The pressure to do something about Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek intensifies daily in Sabreland. The summer of 2007 scarred Buffalo, and neither the organization nor its fan base wants to watch assets depart for nothing again.
The problem for the Sabres is the situation is hardly unique to them. Stars across the NHL are set to enter the final year of their contracts.
“We’ve probably been a little more public about the need to make decisions on these players at some point,” Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier said. “The league’s full of these players.”
Indeed, plenty of organizations need to decide what to do with their own players before adding others. San Jose has Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Dan Boyle and Joe Pavelski entering the last year of their deals. Minnesota has Dany Heatley, Jason Pominville and Devin Setoguchi as part of an 11-player contingent. The Rangers must deal with Henrik Lundqvist, Ryan Callahan and Dan Girardi, among others. Toronto has Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel. Daniel and Henrik Sedin head the list in Vancouver.
With Sunday’s draft in the books and free agency starting Friday, teams will use the space between to reassess who they’ve got and decide whether to extend deals, look for replacements or ship out pieces.
“The focus will be on our lineup first and maybe some holes we have to fill or try to fill through free agency or trades,” Regier said. “There’s still a lot of work to do, I think, for a lot of teams, including our own. We’ll get to work and see where it goes.”
The difference between the Sabres and other clubs is Buffalo is clearly rebuilding. Failing to re-sign Miller and Vanek by next summer and letting them leave without getting assets in return is not an option.
Back in 2006-07, it was an acceptable gamble to hold onto pending free agents Chris Drury and Daniel Briere because Buffalo won the Presidents’ Trophy and was a legitimate contender for the Stanley Cup.
Regier concedes the situations are different, so something has to be done. Apparently, nothing has to happen immediately. The GM would be fine if both players started next season in Buffalo.
“Yes, absolutely,” said Regier, who was asked if that would be the ideal situation. “The ideal’s yet to really be formulated. We’ll continue to see what we need to do with the team, what’s available, what the marketplace looks like, and that will all go a long ways to dictating where we are at training camp.
“No doors have closed.”
The trio of Regier, Mike Liut and Steve Bartlett (the agents for Miller and Vanek, respectively) say this is a tough environment in which to trade.
The salary cap is dropping from $70.2 million to $64.3 million, so some teams can’t add the salaries of Vanek ($7.1 million) and Miller ($6.25 million). Two compliance buyouts are available to each team, so clubs can simply get rid of a player rather than be forced to trade him. Plus, the compliancy period runs till the eve of free agency, so teams aren’t sure who will even be an unrestricted free agent.
“Everyone understands the way the National League is right now,” Regier said. “It’s interesting because as the marketplace is being formulated, it impacts what we want to do or may be able to do.”
David Leggio has been the Sabres’ most valuable minor-league player for the past two seasons. It wasn’t enough to get another contract.
The goaltender from Williamsville will become an unrestricted free agent Friday, and Buffalo has no plans to offer him an extension before he hits the market.
“I met with him last week and I met with Steve Bartlett who represents him,” Regier said. “He will become unrestricted. I just explained our situation and told him if he chose to be patient there may be something there for him, but right now we were not in position to offer him a contract.”
Leggio, 28, went 38-24-1 in Rochester last season with a .924 save percentage and 2.56 goals-against average.
In addition to having Miller and backup Jhonas Enroth, the Sabres added a goalie at the trade deadline (Matt Hackett) and have three others in the minors (Nathan Lieuwen, Andrey Makarov and Connor Knapp).
The Sabres also let go of minor-leaguers Drew Schiestel and Jacob Lagace by not extending qualifying offers.