Sabres can't afford to lose Campbell

SCOTT MORRISON -- For Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:02 AM ET

Brian Campbell said he hopes to remain with the Buffalo Sabres. Funny, but that's exactly what Daniel Briere and Chris Drury both said.

As it evolved, neither did stay.

It's quite likely the same will happen with Campbell, a gifted 27-year-old defenceman, who will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. Campbell, if you missed it, the other day said he would no longer talk contract with the Sabres, preferring instead to wait until the season was over and "hopefully hammer something out."

The burning question, though, is can the Sabres risk waiting?

For the record, Sabres general manager Darcy Regier has said the intention isn't to trade Campbell at the Feb. 26 deadline. But know this, Regier is quite aware he has to protect his, ah, assets. After all, the Sabres got nothing for Briere and Drury and run the risk of the same with Campbell if the deadline passes, the season ends and there isn't an agreement in place.

"There are lots of things to consider between now and the end of the season," Regier told reporters. "Where he is, where the team is, the trade deadline. You look at all of those and not close off any options. I don't have any preconceived notions here. I think that first and foremost we'd like to have him signed. But on the other side of it, you've got to look at all of the circumstances involved."

In some ways, beyond even the obvious, the Sabres can't afford to lose another talent, not on the heels of what happened last summer and not with the team foundering now. This would not be addition by subtraction in any way. And they certainly can't afford to lose another talent and get nothing in return.

Lose Campbell, too, and while you may have that $4-million or $5-million US to play with, there are no guarantees free agents will be anxious to sign with a team that clearly could be in decline.

Now, the price of doing business is steep. There were unconfirmed rumblings earlier in the season that the all-star defenceman, who is earning $1.75 million, was asking for $5 million a year for five years and that the price has subsequently gone up.

A rival general manager predicted the other day that if Campbell hits the free-agent market this summer there would be teams that would offer $6 million for five, maybe even six years.

Remember, the unrestricted pool for defencemen this summer isn't terribly deep. There is Campbell and potentially Wade Redden (who is at $6.5 million right now) and Dan Boyle ($3.625 million). Those are the big three. Rob Blake also could be available, but he is getting up there in years at 38, is at $6 million and would prefer to be in Los Angeles. Michal Roszival ($2.3 million) and John-Michael Liles ($1.4 million) are the next tier.

Basically, the price for a defenceman of Campbell's stature has been established. Montreal re-signed Andrei Markov last summer at $5.75 million, so something in that neighbourhood appears to be the magic number.

And like we said, the pool isn't deep, so if the Sabres lose Campbell, there aren't going to be many affordable options to replace him and all that he brings, which is a lot.

The question is can the Sabres afford to sign Campbell for that much? Or, can they afford not to sign him and have another good player leave, which could eventually lead to others doing the same?

"I think you have to take Brian at his word that it's something he wants to get done after the season," Regier said.

Just the same, as the trade deadline approaches it might be wise to extend another offer, or prepare to move on. One way or another the Sabres can't afford to lose him for nothing.

THIS AND THAT

The other night, when Alex Ovechkin scored the game-winning goal against Ottawa, the oldest of the five skaters Washington had on the ice was 24. With the exception of Michael Nylander, the Capitals' top five scorers are 24 or younger. The Maple Leafs, by comparison, are ancient. Their top five scorers will turn 37, 28, 34, 30 and 31 before the season is over ... It probably isn't a unanimous sentiment in Edmonton, but it says here Craig MacTavish has done a good coaching job with a young team, which suffered through a tonne of injuries this season ... Parity has officially gripped the entire NHL. Now even the Red Wings have looked ordinary and have lost three in a row ... Nashville had its smallest home crowd of the season Tuesday night, just 11,764 to see the Preds beat the Flames ... So the Capitals go 4-0 against the Senators this season. It could make for an intriguing first-round matchup if Washington was able to find eighth place, though losing Nylander will not help the pursuit.


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