BUFFALO – The Sabres hold four of the first 52 picks in this month’s deep NHL Entry Draft, including the eighth and 16th selections. They also have starting goalie Ryan Miller and ace scorer Thomas Vanek, two stars with a year left on their contracts, dangling.
Still, despite a slew of assets, Sabres general manager Darcy Regier said Thursday securing one of the top three selections – future stars Jonathan Drouin, Seth Jones and Nathan MacKinnon are likely to get picked – will probably be “impossible.”
“I would characterize the draft and the ability to primarily to move in the draft, to move up into those top spots, will be extremely impossible if not impossible given the conversations I’ve had as recent as (Wednesday),” Regier, just back from the GM meetings in Boston at the Stanley Cup final, said inside the First Niagara Center.
Colorado, Florida and Tampa Bay possess the first three picks. The Sabres will keep trying to move up until the June 30 draft in Newark, N.J., however. They’ve also spoken to teams picking behind them.
“We’re exploring all the options,” said Regier, who re-signed backup goalie Jhonas Enroth to a two-year, $2.5 million contract Thursday, according to capgeek.com. “We’ll continue to try to move up. But it appears now teams are getting more locked into keeping the pick and making the selection at that place.”
Regier believes if the teams in the three, four and five slots – Nashville, Carolina and Calgary – don’t get the player they’re targeting, the field could possibly change.
Whatever happens, the Sabres are confident they’ll get good players early.
“At eight we’re going to get a top-six forward or top-four defenseman,” amateur scouting director Kevin Devine said. “I think it kind of runs both ways. We’re going to get two good players here, but the cost of what we’d have to give up to get that franchise player would also set us back depth-wise.”
Meanwhile, Regier said he recently spoke to Miller’s agent, Mike Liut, and plans to speak with Vanek’s agent next week. He also plans to chat with the players soon.
With the Sabres in a rebuilding mode, the two veterans could get dished. Before the season ended, Miller sounded like he knew he would be dealt. Vanek has stated a desire to move on if the rebuilding takes too long.
“Ideally, I would like to keep them here, yes, both of them,” Regier said. “But, again, we have to look at it in the context of when they become unrestricted, whether or not we have the ability to do deals with them and then the cost of those deals if we do.”
Naturally, Regier said the Sabres will explore all options with Miller and Vanek.
“One of those options is that those players will remain here next year because the market is going to dictate to (a) large part what we’re able to do in order to help the organization,” he said.
Regier said the players are “exploring their options as well.”
“Part of that’s predicated on what we do,” he said.
Regier added both players haven’t closed the door on a contract extension in “absolute terms.”
In other news, Regier said the Sabres don’t have any plans to buyout winger Ville Leino or any player right now. Leino, who struggled mightily in 2011-12 and battled hip problems this season, recently underwent a procedure and is recovering well, Regier said.
Teams are allowed two compliance buyouts to get under the lower salary cap next season.
Although buyouts run from 48 hours after the final ends until July 4, Philadelphia jumped the gun Thursday, announcing it planned to eat the final two seasons of former Sabres star Daniel Briere’s contract.
“I don’t think Danny was the same player he was with us, but I still think he’s a very capable NHL player and won’t have any problem finding employment because he can still play and contribute,” Regier said.
Would the Sabres be interested in the 35-year-old center?
“Let me think on that,” Regier said.
Regier also said coach Ron Rolston is working on hiring two new assistants. The team fired Kevyn Adams and James Patrick last month.
“Ron is continuing to work on it, interview, had a couple of candidates in Monday and Tuesday, and is really doing the work to get the right decision and is taking his time,” Regier said. “Ron originally was set on a couple of individuals who decided to stay where they were. They were in very good situations, in both cases head coaching situations, and wanted to remain in that position.”
One of those individuals was believed to be Lake Superior State’s Jim Roque.
Notes: Regier is still working on filling Rochester’s opening coaching job. Chadd Cassidy took over on an interim basis when the Sabres promoted Rolston on Feb. 20. Regier said Americans players thought Cassidy and assistant Chris Taylor did a “terrific job.” … Regier said some restricted free agents in Rochester might not be tendered a new contract. … The Sabres have had preliminary talks with center Cody Hodgson, a restricted free agent.