Compared to the previous three entries in my Pegula Puzzle series, this will be a bit more out of left field. I’m certain that I will echo the sentiments of most Sabres fans with my views, but I do warn you that this may come across as a little radical.
Tyler Myers is certainly a cornerstone for the future and Brayden McNabb and Mark Pysyk seem awfully appealing at this point in their development. Jamie Oleksiak would be another monster to pair with Myers if the Sabres are able to trade up to draft him tomorrow. Still, the Sabres don’t have any top four defensemen after Tyler Myers and Jordan Leopold. With Marc Andre Gragnani and Mike Weber looking like a soild pair to lock down the five and six roles, the Sabres will need to look outside the organization for two solid defensmen. I should point out that I peg MAG and Weber as five and six in a strict depth chart evaluation, the real pairings will certainly be different.
Looking at the UFA crop, there are a handful of defensemen that may be worth a look. Ed Jovanovski, Eric Brewer, Kevin Bieksa, Scott Hannan, James Wisniewski, Sami Salo and Christian Erhoff jump right off the page. My top two targets would be Bieksa and Brewer. They would be the guys I went after the hardest in hopes of pairing them with Myers. However, many sources have indicated that both of those players won’t be leaving their current locations, so it may be impossible for Darcy Regier to sign them.
Still, those are my top two targets and I would be hopeful that one could be snagged after July 1 to be part of a shutdown pair with big number 57. Jovanovski really doesn’t appeal to me because of his age, I wouldn’t bother taking a look because I don’t think there is too much tread left on the tires with Jovo Cop. That being said, Hannan and Wisniewski make very attractive options as a second pairing guy. I have always been a fan of Hannan and I think he would fit very well here. I don’t know if his salary will drop from $4.5M, if it does he would be a prime target. Wisniewski may be due for a raise from his $3.25, but if you can keep him in that neighborhood I think he would be a great fit as well. When July 1 rolls around those four defensemen would be my top priority. If they get any combo of Bieksa, Brewer, Hannan and Wisniewski, the Sabres will be in good shape.
As for centers I think Regier is in a bit of a pickle. Brad Richards is going to cost too much money and many of his statements about media presence and other factors have dulled my interest in him. I think the only option for a true number one center will come via the trade market. I firmly believe that if the Sabres are going to get anyone like Jason Spezza or Paul Stastny (example) they will need to ship out Derek Roy. It is that simple. He has the best contract and a whole lot of upside, he is easily the most attractive trade option that the Sabres can manage to part ways with.
If that is to come to fruition – trading Roy in a package for an elite center – there will be a new need for a number two center. Luckily there are plenty of those in the UFA market. Brooks Laich is my favorite option but Jason Arnott may be the most realistic choice. The reason I say that is because of the prospect pipeline the Sabres have. Guys like Luke Adam, Kevin Sundher and Steven Shipley will be knocking on the door in the next few seasons and a contract for Laich is going to run around the four to five-year window. Now, if he is going to make you better, regardless of your prospects, then I would make the trade. But if they truly believe Adam can be a number two guy, then Arnott for one, maybe two, seasons is the best choice.
The Sabres will also need to acquire at least one winger to play in the bottom six. Who that will be is anybody’s guess. I am a big Chad LaRose fan and his price tag is not hefty. Considering he could play wing or center, he would be an upgrade compared to Rob Niedermayer or Mike Grier. Still, these types of guys are such a dime a dozen the Sabres can really look all over for the right man for the job.
What I am most concerned with is finding the right center and the right shutdown defenseman. If Regier is able to do that, the rest will surely fall into place.