Now that the Sabres have acquired versatile forward Brad Boyes, the biggest question regarding Buffalo is what to do with Tim Connolly (right). The center will be an unrestricted free agent, typically the type of player who gets moved so a team can get something for someone who might walk away for nothing.
We'll look at both sides, with John Vogl presenting the view of why they should keep Connolly and Mike Harrington offering the case against keeping him past the trade deadline of 3 p.m. today.
WHY THE SABRES SHOULD KEEP CONNOLLY
Sure, Connolly is the most infuriating player from a fan standpoint. His talent has been a tease since he arrived in 2001. His time in Buffalo should expire following the season no matter what.
But the fact is, with Derek Roy out, the Sabres simply don't have anyone better in the middle. Boyes can play center, but why clear out Connolly just to put someone who's been at right wing in the middle? The depth chart is better with Connolly on it.
Connolly can remain in the middle of Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek. Boyes, if the Sabres like him at center, can move ahead of Jochen Hecht and play between Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford. That moves Hecht down to his rightful spot as a third-line middleman, and Paul Gaustad becomes the fourth-line center.
A center chart that reads Connolly-Boyes-Hecht-Gaustad may not be the league's best, but it's still better than Boyes-Hecht-Gaustad-McCormick. And if the Sabres don't like Boyes in the middle? Well, then they certainly need to keep Connolly because a team can't expect to be a playoff squad with Hecht as the No. 1 center. That's not his role.
As for the thinking they should trade Connolly now in order to get an asset, it's really not that big of a deal. Sure, a second-round pick would be a bonus, but it's not like Connolly was a short-term player and losing him for nothing would hurt the franchise. He's played eight seasons in Buffalo. The player they gave up to get him (Michael Peca) is retired. Though fans are certainly right to say Connolly could have done more and stayed healthier during his long run, it was a long run nonetheless.
Having it continue for a couple of more months isn't going to hurt, and it's the right move.
WHY THE SABRES SHOULD TRADE CONNOLLY
The Sabres have already made a couple major statements in the last few days. Terry Pegula said the shackles would come off the team's bank account and Darcy Regier proved that by getting Boyes. By taking on money for the rest of this season and next year, they threw out Tom Golisano's dollar-for-dollar edict in one swoop.
Now it's time for another statement: Getting rid of the one player who is as big a symbol as any for the on-ice product feeling so stale.
For his $4.5 million, Tim Connolly has eight goals and 26 points in 47 games this season and is a minus-11. Lax, lax, lax. He's been basically invisible in 5-on-5 play and has had a terrible time handling the puck, especially at the point on the power play. Sure, he's been decent killing penalties but that's not what the Sabres are paying him for. The fans kill him at every fumble. People know the deal.
Since the calendar hit 2011, the Sabres have played their best hockey and Connolly has had basically nothing to do with it. Starting on Jan. 1, he's got two goals, 10 assists and is a minus-1 (And that figure is bloated by his plus-5 in the Sabres' two 7-6 games).
There's no way Connolly is coming back next year and it's true this is not like Briere-Drury-Campbell-Spacek-Tallinder-Lydman -- letting an asset walk and getting nothing in return. The Sabres are thin at center and trading Connolly would make them thinner for the playoff push.
Still, I don't see where all of Connolly's experience is making any difference either. He's just a body taking up space. He's done nothing to help this playoff push. Injury or not, he did nothing last year against Boston. If he was hurt, he shouldn't have been on the ice. Get another center in here or simply let Luke Adam or Paul Byron play. They can't be any worse. Get a draft pick for Connolly and call it a day.
Photo by John Hickey/Buffalo News: Connolly goes to the net Saturday against Detroit. Was it his last game as a Sabre?