How to be the Sabres GM in three easy steps: Step 1 – The Draft

It’s so easy, even Bucky can do it.

The title of General Manager of the Sabres is a hot commodity these days, I guess. Apparently there’s a lot of people who think they could do a better job than Darcy Regier. It seems to be a fun enough gig, anyway. 

So, inspired by Mr. Gleason’s “GM for a day” piece this past Sunday and the dozens of other armchair GM’s who so rather intelligently posted their comments below Bucky’s, I decided to give this whole GM thing a try. “How hard could it be?” I thought. And here I am, in an attempt of getting in on all the fun you people are having without me, writing about what I think would be cool for the Sabres to accomplish this offseason.

Live from my mother’s basement (I am, in fact, writing this from my mother’s basement. It’s nice and cool down here), I’ll address a few moves I’d make if I occupied the big chair in the Sabres’ front office this offseason. If all goes as planned, over the next week or so I’ll discuss the Sabres’ options in this year’s draft, trade market and, of course, free agency, and give you my perspective on each.

Today, we’ll begin with the draft.

But first, the Sabres have an announcement to make.

The timing sucks, with the draft this weekend and all, but they’ve secretly reached out to me to handle all duties as general manager from now until, well, ever (Screw a day. I’m in this for the long haul).

Why they’re replacing a well-respected NHL veteran and GM with decades of experience with a 20-year-old boy without a degree (hey, it’s in progress) or a halfway decent slapshot is beyond me, but that’s not my decision to make. I’m here to win the Sabres a Stanley Cup. If they think I can do it, more power to ‘em.

So, consider this the Sabres’ official announcement. I’m honored, really.

I don’t have much of an acceptance speech prepared, but a big thanks to Joe Pinzone for making this all possible and to @FakeDarcy for sucking so bad. Yadayadayada, let’s get to the good stuff.

On Friday, 30 GM’s and team representatives from around the NHL will gather in Pittsburgh to take part in the most recent selection of the world’s most talented hockey teenagers.

With four of the draft’s top 44 selections in my pocket (thanks for that, Darc), there’s a bunch of different directions I can go here, which is why this week should be all the more intriguing.

During a press conference on Monday, Regier, now the FORMER GM of the Sabres, and Kevin Devine, the Sabres’ director of amateur scouting, discussed a few of those directions.

For starters, don’t expect a trade up into the draft’s top five picks or so, at least not from the No. 12 spot.

“We’re not averse to moving up,” Devine said. “But this year’s draft, it’s the first that I can remember where there’s not really that consensus top five out there. If you polled all the head scouts in the National Hockey League, you’d probably have 30 different lists.

“For us to try to move up to the top five, the price it’s going to be, I’m not sure it’s worth it because I’m not sure if those players are going to distinguish themselves any differently than some of the players that might be around nine. If we’re sitting at (No.) 12 and we really like a guy and we see him falling, then there’s a possibility that we’ll move up.”

Simply put, Nail Yakupov, as good as he may be, is no Steven Stamkos, and Ryan Murray is no Drew Doughty. It’ll suit the Sabres much better to simply sit at No. 12 and wait and see if a guy they like starts to slip circa 2008, when the team anxiously watched Tyler Myers slide out of the top 10 and into their laps at No. 12, a spot they traded into after the big guy began to drop. This would save the Sabres some cost, as the asking price to move up is supposedly astronomical. Because of this, it might be a good thing if the Sabres just hold on to No. 12.

This year is looking eerily similar to 2008. As you know, the Sabres also held two first-round choices at No. 12 and No. 26 that year, where they selected Myers and Tyler Ennis. If kept, Sabres fans could only hope for lightning to strike in a similar situation again at Nos. 12 and 21.

Of course, this year’s situation is a little different than that of 2008. Back then, the Sabres were probably approaching the draft with a bit of a rebuilding mindset on the heels of a disappointing season after losing Danny Briere and Chris Drury a year prior.

This year, fans hope to see one or both of the first-round picks dealt in an effort to acquire some NHL-level talent ready to make an immediate impact on a team with a core whose window to win in this league is closing rapidly. Although Devine implied trading up from No. 12 to the top 5 doesn’t make much sense, he did suggest maybe No. 21 would be up for grabs.

Hell, if I’m GM, I’m making frantic calls all week to Ray Shero in Pittsburgh and Greg Sherman in Colorado to find out what it’s going to take to pry Jordan Staal or Paul Stastny from their hands (for all the grief you took, Bucky, the Stastny call, I thought, was a good one. Ryan Miller for Ryan Malone, however? Not so much… More on this in my trades post later this week. Stay tuned!), as the four top picks is a negotiating chip luxury very few other teams can offer.

Alas, it’s tough to gauge the Sabres’ interest on rumors, so I’ll operate under the assumption they hang on to both first rounders. Holding on to the two top picks isn’t the worst thing that could happen. After all, if the worst-case scenario for the weekend is coming away with two very good top-grade prospects, then I’d say you’re doing pretty well for yourself. So now I’ll get into what I’d do with the two picks so long as all trade options are exhausted. 

In an effort to avoid sounding like a complete jackass here, I reached out to Buffalo’s own hockey version of Mel Kiper, Kris Baker of SabresProspects.com, for a little insight into this year’s draft class (I can’t know everything, after all). I’ve done some reading of my own, but no one knows amateur talent in regards to the Sabres like Kris does. And although you might expect him to have a really cool mullett or some kind of trademark hairstyle (he doesn’t), he’s a good guy who gave me a bit of his time and answered a few of my dumb questions. So a big thanks to Kris. Here is what he had to say:

I personally am not sure if it’s in the Sabres’ best interests to fork over a ton for a shot at the top five this draft. If a top-tier guy begins to drop out of that first five or so, than I’m looking into it. Teams just don’t trade into the top three in the NHL — this isn’t the NFL. It’s not always that easy to fork over a ton to draft a guy who’s not really all that much better than what you already have a shot at from where you stand. Kris, however, said he thinks the Sabres have the stuff to swing a deal if they wish.

Between the high picks, D prospects, and top club players, the Sabres theoretically have the assets to throw a quality offer at a team like Columbus if they intend to chase down Galchenyuk. The Blue Jackets need a little bit of everything. While it comes down to how much how much Buffalo is willing to overpay, the forecast in Columbus is even cloudier given all the questions surrounding the Nash situation.

If Galchenyuk (high skill, high character center) or Forsberg (skilled power forward) is available at No. 4, the Islanders present another solid trade-up option….If only bumping up a few spots and not all the way into top tier, Teravainen (smaller speedy playmaker) is worth exploring as another high-end forward but even then you may have to go as high as six.

It feels that the chances of a moving into the No. 2 spot are slim, but I wouldn’t put it past the Sabres getting to No. 6 if they think they can land their consolation prize forward. After Yakupov, you have to think that one of Forsberg, Galchenyuk, Teravainen could be there.

That’s music to Sabres fans’ ears. To me, Forsberg or Galchenyuk are the only two guys worth trading up for. And even then, the price may still be too steep. Although it has been said there are more teams trying to trade back than trade up, which is interesting.

With all that in mind, here are my first round choices for Friday’s draft, assuming no trades will be made from now until then.

First round, No. 12 overall – Olli Maata, LHD, London (OHL)

When the pick rolls around to No. 12 and all the top centers are already off the board, which is likely, who is picked will simply come down to who the Sabres like the best. Of course, everyone would love a trade up for one of the sexy names (like most, I’d be very satisfied with Galchenyuk or Forsberg dropped out of the top five), but at this point, the asking price may just be too high and ultimately not worth it. I’d love if Teuvo Teravainen dropped to this spot, but I’m not banking on it. The Sabres had Maata in for a private workout and it’s been mentioned he would be a nice project for fellow Finn Teppo Numminen. Here’s what Kris had to say:

The Sabres are hoping for scoring at No. 12 if they can’t move up, whether it’s down the wings or the middle, but overall they need to get bigger and more skilled up front. Adding a top-four D and grabbing a goaltender before the good ones dry up would be secondary things to look for. They could accomplish all of most if they end up keeping all of their picks in the top three rounds.

Other options: Sebastian Collberg, RW; Pontus Aberg, LW; Cody Ceci, RHD; Teuvo Teravainen, C.

First round, No. 21 overall – Stefan Matteau, C, USA U-18 (USHL)

Perhaps reminsicent of that ’08 draft, maybe it would be best if the Sabres simpy went best player available with their top choice and selected their center with the seoncd pick. As mentioned a few times already, I’d be doing everything in my power to trade away at least one of these top picks, but if kept, the Sabres still walk away with two really nice prospects in the first round. I like Motteau, who seems to be a big, strong, edgy center with potential to eventually center a No. 2 line in the NHL. So, the Sabres go defenseman-forward again four years after the Myers and Ennis success. It worked once, it could work again. Here’s Kris’ take on Mottaeu:

Skilled with a splash of edginess, Matteau hits, scores, hacks, whacks, and plays sound two-way hockey. The gritty power forward scored 15 goals and 32 points in 46 games this past season while also mixing in some suspension time. Matteau is a disruptive player with his high compete level and big frame. His finishing skills keep him in the first round discussion.

Other options: Colton Sissons, C; Scott Laughton, C; Slater Koekkoek, LHD.

For insight on which direction the Sabres may look in the second round and beyond (his mock goes straight through the Sabres’ final pick and is far more interesting to read than anything I could write here), be sure to check out Kris’ draft preview.

Overall, there’s one overriding point to know heading into this weekend’s draft: Anything can happen. As we saw last night, rumors like the Bobby Ryan circus act, among others, can pop up in an instant. The Sabres could move up, swing a huge deal for an All-Star or simply hang on to their picks. The best part is everyone has an opinion, and that’s what makes this time of year so much fun. One thing we do know for sure, though, is this weekend will be entertaining.

You almost certainly don’t agree with Brandon’s opinion on this matter, so please, let him hear about it in the comment box or be sure to follow him on Twitter @B_Schlag and express your distaste.

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