Tricky offseason for Team Pegula

Per ESPN’s story today there is some serious work for the Sabres to do this offseason.  Here is a list of the restricted and unrestricted free agents for the Sabres this year:

RESTRICTED   UNRESTRICTED
     
Chris Butler   Tim Conboy
Jhonas Enroth   Tim Connolly
Nathan Gerbe   Matt Ellis
Marc-Andre Gragnani   Mike Grier
David Leggio   Patrick Lalime
Mark Mancari   Cody McCormick
Dennis McCauley   Steve Montador
Dennis Persson   Rob Niedermayer
Felix Schutz   Mark Parrish
Andrej Sekera   Colin Stuart
Drew Stafford    
Travis Turnbull    
Mike Weber    
Derek Whitmore    

 

Now take away your feelings on the unrestricted free agents, to me the only real names that jump out that would really need to be considered to be re-signed are Connolly (I know, I know), Ellis and McCormick.  Some of the other names might be nice for depth but when you consider the resources that are going to be needed to secure many of the names in the restricted list I think it’ll be an interesting dilemma for the front office.

Eight players on the restricted list have seen a decent amount of time on the Sabres and in many cases played quite well.  You have to think Stafford and Gerbe are names that will start to draw attention around the league and could force the Sabres hand if the market dictates a relatively high price for one of those players.  I would imagine that signing both of these players is going to have to become a huge priority towards Terry Pegula’s dream of bringing a cup to Buffalo.  A 30-goal scorer and a player coming into his own in the second half of the season are two players I don’t want to see walk out the door.  Depending on how things turn out the odd man out could be Mancari (or he could benefit from the market driving up the price on Gerbe or Stafford).  I would think the goal is to get two out of the three locked up to a decent deal with multiple years attached to it.

It doesn’t get any easier when you look at the group on defense either.  Assuming you let Montador walk and knowing Morrison becomes a UFA in 2012 this group of young defensemen is a scary proposition.  You essentially have 4 out of the organizations top 8 defensemen in this group.  For the sake of handling their groupings you would probably say there are two more offensive defensemen (Gragnani and Sekera) and two more stay at home types (Butler and Weber).  Sekera’s been solid as of late, but do you let him walk if the price is too high and have Tyler Myers (UFA in 2012) get his third blue line partner in three years?  Hardly a way to develop a top echelon pairing to stop the #1 lines night in and night out around the league.  Or do you prioritize Gragnani based on his performance in Portland this year and potential lower price tag than Sekera?  Or do you sacrifice some of the stay at home defensemen to ensure you keep both Sekera and Gragnani?  Then adding Leopold into the mix you have a lot more to your offensive mix.  Now I’m not claiming to be a cap aficionado by any stretch but based on their current salaries there’s reason the believe that the four defensemen would start to garner close to $6mm+ collectively which isn’t a huge sticker shock, but arbitration and free market may drive the price up even higher, especially on Sekera.  At the very least it’ll be very interesting to see what may happen with this group come free agency. Oh and by the way, all four are under 25.

Now the really interesting person on the list was someone I didn’t even think about at all because he’s been in Portland so much and it really seem like the Sabres just signed him, but Jhonas Enroth is a RFA.  There is a lot of speculation and talk about what his role should be on the team be and how much he should play, etc. is going to come to head this offseason. Obviously, they have to let Lalime leave, OBVIOUSLY.  The question is going to be whether or not some team out there saw Jhonas Enroth and wants to make a bid for him (a la Edmonton and Thomas Vanek) and try to steal him from the Sabres to get a potential franchise goalie who is 22, yes 22! There is obviously a much smaller sample size with Enroth, but this happens in sports a lot where backups go somewhere else for a pretty decent price (Matt Schaub in the NFL and Darren Collison recently in the NBA come to mind).  Out of everyone listed I would think he and Stafford are going to garner the most attention. 

As many people have said this offseason is going to be the barometer for starting to feel out the Pegula Era.  What an interesting and potentially difficult set of decisions they have to try and make.  Oh yeah, a number 1 center is near the top of the wish list in most fans’ eyes as well.  This has the making of a typical Darcy Reiger summer.  Reinvest in your core youth and then fill in the remaining parts.  The question for me is how much is that core youth going to cost you and do you do it to a certain extent to save cap space for a potential big splash??  For the record I look at it like the way I’m looking at the Bills’ offseason in that there are a lot of directions the club could go and I’d be supportive of that direction.  There are a couple decisions that would leave me scratching my head, but not many (including re-signing Connolly for the right price and terms).  Good luck Darcy, Ted and Terry because all of Buffalo is going to be ready to pounce and end the honeymoon.

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