The draft board pages include every player who was left unprotected in the 1999 Expansion Draft. The overwhelming majority of players who do not carry over are either old, unproductive, injured, primarily used for fighting, marginal players, minor league veterans, or unsigned European prospects. The majority of pending UFAs (Group III, Group V, and Group VI) will not carry over. Exceptions to these rules are provided if the incumbent team left almost nothing of value available to choose from, in which case everyone gets at least a closer look.
As we are capped by league restrictions to selecting no more than six pending free agents, we must be judicious with our choices.
The Sabres finished 1998-99 in fourth place in the Northeast Division, then went on a tear that saw them end up in the Stanley Cup Final despite the league’s 17th-ranked offense (out of 27 teams).
Goalies: Tom Draper(Gr.II – RFA), Dwayne Roloson
Defensemen: Jason Holland(Gr.II – RFA), Mike Hurlbut(Gr.VI – UFA), James Patrick(Gr.III – UFA), Darryl Shannon
Forwards: Randy Cunneyworth, Craig Fisher(Gr.VI – UFA), Joe Juneau(Gr.III – UFA), Paul Kruse, Scott Nichol, Domenic Pittis, Rob Ray, Geoff Sanderson(Gr.II – RFA), Steffon Wallby(Gr.VI – UFA)
Unfortunately, goalie Dominik Hasek would not be unprotected; Tom Draper and Dwayne Roloson would be, and Roloson moves to the draft board.
Darryl Shannon is the only one of four defensemen who will warrant further consideration, and Domenic Pittis and Geoff Sanderson are the only two of the right unprotected forwards who will go in as well. Joe Juneau does not; he’s a pending UFA in what look like a thin class, but is unlikely to get a high enough compensatory pick to make it worthwhile.
G Dwayne Roloson – 30-year-old goalie, originally undrafted.
The case for taking Roloson – If there’s one person in this draft who’d had to battle like crazy to get anywhere, it’s Roloson. Undrafted at every point, and played Junior B until he was 20 years old. Went to UMass-Lowell and didn’t start until he was a junior, and was the backbone of a team that saw a stunning turnaround. Graduated and went to Saint John of the AHL, where he decisively outplayed Flames prospects Andrei Trefilov and Jason Muzzatti. The next year, he was the full-time starter and led the team to Game 7 of the conference finals. He played the next two seasons in Calgary, then last year in Buffalo as the backup. He also appeared in four playoff games with the Sabres last year in their run to the Stanley Cup Final.
The case against taking Roloson – Sure, he’s tough and tenacious. But can he actually play? His last two seasons, he was outplayed by Rick Tabaracci in Calgary, and although there’s certainly no shame in being decisively outplayed by Dominik Hasek in Buffalo, he didn’t do much when given the chance to play. Of his playoff games this past season, two were in relief of Hasek and two were starts, and his starts were horrendous: nine goals allowed in two games, and the first one was only a win because the Sabres somehow scored five goals. Yes, he’s a battler and he’s tenacious as all hell, but it means absolutely nothing if he can’t get the job done. As optimistic as I’d love to be about our first-year team, the reality is that it will be a lot closer to what Roloson was behind in Calgary than what he was behind in Buffalo.
D Darryl Shannon – 31-year-old defenseman, former 2nd-round pick of Toronto (1986)
The case for taking Shannon – “Stable” is the best word to describe Shannon’s game. Produces little offense, but a lot of low-key high-level defense. In three full seasons with Buffalo, Shannon has had a cumulative +77 rating and anchored the top penalty killing unit. He can be physical, but not undisciplined; he’s had 100 penalty minutes in a season once, and that was three seasons ago.
The case against taking Shannon – He’s got a nice plus-minus, and what else? He averages around 20 minutes a night, and has scored a total of 10 goals in the last three seasons (229 total regular season games). In the playoffs in 1996-97 and 1997-98, he combined for a -1 rating. And this past year, he went to the press box almost immediately after Rhett Warrener was acquired from Florida late in the season. Shannon would play a total of two playoff games, which is certainly an odd occurrence if he were in fact the team’s top shutdown defenseman. He played the first game of the first series against Ottawa, then was taken out in favor of a 35-year-old James Patrick. He got back in when Warrener broke his ankle in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final, and was -1 in the deciding Game 6. The Sabres didn’t miss a beat without him, they got equal or better defense out of whoever happened to be in the lineup.
We’re not Buffalo. We don’t and won’t have a prime Dominik Hasek, we’re very unlikely to have a top-level shutdown defenseman (like his usual partner Jay McKee, who didn’t miss a beat when paired with Warrener), and we have no idea what Shannon will look like when he’s separated from both of those. The fact that he was so easily replaced in the postseason and the team did perfectly fine without him says more than a gaudy plus-minus ever could.
F Geoff Sanderson – 27-year-old scoring forward, former 2nd-round pick of Hartford (1990).
The case for taking Sanderson – Sanderson played the left wing on one of the most dynamic lines in the NHL during his days in Hartford, centered by Andrew Cassels and flanked by Pat Verbeek. He scored 40 goals in 1992-93 and 1993-94, and 30 goals in 1995-96 and 1996-97 (the latter two of which came without Verbeek). The highest that the Whalers ever ranked in those years was 17th in the league in overall scoring, and that was in the 24-team NHL. Sanderson possesses blazing speed, and is a nightmare to contain.
Although he hasn’t scored much the last two years, this was while dealing with the relocation to Carolina, the loss of Cassels to Calgary, a trade to a pathetically-run Vancouver team, and then being sent to a Buffalo squad that seemed to believe that wins or losses are irrelevant as long as the score is 1-0. He still possesses the skill and the speed, as evidenced by his terrific 1999 Eastern Conference Finals against Toronto. It was most on display in Game 1, when, badly outflanked from a loose puck in the neutral zone, he accelerated to top speed, gained possession of the puck, and fought off a mugging by Wade Belak to flick a one-handed backhand into the net for what proved to be the winning goal.
Sanderson is 27 years old and still has a lot of hockey left in him.
The case against taking Sanderson – Yes, he scored plenty half a decade ago in Hartford. He’s done little the last two years, and he possesses too little defense and physical play to be an all-around player. If he’s not scoring, he’s not doing much of anything. He’s scored 23 goals in his last 150 regular-season games, and added just 36 assists. He doesn’t create offense, he finishes it; if he doesn’t have someone to create it, he’s not producing. He lost ice time to and was outproduced by players like Michal Grosek, Dixon Ward, and Vaclav Varada.
Sure, he might be able to rebound and produce, if we can get him a first-line playmaking center. That’s a tall order for an expansion team, particularly one that’s faced with a dearth of talent in the expansion draft and faces an uncertain free agent period.
F Domenic Pittis – 25-year-old forward, 2nd-round pick of Pittsburgh (1993)
The case for taking Pittis – It took a little while, but his scoring finally came around in the minors. Scored 119 and 127 points (104 goals) in his last two seasons in the WHL, then took a little while to get going in the pros. Had 66 points in 65 games in 1996-97, a down year in 1997-98, and then most recently had 38 goals and 104 points with Rochester last year. He then added 21 points in 20 playoff games, falling short in the Calder Cup Finals to a juggernaut of a Providence Bruins squad. He can both finish and set up offense, and won’t shy away from physical play.
The case against taking Pittis – Sure, he put up some nice-looking numbers…in the minors. He hasn’t been a dominant player in pro hockey outside of one single year, and we need look no further than the dominant Bob Wren and Craig Reichert just last year, who each had a huge year in the minors right before the expansion draft and then fell back to earth the very next season. Pittis mirrors those two players more than anyone else; he’s 25, looked out of place in a couple of brief callups to the NHL, and is far from a sure bet to actually produce in the NHL. There’s too much risk to take him; he might be worth snagging as a secondary asset, but he’s not the type of guy to waste an expansion pick on.