The Sabres figured they had plenty of ammunition heading toward the NHL Draft. They had early picks, proven players on the trade market and a willingness to deal. Buffalo hoped to start its rebuild with a big-time splash at the top of the selection show.
Then Darcy Regier went to Boston this week. The Sabres’ general manager met with the league’s other roster builders, and a disappointing feeling turned into a harsh truth.
“To move up into those top spots will be extremely difficult, if not impossible,” Regier said Thursday.
The teams picking at the top – Colorado will draft first, followed by Florida, Tampa Bay and Nashville – have little to no desire to move down. They have elite prospects in mind, and they plan to draft them June 30 in New Jersey.
“We’ll continue to try and move up, but as I’ve said, it appears teams are getting more locked into keeping the pick and making the selection at that place,” Regier said in First Niagara Center.
The Sabres have 10 picks in the seven-round draft, including Nos. 8 and 16 in the first round. They should get quality players, but they won’t be the guaranteed game-changers they relished.
“The cost of what we’d have to give up to get that franchise player would also set us back depth-wise,” said Kevin Devine, the Sabres’ director of amateur scouting. “We’re going to get two good players. At the eight pick, we’re looking at a top-six forward or a top-four defenseman.”
Buffalo had talked boldly of getting to the top, and some teams seemed open to trade possibilities. The stances soon hardened. Colorado reportedly turned down an offer from Calgary of three first-round picks (Nos. 6, 22 and 28) for No. 1 overall.
The lack of trading partners could impact the Sabres’ plans for goaltender Ryan Miller and leading scorer Thomas Vanek. Both have indicated a willingness to be dealt as they head into the final year of their contracts. The agents for both told The Buffalo News on Thursday that they’ve had no extension talks with the Sabres.
“We probably have an indication versus a decision,” Regier said of the players’ desires. “Ideally, I would like to keep them here, yes, both of them. But again, we have to look at it in the context of when they can become unrestricted, whether or not we have the ability to do deals with them, and then the cost of those deals if we do. That all gets mixed into the decision.”
If the Sabres move Miller, they have his replacement lined up. They agreed to a two-year contract extension with Jhonas Enroth, who was set to become a restricted free agent.
“As it is right now, Ryan is the starter,” said Enroth, who reportedly will earn an average of $1.25 million per season, up from $675,000. “Obviously, I care what’s going to happen with Ryan. He’s a very good friend of mine now. I look up to him a lot and wish him all the best.
“I try to not worry too much about that right now. I’m just going to try and get ready and get in shape for the season.”
Enroth, who turns 25 next week, went 4-4-1 with a 2.60 goals-against average and .919 save percentage this year, then followed that by leading Sweden to the gold medal at the world championships. He has played 53 games in the NHL with a 21-18-7 record, 2.72 GAA and .914 save percentage – similar numbers to Miller at the same stage of their careers.
“At some point in his career, he’s going to be a No. 1 goaltender,” Regier said. “Given Jhonas’ age, his experience, what he’s been through, he’s in a great position to really advance his career.”
In other news:
• Regier does not plan to use a compliance buyout. Each team is allowed to get rid of two contracts during the next two summers.
“Not at this point, no,” Regier said. “What I mean at ‘this point’ is you begin 48 hours after the finals end and go through July 4. If there were a reason, I suppose it remains an option, but at this point no.”
• Coach Ron Rolston has been unable to lure assistant coach candidates to the Sabres. The search for replacements for James Patrick and Kevyn Adams continues.
“Ron originally was set on a couple of individuals that decided to stay where they were,” Regier said of college or minor-league candidates. “They were in very good situations, and in both cases in head coaching situations, and wanted to remain in that position.”