The Buffalo Sabres are in the midst of a seemingly endless cycle of rebuilding mediocrity.
One of the biggest decisions facing general manager Darcy Regier in the offseason leading up to 2013-2014 is what to do with star goaltender Ryan Miller.
Aside from the 2009-2010 season where he won the Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goaltender and was named MVP of the Vancouver Olympics, Miller has been consistently average.
Like dating a girl that has all the
qualities to be, but simply isn’t the one. There comes a time to decide
whether to continue living a lie or face facts, man up and move on.
From Regier’s point of view, there
should be little pressure to jump at the first offer for Miller. After Phoenix
Coyotes free agent Mike Smith and former Bruins star and Islanders no-show Tim
Thomas, the unrestricted market is very thin.
Before the draft on Sunday the
Sabres sit at $14.4 million (capgeek.com) in available cap space and have
numerous holes up and down the current roster. Within the logical parameters of
a rebuild, Regier would covet draft picks and top prospects to balance the
trade value, then use players and cash to equalize cap numbers and finalize a
After the draft, Regier will
presumably have one of the roster holes taken care of in the form of the 8th or
16th overall picks. At which time a package will more likely include prospects
and/or a player rather than future considerations for the 2014 draft.
Based on current cap situations,
goaltenders signed to the roster for 2013-2014 and the amount of picks and/or
players each team has stockpiled, here is a look at the top five teams that
could be in the running for the services of the longtime Sabres backstop.
5. Phoenix Coyotes – The Coyotes are the longest shot on the list. The overall
financial status of the franchise has been in limbo and while the NHL has
control, there is little to suggest they would be willing to make such a bold
Starter Mike Smith and backup Jason
LaBarbera are both headed to free agency. Phoenix does have two prospects in
the pipeline, but both are young and unproven. If the Coyotes would be willing
to part with RFA Mikkel Boedker or star defenseman Keith Yandle, Regier might
be willing to accept a late rounder as compensation. Otherwise a deal seems
farfetched despite a glaring need.
4. Calgary Flames – Longtime Flames netminder Mikka Kipprusoff has
unofficially retired, leaving Calgary with another huge hole to fill on a
roster chock full of them. The Flames bring a small stack of chips to the table
other than the 6th overall and 22nd overall pick in the 2013 draft.
If the Flames decided to fish, they
could bait their hook with a swap of first round picks and a promising
prospect; Sven Baertschi (F), Ken Agostino (F), John Gaudreau (F), Max Reinhart
(F) and Markus Granlund (F) lead the list of possible candidates.
3. Florida Panthers – Florida makes sense for a few reasons, but a major hitch
would be their willingness to part ways with top goaltending prospect Jacob
Markstrom. The Panthers are swimming with cap space of $17 million and they
pocket the 2nd overall pick in 2013. It’s unlikely they would find Miller worth
moving Jonathan Huberdeau (F), Erik Gudbranson (D) or Quinton Howden (F).
Markstrom is a RFA, so the Sabres
would need to work out a new contract or a sign-and-trade type of deal, but the
6’6″ Swedish prospect and a 2nd rounder for Miller sounds like a win-win
for both sides.
2. Edmonton Oilers – In central Alberta goaltending has been an issue for
quite some time. 40-year old Nikolai Khabibulin is headed to free agency and Devan Dubnyk has yet to prove he can be a consistent starter.
With a young, talented roster, a
shade under $15 million in salary cap space and a desperate need for
consistency between the pipes, the Oilers seem to be a nice fit. As
compensation, the Sabres could be looking at a deal involving the 7th pick in
2013. If not, perhaps a package could be built around one of the young studs
Edmonton has accumulated from a their recent string of top picks. A few of the
names Regier would covet are: Olivier Roy (G), Justin Shultz (D), Sam Gagner
(F), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (F), Taylor Hall (F) and Nail Yakupov (F).
1. New York Islanders – The Islanders make the most sense in this situation
because incumbent starter Evgeni Nabokov and the half retired Tim Thomas are
both headed for unrestricted free agency. Mega deal recipient Rick DiPietro
spent last season wallowing in AHL affiliate Bridgeport, along with 2009 3rd
round draft pick Anders Nilsson who struggled to compete at the minor league
With a league high $29.237 million
in cap space and the 15th overall pick in the upcoming 2013 draft, the
Islanders have what it takes to be a prime landing spot for Miller. Pair that
with the amount of top-prospects they have in their system like: Griffin
Reinhart (D), Calvin de Haan (D), Nino Niederreiter (F), Brock Nelson (F) and
Ryan Strome (F), the pieces are there to make a deal. So pick up the phone
Darcy – former goaltender, Isles GM Garth Snow is waiting.
*After the Philadelphia Flyers
exercised a compliance buyout of underperforming Ilya Bryzgalov on June 25,
2013, they have become the popular pick around Buffalo to land Miller. Although
it is in GM Paul Holmgren’s pedigree to make blockbuster moves, their salary
cap situation handcuffs them. Unless they are willing to move marquee players
from their current roster a deal for Miller is unlikely.
Another dynamic to keep in mind is
that Miller has a limited no-trade clause as well, giving him the power to list
eight teams that he would not be willing to accept a trade to.
Despite all of the speculation, it
is possible Regier will wake up one day and realize the relationship between
his star goalie and the only NHL team he’s played for is not unsalvageable.
Should the Sabres find the right mix
of timing and compatibility, who will occupy the blue paint in Buffalo?
Assuming Miller’s replacement doesn’t come in a return deal, can Jhonas Enroth
prove himself an NHL starter?
Maybe, but let’s dump the first girl before
considering who to date next.