Thirty-four games into the 2010-11 NHL season and the Buffalo Sabres find themselves 6 points out of the 8th and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Is this a surprise? No. Do they have what it takes to make the show? Probably not.
The blue and gold found themselves in an unusual October slump. I say unusual because the Sabres have something like a .700 win percentage in October since the lockout. They have been struggling ever since. Their offense is a joke, their defense has been slightly above average at best, and the goaltending has, at times, been nothing more than average. We have an average team, playing below-average hockey.
The Hockey News had the Sab-rez finishing 6th. I on the other hand didn't know what to expect. "We have the best goalie in the league" people said. "Myers was the rookie of the year and is a potential Norris trophy candidate" they gleamed. "Vanek will earn his money this year" another fan told me. Yet, as has been the case since 2005-2006, something didn't feel right. It was hard to like this team.
The signing of Jordan Leopold, Shay-on-ee Morrison, and Rob Niedermayer were anything but sexy. Again we were force fed the idea that our "core" was enough to succeed. "Number 1 centers are not available" we were told. Why are things that seem so simple to even the casual fan, made seemingly impossible by Darc and crew? Why are we constantly fed the idea that "there is no one else besides Lindy." Shit, I hope T-Pegs gets this organization and cleans house. If we were to re-sign no UFA's or RFA's our salary cap would be at roughly $36 million. The following are guys in each category with their salary in parentheses:
Tim Connolly ($4.5mil)
Craig Rivet ($3.5mil)
Steve Montador ($1.55mil)
Mike Grier ($1.5mil)
Rob Niedermayer ($1.15mil)
Patrick LaLemon ($600k)
Drew Stafford ($1.9mil),
Andrej Sekera ($1 mil)
Chris But(plug)ler ($850k)
The only guys warranting their current salary or still have some upside/value are Grier and Stafford. Stafford won't need much of a raise and if he goes to arbitration wont get more than $2-3 mil. His production is worth that. Grier, will resign for a low amount and brings intangibles that are hard to come by.
The moral of the story? The Sabres need to clean house to succeed. This team will not win a cup with the current squad and will be lucky to make the top 8 in the Eastern Conference. There aren't a whole lot of free agents worth signing out there so Darc/Quinny need to do this damn thing through the draft and trades. Drop Connolly and others at the deadline or say goodbye to some picks.
Use the cap space to sign a backup goalie that actuall belongs in the league and perhaps is better than 0-4. Get a big name like Semin to build around. Get some 1 or 2 guys that are worth more than their salary. I.E Matt Moulson, Andrew Brunette, Erik Cole, or Justin Williams. GET ZDENO CHARA! Any of these things would be an upgrade. Granted it most likely won't happen overnight, why not? Shitty franchises, have experienced success quickly. See Chicago Blackhawks 07-08 to 09-10. It can happen.
Until we clean house, we will be stuck wondering what would've happened if we had Briere and Drury and got 4 first round picks for Vanek.