In Part One, I discussed the state of the Front Office and the Captains. Today is all about the blue line.
Yikes. That’s about all that can be said about the defense’s performance in the playoffs. Coming into the 2006-07 season, The Buffalo News ran a feature suggesting that this could be the best starting six in Sabres history. Now it looks like it’s time to blow it up and restart.
Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman are locks to stay. They each have three years left and given more time together, they could become one of the league’s premier pairings by the time those contracts are up.
Campbell has emerged as a leader in the locker room, seemingly taking up some of the responsibility that Jay McKee once held. But Campbell really isn’t that good. He can be a monster in the playoffs and in certain stretches in the regular season, but this was really his first full season as a starting defenseman and we saw him wear out mid-way through. He was taking up a ton of ice time early on when Tallinder was hurt and it earned him a spot as a starting All-Star. But fatigue set in, and he really wasn’t back to form until the playoffs began. This was evident in the final two games of the Ottawa series when he averaged almost thirty minutes. He could potentially be trade bait as he enters a contract year, but, to me at least, it doesn’t seem likely.
Kalinin. Kalinin. Kalinin. Oh how the mighty have fallen. At one point, he was Buffalo’s top defensive prospect and Jim Lorentz pegged him as a Calder Trophy favorite when he began his rookie season. He flourished in the pre-lockout era as the team’s number two defenseman, averaging just over 23 minutes per game in 2003-04, while playing with Alexei Zhitnik. During the Ottawa series, he averaged just 11 minutes per game, but played just 4:23 in Game Four and three shifts for a grand total of 2:15 in Game Five. So what happened? It seems that Campbell and Tallinder, the other defensive projects in Rochester just got better sooner. Two minutes of ice time in an elimination game isn’t going to help a team win the Stanley Cup. Kalinin would be better off if he played somewhere else, a great change of scenery guy. I don’t think he’ll ever reach his “full potential” here in Buffalo and it would be best if the team just cut ties with him now.
Speaking of someone not reaching their full potential, let’s have a monster playoff, sign a $10 million contract to be a power play point specialist and then just rack up one point in the final 35 games. Hello, Jaroslav Spacek. If you watched Edmonton’s run last season, it was obvious that Spacek was a major part of that, although now one has to wonder how much playing with Chris Pronger had to do with that. I held my tongue on calling him a bust until the post season started, but now it’s clear. He’s a waste of money. He may play better defense than Delmore, but he’s much more expensive and I don’t think we’ll be fortunate enough to have someone take him off our hands for even a ninth-round pick, which is what Delmore went for. We’re stuck with his mammoth cap hit of $3.33 million and we’re going to have to learn to live with it for right now.
Teppo Numminen is an unrestricted fee agent and its best that the Sabres walk away. Numminen made $2.6 million last season and there’s no way the Sabres can afford to pay a 39-year old that much this season. Unless he wants to stay on as a seventh defenseman for the veteran minimum (whatever that may be, which might still be too expensive) I would like to think Numminen’s days in Buffalo are over.
Which opens the door for the Nathan Paetsch Era to commence. Nine of his 24 points last season came on the power play and it’s time for him to take on a regular role. He’s a restricted free agent, meaning he’ll be getting a slight raise from $495,000 he made in 06-07, but it will be worth every penny.
Depth is always an issue on defense, especially with what the team went through with injuries two years ago. Re-signing Mikko Lehtonen, whom the Sabres acquired at this year’s deadline would be an easy answer, especially with his salary of $575,000. Andrej Sekera, who almost made the team out of training camp last year, was plagued by injuries in Rochester and probably isn’t ready to make the jump to the show just yet.
The Sabres defense lacked toughness last season and looked unwilling to make or take a hit. Looking at some of the unrestricted free agents out there, Scott Hannan, Danny Markov and Ossi Vaananen would fit the role of a defensive defenseman, but with the out of control salaries defenseman have gotten lately (see Adrian Aucoin, McKee and Spacek), if Regier were to bring in a new defenseman, it would likely be through a trade (see Lydman). But that would mean either Spacek or Kalinin packing their bags, neither of whom I’d shed a tear for.