There are a lot of sports media outlets that keep insisting that the Buffalo Sabres are going to trade away most of team’s talent and start a complete rebuild. That may be true, but it would not be surprising to see the Sabres do an overhaul instead of a rebuild. The team has quality players such as Matt Moulson, Ryan Miller and Zemgus Girgensons who could be the cornerstone of a winning team. Team captain Steve Ott has also established himself as the heart of the team and could play a big role in the future of the organization.
But how should the Sabres go about filling in the gaps that will surely be left behind by trades and players opting to leave the organization in free agency? Should the Sabres look to the draft or should Buffalo focus on free agency and also consider trading draft picks at the trade deadline to bring in experienced talent?
Buffalo general manager Tim Murray acquired plenty of experience in building a winning team when he was the assistant general manager of the Ottawa Senators. The Senators did a lot of building through trades and free agency, but that was to lay a strong foundation to build on. To fill in the gaps for the future, Ottawa focused on bringing in bright, young talent through the draft. Sabres fans can expect Murray to use the same approach in Buffalo.
The worst thing that Sabres fans can do is panic when the team starts unloading players on or before the trade deadline this season. Buffalo is going to dump some higher priced players, and some of the players who will be dealt could have helped the team to win in the future. But the unloading of veterans is always the first step to rebuilding and it is something Murray is prepared to do.
The Sabres should be very active in free agency, but it will be with players who may be unfamiliar to Sabres fans. Most fans can take solace in remembering that the names Danny Briere and Chris Drury were unknown in Buffalo before the two came to the team and changed its history forever. To build a Ted Nolan team you need players who play hard and are willing to sacrifice themselves for the team. Those players don’t usually get much press when they are sacrificing on teams with superstars, but in a place like Buffalo those players become household names.
There is speculation that rebuilding the Sabres could take years, but the St. Louis Blues showed that rebuilding a hockey team can be done literally overnight. All it takes is a coach who knows how to win and a general manager who understands hockey talent. Pat LaFontaine believes he has the two guys he needs to build his winning team. The rest of us get to find out if LaFontaine is right or if it will be another bust in Buffalo.