BUFFALO (LGS) — Here are some thoughts on the Buffalo Sabres as they enter the July 1 free agency period.
It wasn't that long ago I wrote a column that asked the Sabres front office to reconsider their policy of negotiating with players during the season. Now, it seems the Sabres also are garnering another reputation: If you're a Sabre who is becoming an unrestricted free agent, plan on moving your family elsewhere.
♦ I find it very interesting that the Sabres were willing to offer Daniel Briere $25 million for five years. If they did that LAST offseason, Briere would still be a Sabre and we wouldn't have to talk about Briere rejecting such a deal this year.
♦ I also see this very interesting: The Sabres are very quiet about any talks with Chris Drury. Weeks ago, Briere seemed to be the one co-captain who had a better chance of returning. Now, Drury might pull a surprise and stay in Buffalo. If there's no surprises and no return to Buffalo, look for him to either go to San Jose to reunite with Mike Grier and be closer to home or you may see him return to Colorado, where he spent many years and won a Stanley Cup.
♦ Teppo Numminen won't be back next season, at least that's what I can safely assume from how the Sabres have approached talks with him. Numminen said in the Buffalo News that he has had zero communication with the Sabres regarding a deal. He did make $2.6 million last year and with Nathan Paetsch waiting in the wings, Numminen (barring a miracle) won't return.
♦ Ty Conklin and Adam Mair should be back, regardless of their status as unrestricted free agents. I would be a little weary of Mike Ryan. If the Sabres don't offer him a deal, don't be surprised if another team gobbles him up. As for Dainius Zubrus, I'm a little shocked that he hasn't been offered a deal. He's a versatile forward who can play center (which will be a necessity if both Briere and Drury are gone) and he can play the wing. I thought the Sabres might extend him an offer, but so far, nothing has been done.
♦ A good question to answer is whether or not the Sabres will pursue anyone else in free agency. If we lose Briere and Drury, which is highly likely, the team should explore other opportunities. If $5 to $6 million is too expensive, maybe $3 million is in their ballpark. We'll see...
♦ One last thing: I mentioned earlier about UFA's leaving town. If anyone is smart when they go and buy a jersey, they will just get a blank jersey with no name on the back. Why? Next offseason (2008-09), Brian Campbell, Jochen Hecht and Dmitri Kalinin will be UFAs and Paul Gaustad will be a restricted free agent. Gaustad is one I wouldn't worry about. He'll be an RFA and I would think the Sabres would sign him to a nice deal, possibly for $1 million or more per year.
But Campbell will draw plenty of attention. I don't think the Sabres will be able to afford him. Jochen Hecht might be within range, but who knows? What if he goes out this year and has a career year? He could be out of the Sabres' hands in no time. Kalinin's future is kind of up in the air. He might be gone before the season starts, who knows? But if not, I don't see the Sabres re-signing him after next year, especially after his disastrous series against Ottawa.
Then in 2009-10, you have to worry about Ryan Miller being a UFA. That's a long ways away, but why not worry about it now? They are practically letting Briere and Drury slip away and if Miller keeps up the great play he has over the last two years, he will be deserving of a big deal. Maxim Afinogenov will be a UFA in 09-10, along with Tim Connolly and Ales Kotalik. Kotalik is another story. There's been rumors of trades, but nothing solid as of yet. Connolly will be interesting. At his best, he's one of the most exciting players on the ice. But his injuries follow him around.
And then in 2010-11, Toni Lydman and Henrik Tallinder are both UFAs. Scary thought.
So buy a blank Sabres jersey and laugh at the fans that spent $100 to $200 on a jersey that reads "Briere" or "Drury" on the back. At least your jersey will always be in style. Theirs won't be.