute ago, tom webster said:

No apologies necessary. I’m so confident I will give you two tickets to the game of your choice if the team doesn’t make the playoffs. No strings.

Playoffs this season?

Here is the broader problem.  We have 25 mill invested already in KO, Skinner and Jack.  Now you want to add another say 14-15 mill in Hall and Reinhart giving us 50% of our cap in 5 players, two of which are or won't produce.  This isn't workable.  If Hall produces, I would love to keep him, but how?  Either Skinner needs to go or we need to move on from Olofsson and maybe Reinhart.  That doesn't work for me either because we have no RWs.  I'm sorry, but keeping Hall long-term just doesn't work cap wise, unless we gut what few pieces we have.

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7 minutes ago, GASabresIUFAN said:

No.  He has a NMC.  Also no way we can move KO's deal either unless he somehow goes on LTIR permanently.  

Skinner might be someone Seattle would take for a hefty price, but that could be worth it.  We might have to eat some contract and give up a high draft pick or two.  The better solution is getting him a real center to play with and hope his scoring touch returns.

Players can waive for the purposes of expansion draft, correct?

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2 minutes ago, GASabresIUFAN said:

Playoffs this season?

Here is the broader problem.  We have 25 mill invested already in KO, Skinner and Jack.  Now you want to add another say 14-15 mill in Hall and Reinhart giving us 50% of our cap in 5 players, two of which are or won't produce.  This isn't workable.  If Hall produces, I would love to keep him, but how?  Either Skinner needs to go or we need to move on from Olofsson and maybe Reinhart.  That doesn't work for me either because we have no RWs.  I'm sorry, but keeping Hall long-term just doesn't work cap wise, unless we gut what few pieces we have.

If it can be done by moving VO, no brainer. 

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1 minute ago, GASabresIUFAN said:

Playoffs this season?

Here is the broader problem.  We have 25 mill invested already in KO, Skinner and Jack.  Now you want to add another say 14-15 mill in Hall and Reinhart giving us 50% of our cap in 5 players, two of which are or won't produce.  This isn't workable.  If Hall produces, I would love to keep him, but how?  Either Skinner needs to go or we need to move on from Olofsson and maybe Reinhart.  That doesn't work for me either because we have no RWs.  I'm sorry, but keeping Hall long-term just doesn't work cap wise, unless we gut what few pieces we have.

It’s doable, especially because while the cap is likely to stay flat next year, it will rise significantly in the years to come and having Jack, Sam and Taylor on their deals will give Buffalo and similar teams s huge advantage for about 3/4 years.

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8 minutes ago, tom webster said:

No apologies necessary. I’m so confident I will give you two tickets to the game of your choice if the team doesn’t make the playoffs. No strings.

I want in on this. 😄

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6 minutes ago, tom webster said:

It’s doable, especially because while the cap is likely to stay flat next year, it will rise significantly in the years to come and having Jack, Sam and Taylor on their deals will give Buffalo and similar teams s huge advantage for about 3/4 years.

Hopefully, but who says that we are ever going to reopen arenas to 100% capacity.  That said how do we win now?  How do we navigate the cap for the next 2-3 years as it remain flat?  Also when does Hall's production fall like most NHLers in their 30's?  at 31 like KO or 33 or like Staal at 37?  I'm not interested in that risk if I'm stuck with Skinner.

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8 minutes ago, GASabresIUFAN said:

Hopefully, but who says that we are ever going to reopen arenas to 100% capacity.  That said how do we win now?  How do we navigate the cap for the next 2-3 years as it remain flat?  Also when does Hall's production fall like most NHLers in their 30's?  at 31 like KO or 33 or like Staal at 37?  I'm not interested in that risk if I'm stuck with Skinner.

Arenas will be full by October. Cap will be up after next year. KO will have one year left. Halls will be a 5 year deal max.

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10 minutes ago, GASabresIUFAN said:

Hopefully, but who says that we are ever going to reopen arenas to 100% capacity.  That said how do we win now?  How do we navigate the cap for the next 2-3 years as it remain flat?  Also when does Hall's production fall like most NHLers in their 30's?  at 31 like KO or 33 or like Staal at 37?  I'm not interested in that risk if I'm stuck with Skinner.

If necessary vaccine passports can help with getting people into the stands. 
 

Hall is an elite player, they usually do not drop off as quickly.

In terms of Staal I’m not ready to write him off just yet. He admitted last night he is traditionally a slow starter, let’s give Him to some more time. 

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6 minutes ago, tom webster said:

Arenas will be full by October. Cap will be up after next year. KO will have one year left. Halls will be a 5 year deal max.

What will we need to pay to keep him from seeking term with another team?

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