There aren’t many NHL free agents who could become the top star on a team. That’s fine with the Sabres. They aren’t in the market for one anyway.
Buffalo has been in the bidding for big names since owner Terry Pegula took over two years ago, but that philosophy is going on hiatus. General Manager Darcy Regier will be looking for complementary pieces rather than headliners when the signing period begins Friday.
“The focus is going to be on supporting this younger group, this younger core group,” Regier said Tuesday. “Certainly, you want good players, but you want players that are committed to being professionals, being examples, being contributors. Those are the most important characteristics and the most important things we can do organizationally to make sure that we progress in the direction we need to go.”
The players set to enter the market lack the star power of previous summers. Mike Ribeiro was the leading point-producer. Jaromir Jagr, Jarome Iginla, Pascal Dupuis, Michael Ryder and Patrik Elias are 33 or older. The most intriguing player was Vincent Lecavalier, but he’s agreed to a five-year, $22.5 million deal with Philadelphia.
The Sabres would struggle to convince any to sign with an admittedly rebuilding club. They can get a jump-start on players who might be interested.
A new addition to the collective bargaining agreement is a two-day negotiating window. Teams can call impending free agents and fly them in for visits today and Thursday before the official shopping spree starts at noon Friday.
“We plan to take advantage of that opportunity,” Regier said. “It makes a lot of sense for me. I think there was a lot of talking and interviewing that was either third-party, informal, connect the dots. A lot of things were happening I believe in the background anyway, so I think this process makes it more formal, gives other clubs that weren’t cheating, gives everyone a better footing in order to negotiate, interview, speak to either the representatives or the players themselves. I think it’s a lot better.”
Regier figures teams will interview only those players they’re sincerely interested in signing.
Daniel Briere could be one of those for Buffalo. Regier is among the 15 or so general managers who have contacted the forward, who was recently bought out by Philadelphia.
“We are talking to about eight teams,” Briere said in a text. “Sabres one of them.”
In addition to free agents, Regier remains committed to investigating the trade market. Goaltender Ryan Miller and leading scorer Thomas Vanek are still prime candidates to move.
“I’m actively finding out what the marketplace is like, and it’s not limited to those two players,” Regier said. “There are a number of teams we’ll speak to regarding not just the goaltending position but other positions, as well.”
In other news:
• Mikhail Grigorenko will remain with the Sabres all next season. The team’s top prospect shuttled between Buffalo and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League last season, but Regier said Grigorenko won’t be returning to juniors again. The center is not eligible to play in the American Hockey League.
• The Sabres are close to finalizing a contract with forward Matt Ellis. Regier said Ellis will be the captain in Rochester if he fails to make the Sabres’ roster.
• Regier said the Sabres have tried to begin contract talks with restricted free agent Cody Hodgson, and they are waiting for the center’s agent, Ritch Winter, to call them back.
• The Sabres have two unrestricted free agents, and both will hit the market. Regier will not offer contracts to defensemen Alexander Sulzer and Adam Pardy prior to Friday.
“It’s in part a numbers situation for us that we have to work through,” said Regier, who has seven defensemen with NHL experience and drafted defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen eighth overall.