For those of you who want to jump right into off-season mode, here's a look at the Sabres Defense.  The following analysis is made with realistic expectations concerning salary cap and player contracts.  Accordingly, you won't hear me say things like 'dump Rivet' because that is not possible.  It's not the NFL, you can't cut guys.

Scenario 1(cheap skate):

1)    Myers  & Toni Lydman (Henrik Tallinder)

2)    Steve Montador & Andrej Sekera

3)    Craig Rivet  &  Chris Butler ( 3rd pairing D-Man @$1-1.5M as 7th D-Man)

Scenario 1 assumes the Sabres lose either Henrik Tallinder or Toni Lydman and don’t sign anyone else or make a minor signing.  After Tallinder’s(or Lydman’s) departure, the Sabres will most likely sign at least one more NHL ready defenseman to supplement the remaining six,.  T & T each make $3M/season.  That money will get you an above average D-Man, but the Sabres may decide to pocket that $ and use it elsewhere.

Scenario 2(+1 Canadian, -2 Scandanavians):

1)    Myers  & Free Agent signing ($4-6M)

2)    Steve Montador & Andrej Sekera

3)    Craig Rivet  &  Chris Butler

 

Scenario 2 sees both #5 and #10 leaving Buffalo.  They leave behind a total of $6M in cap space as well.  $6M is enough to make a big signing.  I’m talking Pronger, Chara, Souray, or Mike Green type signing.  I would prefer a Jack Johnson type guy.  The Kings aren’t about to part ways with Johnson.  Second choice would be to get a scoring defenseman, but one with some decent size.  Tallinder & Lydman are both over 6ft & 200 lbs, so we need to replace them with good size.  Preferably get a little nastier as well.  Toni & Talli were generally reliable, but lacked the mean streak to instill fear in opponents. I’m ok with trades here as well.  Getting someone who is still under contract could be a $ saver for the OrganIzation.

 

 

Defense overview:

If I could keep the same defense corps for one more year I would do that.  I think our defense was ample this year.  Rivet is the only elder.  The problem is that half of them are UFA’s.  Tallinder & Lydman are both getting up in age (31 & 32) And will both most likely want 3-5 year contracts.  Long contracts for defenseman just isn’t the Sabres style, so don’t be surprised when they both walk away in free agency.  The Sabres have Tyler Myers’ monster contract to look forward to in 2 years as well.  The forthcoming contract could temper the Sabres spending and cause T & T to be replaced with not-so-big names. 

 I, personally don’t need to go overpay for a defenseman and be weighted down by a 7 year contract (Brian Campbell, Dan Boyle, Chris Pronger).  But a mid-level, preferably Canadian/American defenseman who is nasty, and/or scores his fair share of PP goals, and is under 30 would be nice.  That’s a lot to ask, but with $3-$6M to play with, we can certainly expect a decent name.  The name Anton Volchenkov comes to mind.  He’s good, he's a free agent and he hurts people.  Let’s get him.  Or someone a lot like him.

 Craig Rivet is old and slow.  He is signed for one more year.  I say let him stay unless he wants to retire.  He is our toughest D-Man.  He may be the best fighter on the team (between him & Gaustad) and he obviously is respected as his teammates made him captain.  He can’t be the captain next year.  He may need to be benched occasionally next year; it’s just inevitable.  Give the C to someone else to save him the embarrassment.

 

Steve Montador.  He made $1.5M this year and did a $2.5M job.  He played second line D all season with Toni Lydman.  I’d be happy to have this pairing back intact.  Monty is 30 years old.  He is signed thru next season.  Steve Montador will fight ANYONE.  On a team where toughness is hard to come by; this guy has it in spades.  He also contributed 5 goals & 18 Assists

 

Sekera & Butler will play on the Sabres next year just by virtue of being signed for reasonable contracts and having NHL experience.  Hopefully Butler will get some time with a partner quicker-afoot than Rivet.  Butler isn’t Tyler Myers, but I think he was held down a bit by Rivet.   

 

Finally, Tyler Myers.  He is the best defenseman on the Buffalo Sabres, but not by much.  He scored 11 goals, and had 37 assists.  That, combined with a solid physical game is all-star material.  However, he was overhyped.  Myers played like a rookie at times, getting burned and looking lost in his own zone.  He was also shy to let loose the shot on the PP.  I’ll be patient on Myers, but he’s not the next Chris Pronger quite yet.  At $1.2M salary, he is however, the biggest bargain in the league for a top D-Man.  Expect the Sabres to give him around $7-8M per year when his rookie deal expires.

 

My ideal scenario: [reasonable real-life expectations]

1)    Myers  & BIG GUN Free Agent signing ($4-6M)

2)    Steve Montador & Toni Lydman [re-signed for 3 years at $9M total]

3)    Craig Rivet  &  Andrej Sekera (Chris Butler 7th D-Man)

Final Summary: With this season’s off-season Defense FA signings we have to be careful about spending.  Tyler Myers is going to get a boat-load of cash in 2 years and we better have the BRINKS truck ready for him when that time comes.  Rivet and his $3M/year will be gone after 2010-11, and we should be able to replace a 3rd pairing D-Man for less than that.  Let’s also keep our eyes towards the draft and Portland.  Every entry-level player you have on the NHL club allows you to sign better players for the remaining roster spots.  Tyler Myers is a perfect example of this {For the time being} and due to his entry level contract, he plays a $5-7M position for $1.2M .

The Sabres lacked an elite Power-Play 'Quarterback'(That job currently rests with Tim Connolly).  Although the job can be done by a forward, the ability to 'quarterback' the power-play is an attribute that I would look for in any potential D-Man signing.  Defenseman, Marc-Andre Bergeron leads the Montreal PP and he is not a huge guy.(5'9" 200).  So we're not talking a Chara signing here, just a talented man to bring the puck into the zone & distribute it accordingly.    

The team also lacked a big point shot.  Teams are afraid of Chara and Pronger's shot.  We're hoping Tyler Myers turns into that big threat, but for now, it's still an area in which the Sabres are lacking. 

List of UFA Defensemen : http://www.sportscity.com/nhl/2010-nhl-unrestricted-free-agents-by-position/#Defense

 

Football analogies:

Tyler Myers is like the Left Tackle of the Buffalo Sabres.

Ryan Miller is the Quarterback

Check back for more Sabres Off-season analysis: Goaltending, Lines 1-2, Lines 3-4, Front Office/Ownership

Stay Positive!