In the third and final installment (for now) of this guide, I examine the restricted free agents, the fourth line, Ty Conklin, Drew Stafford and Dainius Zubrus.
The Restricted Free Agents
Thomas Vanek and Derek Roy are the big names on the list that include Paetsch, Dan Paille and Andro Peters.
Vanek’s regular season efforts have earned him a significant raise. If the Sabres go any higher than an average of $3 million over three-to-four years, then it would be too high. Luckily Vanek is not eligible for arbitration because that would be very bad news for the club, considering what outrageous figures arbitrators were awarding last year. Since the Vanek family is expecting a child later this summer, there are rumors that he is moving to Western New York so he may be willing to just get a contract done quickly so his girlfriend has a chance to settle in without any problems.
Roy will also get a hefty raise from his $627,000 base salary. I’d expect him to rake in somewhere in the million dollar range for the next three years. He’s a lock to be back with the team.
The Fourth Line
Paul Gaustad clearly wasn’t 100% after he had a few games under his belt, which seriously hurt the team’s ability to forecheck and change momentum. Couple that with the fact that Mair forgot how to hit, and the “fourth line” was useless in the Ottawa series. Peters isn’t the answer for anything except, “Who’s the worst skater on the team?” Instead of a one-dimensional fighter who will only sit the bench come playoff time, why not bring in a player who not only has the ability to fight but can also skate and isn’t afraid to throw the body around and crash the boards. I’ve trolled various message boards and one player that many think seems to fit the bill is Martin Gelinas.
TSN’s scouting report says that Gelinas “skates well and is difficult to knock off the puck. Can score goals in streaks. Is a good penalty-killer and forechecker. Goes all out every night.” He sounds like exactly what the Sabres were missing in the Ottawa series. He’s got enough toughness and grit to make a difference, even if it means Paille sitting another year. He made $975,000 last season and is an unrestricted free agent come July 1.
Mair is unrestricted as well and has said that he would love to come back to play for the Sabres. He was stuck playing with Peters last season, which seriously hurt his game, but even when Gaustad returned to the fourth line in the playoffs, he didn’t do much of anything. He’d be a good depth addition and brings experience and grit to the team, but if his last few games are any indication, then his best days are well behind him.
The Back Up
Ty Conklin comes cheap at under a million a year and the Sabres like him. I’d like to see him under Jim Corsi’s wing for a full year and see if he can make a real goalie out of him. Other options include Brian Boucher and Curtis Joseph, but it’s unlikely that they’ll be able to grow a playoff beard as sweet as Ty’s.
The New Guys
It’s time for Drew Stafford to be a regular. NHL.com is already selling Stafford T-Shirt jerseys. He’s this year’s Pominville after only one year of professional hockey. He can be a big time contributor on a top three line and that can really only happen if Ales Kotalik is shipped out. Kotalik has shown to be an inconsistent talent with a helluva one-timer. He can throw around the body when he feels like it, but for $5 million over the next two seasons, I’d like to see him become some other team’s problem. At that money, we could have kept Dumont, but what can you do?
Dainius Zubrus wanted a big contract extension from Washington and they decided they weren’t going to give it to him, they moved him for a first rounder and Jiri Novotny. Since the season finished, Zubrus has said that he’d like to stay in Buffalo and continue to play for a winner. I’m all for that. He was a beast in the playoffs until a knee injury put him out of commission. However, with the off season surgery a possibility, will the Sabres want to throw a lot of money on another injury-prone player, as they did with Connolly?