McKenzie: Keep an eye on the Sabres when free agency opens

Bob McKenzie

6/29/2011 6:34:31 PM

If there's a lesson to be learned from the past days, weeks and months of the NHL season, it's this: expect the unexpected.

It was that way when St. Louis and Colorado engineered the Erik Johnson-Chris Stewart trade in February, it was that way when the Flyers dealt both Mike Richards and Jeff Carter last week and it will likely be that way when the free agency period commences at 12 Noon et on Friday.

Which is my way of saying, keep an eye on the Buffalo Sabres.

Historically, free-agent day has not been kind to the Sabres. That's when Buffalo watched Danny Briere and Chris Drury walk away from Western New York for far greener pastures, with the emphasis on the green.

But the Sabres have a new owner, Terry Pegula, a billionaire with deep pockets and a burning desire to make the Sabres the NHL's flagship franchise. It would not be a stretch to say Pegula has given GM Darcy Regier the green light to get into the deep end of the free agent pool and splash around with the big boys.

Five will get you ten, not to mention a beef on weck, that when Brad Richards and his agent Pat Morris open for business on Friday at the offices of Newport Sports in Mississauga, the Sabres will be front and centre with a mega-offer for this year's prized free agent. There's no guarantee Richards will sign in Buffalo, but there's every reason to believe if the Sabres get beat on Richards, or any other free agent, it won't be because they're outgunned on the dollar front.

In fact, there's no reason to doubt the Sabres will pay a premium to free agents just to prove to the hockey world that a small market U.S. team with a less than favorable winter climate can entice big-name talent to Buffalo.

The Sabres have plenty of cap room to do just about anything they set their mind to. They're looking for big additions both up front and on the blueline.

And with Columbus showing a strong sense of urgency that the Blue Jackets' future is now, and Minnesota making significant moves as well, to say nothing of teams like Florida and the Islanders needing to spend big bucks to get to the salary cap floor, well, expect the unexpected.

And imagine how crazy this would all be if there were a lot of big-name free agents instead of just a handful.