Walk before you run
The Buffalo Sabres and Florida Panthers are on the right track, but it's
going to take a few years before they are playoff bound.
NEW YORK, NY -- There comes a point -- in every hockey season -- when
a team needs to fully evaluate its roster, team health and general
direction of the franchise to decide whether or not they can seriously
And almost important as that first debate comes a second question, at
what cost does contending come?
With divisional realignment, teams will be much more confident in
their ability to contend throughout a full season. After all, in the
last full NHL season, an eight seed and a six seed squared-off for the
sport's ultimate prize. Last year, two of the top teams in the NHL won
their conferences and the right to play in the Stanley Cup Final, but
it seems, consistently, there's a mentality of "just getting in," and
starting a second season from that point.
There are a two teams that should be focuses all of their energy
entirely on the future, rather than the present and have already fired
their coaches this season.
Through 33 games, the Buffalo Sabres have managed to get a meager 17
points. That would put them on pace for 42 points. The last team to
finish under the 50 point mark in a full, regular season was the
1999-2000 expansion Atlanta Thrashers. That was almost 15 years and
two lockouts ago, when teams could still finish a game in a tie. A man
named Norm Maracle -- a player that, when you Google, the first
autofill is "Norm Maracle fat" -- got the bulk of the work in between
the pipes for the Thrashers that season.
The rebuild effort truly began last year, when the Sabres shipped
Jason Pominville to Minnesota and continued in grand fashion this
season, when they traded Tomas Vanek to the New York Islanders. After
their general manager and coach were both let go in one fell swoop,
the Sabres have already begun to look to the future.
Pat LaFontaine, one of the franchise's great players took the reins of
the hockey operation department.
"My job is to build this hockey department for a championship caliber
team in the future," Lafontaine explained, which highlights the
franchise's willingness to move forward.
A true rebuild starts from the top and once the organizational
structure is in place, the rest can follow.
Examining the roster, there are still several extremely tradable
pieces left, the first one being the man acquired as part of the Vanek
The 30-year-old winger had been a consistent offensive force since
joining the Islanders, scoring 30 goals in every single full year that
he played. Now, he had the obvious benefit of playing alongside John
Tavares, one of the better players in the game, but he still has an
unmistakable ability to put the puck into the back of the net. Moulson
will probably command a decent-sized raise in the off-season, when he
is set to become an unrestricted free agent, but could certainly
warrant a first-round pick from a team looking to add a little offense
on the wings.
Ryan Miller is another player that has been discussed at length, but
trading him isn't as obvious and won't be as easy as finding a trade
partner for Moulson. Contending teams are usually comfortable with
their goaltending. Teams with no answer in net are usually teams
picking in the lottery. On top of that, you can win with a
replacement-level goaltender, so it doesn't necessarily make a ton of
sense to give up assets if Miller is just a slight upgrade in net.
Trading Miller this past off-season would have been a much brighter
move, but hindsight is 20/20 and the Sabres must have believed they
had a chance to compete this year. Still, it will be difficult to find
the right fit and right value for Miller.
Another team that has struggled this year, and seems to be in an
endless rebuild, is the Florida Panthers. The Panthers have made the
playoff just once since seasons began in the new millennium, and have
only made it past the first round once their franchise history. This
year, with a young roster, their struggles continue.
Johnathan Huberdeau has already begun to establish himself as a
supremely talented NHL player and with some of the other young forward
talent on the team, like Nick Bjugstad and Aleksander Barkov, it seems
the future may be bright for the Sunrise, Fla. based hockey club,
The team has some players with very tradable contracts -- Brad Boyes
won't set your franchise up for the future but his low-cost and
expiring deal could bring back a third round pick, perhaps.
The issue with the Panthers is that next season or the off-season may
be the best time to trade away a lot of their assets, because Tomas
Fleischman, Scottie Upshall, Tomas Kopecky and Sean Bergenheim are all
forwards who could complement contending teams extremely well and will
be free agents at the end of the 2014-15 season.
For now, they are saddled with an over-35 contract for the injured Ed
Jovanovski and still have Brian Campbell's massive contract --
although, with the right situation and the salary cap going up,
Campbell may turn into a tradable asset in the near future.
For Florida, their best bet is that teams will be interested in
acquiring players with two-years left on their deals, in exchange for
restocking the cupboard with young, promising talent and draft picks.
For fans, it's tough to let go of a season, to spend money supporting
a team that has a very miniscule chance of making a run through their
division into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But with a clear vision of the
future and an immense amount of belief in the team's hockey operations
department, the future is not so grim. At least your team hasn't be