LetsGoSabres.com — Writers for the Buffalo News, such as Bucky Gleason in his January 13, 2008 article "Time for Sabres to plot their course," and more recently in Bob DiCesare’s February 4, 2008 commentary "Don't count the Sabres out of playoffs," have stated that the Sabres cannot afford to re-sign Campbell after this season. They therefore conclude that the Sabres should trade him before the deadline for prospects while his value is at its peak.
Granted Campbell is in line for a huge payday. With the Salary Cap likely to increase again this off-season and a dearth of high-quality blueliners available this coming off-season, Campbell could demand a huge contract in the open market. In light of recent contracts given to LA's Lubomir Visnovsky (5 years $28.75 million) or Montreal's Roman Hamrlik (4 years $22 million), Campbell should at least expect a similar deal. I wouldn't be surprised if the offer comes in at nearly $6 million per season.
From a fan's perspective, losing Campbell this off-season without any compensation after the losses of Drury and Briere would be too much to bear. If management allows this to happen the team may disenfranchise their fans base for many years to come. Considering that other important players such as Gaustad, Pominville and Miller need to be re-signed after next season, I can see why the News writers believe that the team cannot afford to retain Campbell.
Although I don't disagree that trading Campbell would be better than receiving nothing for him, I do disagree with the entire premise that the team can't afford to keep Campbell, even at 2008 prices. In fact, I believe that the Sabres cannot afford not to keep Campbell if they are serious about contending for a championship.
From Bobby Orr to Paul Coffey to Niedermayer, Pronger and Lidstrom, teams win championships with dominate defensemen. Although Campbell is not in the class of those Hall of Famers, the two-time All-Star is the Sabres' best all-around defenseman, and arguably their best player.
He is adept at starting the transition game, is a dynamic threat on offense, and a key component on both specialty teams. In a bad game against Florida, Campbell tallied three assists. The Sabres have no one in the system or on the team who could take over his role if traded. In addition, there are no potential free agents who possess Campbell skill set.
Furthermore, as discussed in Part II of this article, the young core of the Sabres gives the franchise their best opportunity to contend for a Cup over the next two seasons as these players mature. Trading away the engine that makes the transition game go would be a significant step in the wrong direction.
The moves the Sabres need to make to return this team to the elite of the NHL are obvious. From a long-term standpoint, they need to free up cap space to sign Campbell, Miller and other players who constitute the core of the squad. The team also needs to replenish the farm system with talent at forward, especially left wing. The Sabres stock an entire AHL franchise next year. The team needs to sign their college players, European prospects and acquire additional talent to complete the roster.
For this season the team would benefit from the edition of a solid veteran playmaker center to help create offense and help the young forwards develop. This center must be adept at winning an important draw. The Sabres, after being amongst the league leaders in faceoff % during Drury’s tenure, are now 27th in the NHL.
The Sabres would also benefit from a few experienced physical defensemen. In the last few years, teams have sometimes bottled up the Sabres' transition game with a constant forecheck. A couple physical defensemen would help alleviate the problem. Currently, only Nolan Pratt and sometimes Toni Lydman are able to physically stand up to the pounding. These players would also help the team bridge the gap between the current group and the prospects.
The first step to creating the necessary cap space is the trading away some of our underachieving veterans. Four players come immediately to mind. They are Kalinin, Kotalik, Afinogenov and Connolly. Most of these players should be moved and their roster slots given to younger players with better upside and smaller cap figures.
One deal that should occur before the deadline would be the trade of defenseman Dmitri Kalinin. Kalinin is earning over $2 million and is an UFA at season's end. He also is in desperate need of a change in scenery. He has never progressed into the playmaking defenseman that management envisioned when they drafted him in the first round of the 1998 draft.
What he has developed into is a solid NHL defenseman and at 27, his best years may still be ahead of him. He has size, speed, and a good shot. These facts should entice someone to make a reasonable offer to the Sabres for his services.
The three aforementioned veteran forwards are signed through next season and with over $8.5 million in cap space committed to them. As shown in Part II of this essay, the emergence of Paille and MacArthur as wingers on the top three lines leaves only one permanent spot available for Kotalik, Afinogenov and/or Connolly. The Sabres must move two of these three players to recapture some cap space to help enable the Sabres to re-sign Campbell and other core players.
Connolly's extraordinary play-making ability makes him the least likely of the three to be traded, despite his injury history. Connolly's mere presence on the power play creates open ice for other players. In his first two games back from injury he helped create five power play goals in victories over Florida and Ottawa.
Trading both Kotalik and Afinogenov would save the team over $5.5 in salary and cap space. Both players should also have significant trade value.
Afinogenov, when healthy, is a dynamic player, but his play this season and $3 million price tag should buy him a ticket out of town. The issue with Afinogenov is whether he will be healthy enough to return before the trade deadline.
As for Kotalik, like Kalinin, he has never reached his potential in Buffalo. He has good speed, size and a cannon for a shot. He has shown that he can be an asset on the power play and is a capable goal scorer when playing with a gifted playmaker. These skills should make him an asset to any club trading for him. However, he has never fully developed his defensive game.
If the Sabres manage to trade Kalinin, Kotalik and Afinogenov and only receive prospects and draft picks in return, the team should show little or no difference on the ice. The team is already excelling without any contribution from Afinogenov and a trade of Kotalik would guarantee MacArthur the permanent place on the Sabres that he has earned. Andrej Sekera, who should inherit Kalinin's roster spot, proved to coach Lindy Ruff that he is ready for full-time NHL duty and can contribute at least as much, if not more, than Kalinin.
The only really downside of these trades would be the loss of Kotalik’s contribution on the power play and the further diminishing of the team’s organizational depth at forward. However, Connolly’s return to the power play more than compensates for a Kotalik departure and Regier would certainly ask for NHL ready or near NHL ready forwards in return for Kotalik and Afinogenov to enhance the depth chart.
Furthermore, Regier is well aware of the team's deficiency in the face-off circle. I would be shocked if he didn't address this need before the deadline. Three players who fit the Sabres needs are Islanders' centers Mike Sillinger and Josef Vasicek, both of whom are amongst the league leaders in face-off % and perennial vagabond Yanic Perreault.
Another move that the Sabres should make is to trade Toni Lydman either after this season or at the deadline if the deal is right. I fully acknowledge that his stellar play helped catapult the team to within one period of the Stanley Cup finals two seasons ago. However his play has fallen considerably since then.
Although he is on pace for his best offensive season since joining the Sabres, his problems the defensive zone and nearly $3 million cap figure make him expendable for the Sabres. His considerable playoff experience and two years remaining on his contract should make him valuable a commodity at the trade deadline or after the season.
One possible replacement for Lydman is already on the roster. Nolan Pratt, although not nearly as swift as Lydman, brings an element that the Sabres sorely need. That element is a physical presence. Like Lydman, Pratt will also take the body and block shots. He reminds me of Jay McKee, has two Stanley Cup rings and is a bargain at $550,000. Pratt also adds veteran leadership and a cost effective way for the Sabres to give Mike Weber another year of seasoning in the minors before being thrust into full time NHL duty.
Regardless of whom Regier acquires, the Sabres seem to have gelled into a very competitive team. Regier now has the luxury to utilize the trade deadline to shore-up the few deficiencies on the club, save long-term cap space and acquire depth for the future by dumping players who are not critical to the team's success this season or in the future.