By JOHN WAWROW The Associated Press
Medina Journal-Register — BUFFALO — Sabres general manager Darcy Regier hasn’t given up entirely on his desire to acquire one of the highly coveted top-three picks in the NHL draft.
The problem is, the prospect of pulling off a deal is proving tougher than Regier initially anticipated — perhaps even “impossible,” as he termed it.
Having already braced Sabres fans to be store for a little more “suffering” during the team’s youth movement, Regier has encountered a snag in his rebuilding plans preparing for the draft at New Jersey on Sunday.
Despite having plenty to offer — draft picks and proven talent, including goalie Ryan Miller and forward Thomas Vanek — as trade bait, Regier has yet to find anyone interested in making a deal.
“I would characterize the draft and the ability ... to move up into those tops spots will be extremely difficult, if not impossible,” Regier said, based on conversations he had with his counterparts at league meetings last week. “We’re exploring all the options. We’ll continue to try to move up. But it appears now that teams are getting more locked into keeping the pick.”
That could leave the Sabres on the outside looking in, when forwards Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin, and defenseman Seth Jones are projected to be taken with the first three picks.
The one consolation is the pool of draft prospects is regarded to be deep enough to provide Regier several opportunities to continue adding young talent to a roster already in flux.
Starting with two first-round picks at No. 8 and 16, plus two more in the second round, the Sabres have 10 selections in the seven-round draft.
“I’m excited,” Regier said. “When you look at the bigger picture, and you include two good second-round picks in what is a good draft, it provides a real solid opportunity for us to project down the road in a year or two.”
It’s a roster that will be far different than the one that opened this past lockout-shortened season. And there’s no guarantee whether Miller and Vanek will continue in their roles as the team’s core.
Both stars are entering the final years of their contracts, making them eligible to test free agency next summer. Though Regier and owner Terry Pegula have expressed a desire to re-sign both, they’ve acknowledged Miller and Vanek will also have a say regarding their futures.
Vanek has already said he has no interest in staying through a lengthy rebuilding process. Vanek has even acknowledged it might be in both parties’ best interest if the team traded him.
Though Regier hasn’t closed the door on either player, he also hasn’t ruled out dealing one or both as early as this weekend for the betterment of the team.
“It’s important for us to move in the right direction, but the right direction needs to be organizationally,” Regier said. “It won’t be about one or two players. It has to transcend that.”
The Sabres are in transition after Pegula’s free-spending approach failed to produce anything resembling the Stanley Cup contender he envisioned upon purchasing the team in February 2011.
And Regier is taking the brunt of blame for assembling a team that’s missed the playoffs for the past two seasons, and four of the past six.
Running out of options and patience, Regier was left with little choice but to begin a major overhaul soon after the Sabres stumbled out of the gate in February.
Longtime coach Lindy Ruff was fired after a 6-10-1 start, and Regier followed by purging veteran players with an eye toward the future.
Over the span of five days leading up to the NHL trading deadline in April, the Sabres traded three veterans — including captain Jason Pominville — in exchange for draft picks and prospects.
This will mark the second consecutive draft in which the Sabres will have two first-round selections. Last year, they drafted centers Mikhail Grigorenko and Zemgus Girgensons with the 12th and 14th picks, after acquiring an additional first-round selection in a trade that sent Paul Gaustad to Nashville.
The Sabres have numerous needs to address, and haven’t ruled out selecting a goalie in the first two rounds.
Trade or no trade, Kevin Devine, the Sabres director of amateur scouting, is confident the Sabres will come away winners.
“At eight and 16, I don’t think anybody’s got picks like that,” Devine said. “The depth of the draft, we’re still going to get two very good players that will add to an already good young base.”