BUFFALO (LGS) — With the Buffalo Sabres just one win from moving into fifth place in the Eastern Conference and just one loss from being on the outside looking in, Darcy Regier finds himself in a unique position heading into the final days before the NHL Trade Deadline.
For a general manager who is known to be conservative to a fault, Sabres fans should hope Regier doesn't use Buffalo's current "limbo" standing as a reason to keep the status quo around.
Lindy Ruff might not want to admit it publicly, but his roster has simply grown too stale for anyone's liking. It's true that the Sabres can still be a great team when they decide to play. Unfortunately, they've shown more often than not to be uninspired and underachieving.
While it wouldn't surprise me to see them catch fire and make a run in the playoffs with their current lineup, I also wouldn't be surprised to see these Sabres flame out over the final 20 games of the season.
That leaves Regier in a dilemma. Does he go for it now, or does he build for next season?
If you ask me, the GM should be able to easily address this season and beyond come deadline day. Regier already has a solid core of players in place, and he has more than a few bargaining chips to play with.
The Sabres could become a far more dangerous bunch if Regier is able to address a few pressing needs before Wednesday afternoon. During the process, he could also look to move out a few players who have all but served their purpose for the Blue and Gold.
Outside of Ryan Miller, Thomas Vanek, Derek Roy and Drew Stafford, no player should be off-limits for trading, with Tim Connolly remaining the biggest wild card.
When healthy, Connolly makes the Sabres a far more dangerous team. The issue is can he stay healthy? Additionally, the Sabres have zero depth down the middle, meaning moving Connolly would make sense only if a quality centerman was coming back to Buffalo as part of the deal.
I simply can't envision a team trading a quality center only to take a chance on Connolly, and I don't see the Sabres letting Connolly go for anything less since the cost of replacing him in the offseason would be far greater.
Two other unrestricted free agents – Maxim Afinogenov and Ales Kotalik – could definitely see themselves packing. And when it comes to growing too stale, these two take the cake.
Kotalik has the tools, size and skill to be a productive player on many teams. It just doesn't seem like Buffalo is one of those teams unless it's only on two-man advantages or in shootouts. But Kotalik does boast trade value and could be used as part of a package to score a quality player in return who would serve the team's needs better.
Afinogenov, on the other hand, has virtually killed whatever trade value he had. He has missed the past 23 games with a groin injury, and he managed to collect only 12 points in the 34 games he's played this season – a far cry from his point-per-game totals from three seasons ago.
Still, many general managers are said to love what Afinogenov can bring to the table with his speed, and I don't doubt he'll regain some of his luster as soon as he's somewhere other than Lindy Ruff's doghouse. He could play his part this coming Wednesday since keeping him around in Buffalo wouldn't be doing either party a favor.
As I see it, the Sabres have three pressing areas they need to address. Buffalo needs to add solid depth to the center position which has plagued them since the departure of Chris Drury and Daniel Briere. Teams don't win Stanley Cups without solid centers, and outside of Derek Roy and Connolly, the Sabres just don't have the depth down the middle.
Regier also needs to add some size and scoring to the wings as has been confirmed over the past few weeks since Vanek's injury. The Sabres need more goals from their other wingers, and it doesn't appear like the current bunch will step up. It also wouldn't hurt to get a winger who isn't afraid to finish his checks, something which is virtually non-existent with Buffalo's current lineup.
Finally, the Sabres need a big, bad and bruising defenseman. But this might be more of a wish than a want since Buffalo's future on the blueline looks solid with the likes of Sekera, Butler, Weber, Gragnani and Myers. Ruff will likely expect his current blueline force to raise its game to a higher level down the stretch.
Regier has received a lot of flak over the years, and in many cases he has deserved it, but the general manager has also made his fair share of great deadline deals that served immediate and future goals all at once.
Let's all hope the Sabres' brass realizes a shot in the arm with some new blood might be all this team needs to become a true contender again – especially with the Eastern Conference wide-open this season.