State Of The Sabres

22 Jan

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Normally, I leave the sports talk to WNYM sports bloggers at BfloBlog, USRT, and BuffaloBaseballBlog, but I have to discuss the current state of the Sabres as we approach the All Star Break.

The Sabres have won only one of their previous thirteen games and they are spiraling down the standings with a determination to go from first to worst in one year. Their seeming indifferent approach to contract negotiations with All Star Defenseman Brian Campbell has left a bad taste in the mouths of Sabres Nation and the bandwagon seems to be emptying.

A few random thoughts as I channel my inner Bucky Gleason:

  • I am tired of reading blog commentary and radio discussion about this team having better talent than their record indicates. This is a mediocre team of role players looking for a franchise player or two. The players the Sabres have deigned to re-sign are all second and third line players who provide the depth for a sustained charge for the Stanley Cup, not lead it. One of the few players on the roster who approaches franchise status has recently decided to end negotiations with the team.
  • Brian Campbell needs to be re-signed and not just for the comic relief of his continued starring role in television commercials for the The Center For Excessive Sweating, because he is a top notch defenseman with the ability to become elite. Campbell at $6MM per for the next 5/6 years sounds like a damn good deal. That would slot him as the 10th or 11th highest paid defenseman in the league for 07/08 and the contract will only get more friendly as salaries escalate. I’d rather have Campbell locked in than sign a mid-level goalie like Miller to a 7 year deal.If the argument is “Campbell isn’t worth it”, who is?  Who are the Sabres willing to commit to as a franchise player? Are they only willing to pay value deals to midrange players like Roy, Pominville, and Gaustad?  If so, welcome to Mediocrityville, population:  Sabres
  • The league is trending towards longer term contracts of higher value for younger players who are still developing. Campbell is still maturing and defensemen peak later than forwards. Locking him up now is wise, even if it costs $6MM per to do it. Within two years, that contract will be a value.

    It seems as if Golisano didn’t want to pay market rate for Briere or Drury, and then had his hand forced on Thomas Vanek.

    Vanek hasn’t come close to returning the investment so far and it appears they are going to be stingy in future dealings.

  •  I hate to tell ya, but I just don’t think Ryan Miller is a franchise goaltender. As much as we all wish he was, the numbers do not back up a longterm investment in Miller as a franchise cornerstone. His inability to pitch a shutout, the up and down mechanics, and his reliance on a talented defense are not the makings of a franchise goalie along the lines of a Luongo or Brodeur. He is above average, but his Save Percentage ranks him 18th in the league this year, 16th last year, and 10th in 2005. Numbers that are regressing each year and certainly not the caliber to place him amongst the league’s elite. Can the Sabres win a Stanley Cup with Ryan Miller as the chief backstop? Perhaps, but his contract demands will certainly be based more on his perceived value than his real value. Of course, this will mean the Sabres will be priced out of the market for him when his contract expires at the end of next season.
  • Dave Staba of The Niagara Falls Reporter hit the nail on the head with his assessment of the Sabres and Managing General Partner, Larry Quinn.
  • After the end of the NHL lockout, the Sabres were hailed as leaders in the “New NHL” which put a premium on speed and skill players rather than toughness and hitting.  Unfortunately, in the third season after the lockout, the league is trending back towards a defensive mindset with a focus on hitting and toughness.  The Sabres seem to have been caught flatfooted in this new league paradigm.

    With all of that said, where do the Sabres go from here?  Any realistic chance of a sustained playoff run is pretty much written off at this point and they are on the verge of seeing yet another top flight free agent walk out the door without compensation.  Do they begin tearing the team apart and rebuilding?  Do they make some minor tweaks to the roster and bring in a high end offensive weapon in the offseason?  Package Brian Campbell and a few complimentary pieces on the roster for prospects and draft picks?

    Whatever they decide to do, they have certainly spent much of the goodwill they earned during the last two years.

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