BUFFALO — In this new era, nothing may be off limits for the Sabres during free agency. A year ago, owner Terry Pegula spent $67 million on two players in his first foray into the market, showcasing an aggressiveness never seen in these parts.
The Sabres wheeled and dealed, jumping the gun, acquiring Christian Ehrhoff’s rights and awarding the coveted defenseman a 10-year, $40 million contract. Then they gave winger Ville Leino a six-year, $27 million deal to be a top center.
The deals raised eyebrows. Unfortunately, they couldn’t raise the Sabres’ standing, and they plummeted from seventh to ninth place, out of the playoffs.
Ehrhoff underachieved despite having a solid impact. Following a 25-point season, Leino’s contract might be the NHL’s worst.
Whether they admit it or not, the Sabres probably learned some valuable lessons from the signings.
This year – based on their current roster, the salary cap and a market short on elite talent after winger Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter – the Sabres could be pretty quiet when free agency commences today at noon.
They have 19 players under contract totaling $58,554,523, according to capgeek.com. That’s $11,645,477 under the $70.2 million salary cap. That cap number, up from $64.3 million, could change with a new collective bargaining agreement.
Sabres general manager Darcy Regier, who called the market “very thin” last week, sounded like he planned to make a move. He’s mentioned a winger.
There are some solid second-tier players available.
The team needs more gritty veterans, and one, winger Brandon Prust, is reportedly far apart in contract talks with the New York Rangers. St. Louis center Jason Arnott, an 18-year vet with 938 points and a Stanley Cup-winning goal on his resume, could also be available.
Regier’s also willing to deal, and slick Anaheim winger Bobby Ryan, a perennial 30-goal man the Sabres are said to be interested in, would like the Ducks to trade him.