Key Free-Agent Losses Put Pressure on Several Clubs
The Buffalo Sabres led the NHL in goals in 2006-07, but they took two big hits over the summer, losing both Daniel Briere and Chris Drury to free agency. The pair accounted for 69 of Buffalo’s 308 goals. Among all NHL players who changed teams during the offseason, Briere and Drury ranked first and fifth in scoring, respectively, a year ago.
Drury tallied 37 goals and Briere netted 32. Only one other NHL club lost a pair of 30-goal scorers to free agency or trade. That would be the New York Islanders, though Ryan Smyth scored all but five of his 36 goals for Edmonton before he was dealt to the Isles at the trade deadline.
How big were Buffalo’s offseason losses? If we isolate all players who changed teams and scored either 15 goals or 30 points in 2006-07, the Sabres lost more goals and points than all other teams. The totals reflect not only goals and points lost from a year ago, but those gained by new acquisitions with 15 goals or 30 points last season.
Most Goals/Points Lost, 2006-07 to 2007-08
(totals reflect only players with 15 goals or 30 points in 2006-07)
Team. . . . . . . . .G. . . . . . .Pts
Buffalo. . . . . . . 73. . . . . . 172
Nashville. . . . . . 44. . . . . . 126
Ottawa. . . . . . . 32. . . . . . 109
Phoenix. . . . . . 36. . . . . . . 93
Detroit. . . . . . .27. . . . . . . 63
The Sabres lost a total of 73 goals and 172 points without adding a single player who netted 15 goals or 30 points a year ago. At least the Islanders signed a few players to make up for most of their lost production, including Bill Guerin, Mike Comrie, Jon Sim and Ruslan Fedotenko.
The Sabres are counting on young players Thomas Vanek, Derek Roy and Jason Pominville to build on career years, and others, such as Jochen Hecht, Ales Kotalik, Tim Connolly and Paul Gaustad, to pick up the slack. So far, so good. Although the Sabres are just 2-2-0 on the season, they lead the league with an average of 4.75 goals a game.
The Nashville Predators saw Paul Kariya, Kimmo Timonen, Scott Hartnell and Peter Forsberg depart over the summer. The only addition to score 15 goals or 30 points last season is Martin Gelinas, and the loss of Steve Sullivan to a back injury further depletes the team’s scoring punch. Sullivan, who tallied 60 points in 57 games in 2006-07, is expected back in December.
The Phoenix Coyotes lost four players who scored at least 30 points a year ago -- Comrie, Ladislav Nagy, Owen Nolan and Yanic Perreault -- while adding only Radim Vrbata among the 15-30 group.
The Detroit Red Wings will miss Mathieu Schneider and Robert Lang, as well as trade deadline acquisition Todd Bertuzzi. The Wings will need bigger offensive contributions from others, but this is still a talented club that is off to a 4-1-1 start.
The Ottawa Senators certainly haven’t suffered from their offseason losses in the early going, starting 6-1-0 this season. The Senators didn’t lose a cornerstone player and have the depth necessary to stay among the league’s elite. The Sens rank in the middle of the NHL pack with an average of just 3.14 goals a game, but they have been one of the stingiest teams, allowing just 2.00 goals per game.
You can’t read too much into the numbers of goals and points lost, as teams will have young players mature and step up and veterans will have the occasional career year. Still, the pressure will be on these teams to find their production elsewhere after losing key scorers to other clubs.