Like all Henrik Tallinder fans (there are legions of us, I tell you!), I've been pondering this for a while, and reading Kate's blurb about it tonight has me thinking about it again: What do the Sabres do with Tallinder and Toni Lydman in the off-season? Re-sign Hank, re-sign Toni, or let them both walk?
I said this in the comments of Kate's blog and I'll repeat it here. Thinking practically, I can totally see re-signing Toni and letting Hank walk. All told, Toni has been more consistent over the course of his contract. His highs haven't been as high as Hank's highs, but his lows haven't been as low. He's a little more physical which is something the team as currently assembled is short on. He's a little more under the radar so he'll probably be a little cheaper although I think the money will be close enough that it's not going to be a huge determining factor when it comes to the two of him. He's certainly been more durable. Toni shows up and does what he's supposed to do, gives you a funny quote, and then goes home. While he's good for a handful of mind-staggeringly bad turnovers a season, I think he's been unfairly abused by too many fans the last few seasons.
I think there are more question marks with Hank and I think some of the reasons to keep him are a little less concrete. How much do you take into consideration his chemistry with Tyler Myers this past season? Myers is probably good enough to learn to play with anyone, but I don't know, chemistry is a funny thing. How many times in the last two years did Lindy Ruff try to split up Hank and Toni only to discover that neither one of them played as well with someone else as they did with each other? Hank has said some interesting things in the aftermath of the playoffs about getting his head on straight, fixing himself mentally, finding a better balance between his personal life and work. Now maybe fixing himself mentally means telling himself, "For the love of Pete, Hank, it's a contract year. Get it together." (Concern over this season being the result of a contract year is completely valid.) But maybe it means more. Did something finally kick in this season that he wasn't quite getting before? Or did he just figure out something that was causing him problems last season? I don't know. I think re-signing Hank is arguably a bigger risk than re-signing Toni, but I think the potential reward is greater. If he and Myers continue to play together the way they did this past season, the Sabres have a legitimate top pairing for the next couple of years while some of the baby d-men get some NHL experience. I also think Hank at his best is better than Toni at his best, but now that I've written that I have to admit, I'm wondering if that's just the fan in me talking.
As sad as I would be to see Hank go somewhere else, I will admit that I'm more worried about the Sabres failing to re-sign either of them. I think that would be a mistake. It's 1:26 a.m. and I'm far too lazy to look this up right now (sorry, Mike - I'll look for it tomorrow, I promise) but during the Boston series Mike Harrington wrote a blog post about how both teams were relying heavily on two defensive pairings. For the Sabres, Tallinder-Myers and Lydman-Montador were carrying a bulk of the minutes. If you let Tallinder and Lydman both walk, you're losing two of your top four defensemen. In that case, I think the Sabres have to sign or trade for a veteran d-man. I'm excited about Mike Weber finally coming up but I think it's unfair and probably unwise to expect him to step right into that kind of playing time. That would be fine except that the Sabres already need at least one good forward, preferably a couple, and a more offensive d-man to work on the power play. How much are they going to have to pay or give up for all of those things? I think it makes more sense to give the money to a guy who you already know works in your line-up (assuming that they're on the same page as far as money and years go which is, of course, not a given). I'll be happiest if Hank stays - and yes, that statement is riddled with sentiment - but really I just want one of them to stay.
On a somewhat related note, in light of the possibility of Hank leaving, I've been having a lot of conversations with a variety of people about maybe having to choose a new favorite player. I've been avoiding thinking about that too much until I have to so I've been surprised to discover that everyone seems to think they already know who my replacement favorite is. I'd think they were crazy but everyone - and this is, I don't know, five or six different people - has named the same guy. I had no idea that I'd been that obvious about anyone beyond Hank, and while I was a little taken aback at first, I have to admit this guy makes sense.
So let's get interactive. I have two questions for you. One, if you're the Sabres, what do you do with Hank and Toni? (And don't worry about offending my senses. I can take it, I promise. As long as you don't call Hank ugly. That's decidedly untrue so in that case, I'll know you're just starting with me.) Two, if it comes to it, who do you think is in the running to be my next favorite Sabre? Who's the next guy in the Top Shelf header?