Darcy Regier's message Monday in First Niagara Center was pretty clear: The Buffalo Sabres are open for business. You call us and we'll be calling you.
With the NHL draft slated to open Friday night in Pittsburgh, the Sabres are in an odd position. They have four of the top 44 picks — including first-rounders at No. 12 and No. 21 — and that's normally a bonanza to build your team for the future. But, of course, after finishing ninth in the East last season, the pressure is mounting on Regier and coach Lindy Ruff to get back into the playoffs.
The Sabres can't be in development mode, so there's a good chance they'll be taking some of those picks and trying to ship them elsewhere to get some NHL-level talent.
"We are very active as it relates to finding ways to improve our hockey team," Regier said during the team's draft preview gathering with reporters. "Some of the names you hear that are out there, we've had conversations with those teams. I think it's way too early to know whether or not anything will happen. There are a lot of teams like us in similar positions."
Regier doesn't work in specifics but the biggest names widely known to be on the trade market this week are Pittsburgh's Jordan Staal and Columbus' Rick Nash. Regier was high on drafting Nash in 2002 but the Blue Jackets took him with the No. 1 pick. Staal would be a much better fit for Buffalo because of the Sabres' needs at center but the hottest rumor has him wanting to go to Carolina to join his brother, Eric.
Regier said he's been busier before the draft in recent days much more than in the past. Among others, it's expected the Sabres are shopping veteran center Derek Roy.
"More calls have gone out than I've been receiving but that doesn't mean it won't change," Regier said. "The tendency is for this thing to ramp up as you approach the draft and when you get on the floor, it gets a little crazier."
Regier seemed to open a window that he would be willing to trade almost anyone on his current roster when he said it's a "sliding scale" over who might be untouchable. But just as quickly, he pointed out he's always felt that to be the case.
"Hey, Wayne Gretzky got traded. That's what I hear quite often," Regier said.
"There's some obvious guys we don't have any interest in talking about right now and you can figure out who they are. But I make it a practice to call teams and ask them for players that I assume they're not willing to trade, nor do they want to trade. And other GMs do the same with me.
"You let them know if they change their mind to please give me a call and I certainly do a lot more of that now than I used to."
When it comes to trades, the Sabres didn't sound too interested in moving up into the top five of the draft. Kevin Devine, director of amateur scouting, said there's no premier talent like Steven Stamkos or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins available and that draft boards from most teams likely have 30 different arrangements. Many years, it's fairly obvious what order teams view the top picks.
"For us to try to move up in the top 5, for the price it's going to be, I'm not sure if it's worth it," Devine said. "Because I'm not sure those players have distinguished themselves any differently than some of the players that might be around [No.] 9."
The least likely scenario would be for the Sabres to keep all four picks. Still, Regier said that possibility remains in play too.
"It could go any way," he said. "We could use those four picks just to pick players in the draft. It's the value of the players in the draft, how soon they may ready for the National Hockey League, vs. the cost to acquire some other player."
Finnish winger Joel Armia, who signed a three-year, entry-level contract over the weekend, will play next season in Finland as a condition of signing the deal. Regier said the contract would thus not begin until the 2013-14 season and that Armia stands a good chance of being in the NHL rather than Rochester.
"Ability wise and projecting him, he'll have to come to training camp but his talent and skill level would make it a possibility for him to play out of the gate," Regier said.
Negotiations with restricted free agents Tyler Ennis and Patrick Kaleta have not yet been opened (but both players have already received their qualifying offers). Veteran Jochen Hecht has been declared healthy from his concussion issues but the Sabres are not likely to re-sign him.
Regier said it was simply a "hockey decision" the Sabres made in not signing center Steven Shipley, their fourth-round pick in 2010.
The 6-foot-3, 212-pounder had 22 goals and 27 assists in 63 games for Niagara of the Ontario Hockey League last season and will go back into the draft pool along with 2010 fifth-rounder Gregg Sutch and sixth-rounder Cedrick Henley, both wingers the team did not sign.