The Untouchables: Part 1- The Forwards

Whenever someone refers to a player on their team as an “untouchable,” the other person in the conversation will most certainly fire back the obligatory “Even Wayne Gretzky got traded. No one’s untouchable.” response and they would be right. If a guy like Crosby could be obtained by moving a top player on the Sabres like Vanek in a trade package, then you’d make that trade, but the likelihood of improving your team by dumping an elite goal-scoring talent like Vanek is very slim, so for all intents and purposes, he would be untouchable.

I believe the Sabres have three other players besides Vanek that fall into that category: Derek Roy, Ryan Miller, and Tyler Myers. I guess I’ll throw Regehr in there too since the Sabres were willing to wait for him to waive his NMC. That leaves plenty of players that could be used as potential trade bait to varying degrees. Since the free agent market is so thin, there’s more than a decent chance that Buffalo will have to make a trade(s) if they wish to improve. Over the next three days, I will break down how untouchable Sabres players and select prospects are. Today, I’ll break-down the fowards, tomorrow, I’ll break-down the defensemen, and on the last day, the prospects will be broken-down.

*Untouchable ratings go from 1-10, one being the most expendable and ten being untouchable.

*I won’t be discussing Sabres UFAs. Only signed players and RFAs

Drew Stafford: Stafford was very dedicated last off-season to getting in better shape and it showed. The right-winger was faster and drove the net more, which resulted in a 31 goal season for him. Now cynics will say that this was a contract-year and that Stafford will become the same inconsistent player that we’re familiar with instead of progressing into the kind of talent the Sabres and their fans thought he’d be when they picked him the 1st round back in 2004. I don’t share that opinion and neither does the Sabres brass apparently since they gave him a 4 year $16 million contract a short time ago. With that being said, I still think he’s movable for the right center, but there aren’t too many deals like that they will be floating around. Untouchable Rating: 8/10

Jason Pominville: Ah yes. Here’s one of the favorite whipping boys of the team. Lord only knows why. Pominville does everything for the Sabres; he’s great two-way player, plays on the PK & PP, is good for 60-70 points every year, and up until the concussion he sustained last year, he managed to play four full NHL seasons. Even with the concussion, Pominville still managed to play 73 games, so what we have here is a very durable player. It doesn’t matter to me that he’s not a physical player. You can still be a great player without being physical. One of the biggest gripes of his detractors is his $5.3 cap hit and how he’s overpaid. Yes, he was overpaid, but not by much and with the cap rising to $64.3 million, I’d hardly call his contract a burden anymore. Like Stafford, he should only be moved for the right center. Untouchable Rating: 9/10

Brad Boyes: The Sabres 2011 trade deadline acquisition was a solid contributor for the team in the regular season, but not so much in the playoffs. Boyes is listed as a center and as a right-winger, but fans who watched him play the former should know that he should only be used in that spot in emergency situations. He’s a far better right-winger. Signed at $4 million through this season, Boyes is a luxury option given that Stafford and Pominville will most likely be holding down the 1st & 2nd line RW spots. That doesn’t mean that they should necessarily dump him for cap space either as he is a valuable player. Untouchable Rating: 5/10

Tyler Ennis: The Sabres rookie is fast, dynamic, and brings back memories of Danny Briere when he was still a Sabre. Ennis played all 82 games this season, put up 49 points, and is still on his ELC. Couple that with the fact that he has 1st line potential and you’ve got a player that is nearly untouchable at this point. I’d still move him for a top center in though. I see him hitting the 60 point mark in his sophomore season. Untouchable Rating: 9/10

Nathan Gerbe:  It took a little while, but it seems that Nathan Gerbe is well on his way to becoming a solid contributor for the Sabres. Gerbe potted 16 goals, put up 31 points in 64 games last season, and played with an extremely high-level of tenacity and ferocity that endeared him to his teammates and Sabres fans. Time will tell whether he’ll progress and improve on his offensive output, but I like his chances of doing that just because of his attitude alone. For the time-being though, he’s still a question mark and has Ennis to contend with, so…Untouchable rating: 6/10

Jochen Hecht: Hecht is another player who hasn’t gotten enough credit. He’s definitely not an offensive stalwart by any means, but he’s versatile, plays a great defensive game, is very good with puck possession on the boards, and can pot the occasional goal. At this point in his career though, the small amount of NHL-offensive ability Hecht has is dwindling. He is more suitable as 3rd liner who can fill in on the top 6 for short while now. Personally, I think you could get better value at that spot compared to Hecht’s current cap hit of $3.525 million, but he comes of the books after this season, so it’s definitely not the end of the world if he stays on for this season. Untouchable rating: 5/10

Paul Gaustad: The “Goose” was a pretty physical player when in his early years with the Sabres. He hasn’t been that kind of player in recent years for them. Gaustad does have value because of his solid defensive game and face-off prowess though. I’m hoping that the stretch run of games in the regular season and his playoff performance last season are a prelude to the return of the Gaustad that I liked to watch, but for what he brings now, I think Cody McCormick could be re-signed at a cheaper rate and could do a better job. No, he wouldn’t be as good on face-offs as Gaustad, but he’d be better in every other facet of the game. Untouchable rating: 3/10

Pat Kaleta: Up until this season, Kaleta looked like he was progressing into a great 3rd line checking forward who could score every now and then. Kaleta’s 2010-11 season was mired with injuries, fewer hits, and stupid, undisciplined penalties that weren’t a part of his game in the past. I know he’s a local guy and that he leaves it all out on the ice, but he’s very replaceable if he cannot find away to stay healthy, deliver the amount of big hits that we’re accustomed to seeing and knock off the dumb penalties that crept into his game this year.  Untouchable rating: 2/10 

Ales Kotalik: Not much to like about his game at this point. Sure, he has a great shot, but he doesn’t exactly have enough game to find space to shoot anymore. Kotalik’s also very good at the shootout, but that doesn’t make up for all of the negatives. Besides, the Sabres have enough players who are competent at the shootout. It would be awesome if they could dump on some team who needs to hit the cap floor, but he’ll most likely be AHL-bound for this season. Untouchable Rating: 1/10