Predicting the Buffalo Sabres 2020 Roster
Every offseason I feel like I can write an interesting article on the Buffalo Sabres’ roster construction. This is the type of thing I thoroughly enjoy. It is a giant puzzle that has multiple pieces. Unlike a traditional puzzle, there are multiple ways the pieces could fit together to accomplish the same goal. Some combinations will probably look better than others but there is no exact solution to this problem.
Once again, I am going to try to discuss what my thought process would be if Kevyn Adams gave me a call and asked for my assistance (Kevyn, if you happen to be reading this, my contact info is on the website). Here, I am going to go through all the moves I would consider, in order of priority. Ultimately, I will come to some sort of roster that I think would give the team the best chance to be a playoff contender next season. I think getting there is possible but it will take some aggressive moves and some financial commitment.
Re-sign Sam Reinhart, Dominik Kahun, Victor Olofsson
Outside of Jack Eichel and Jeff Skinner, these three forwards may be the next three most important forwards for the Sabres next season, especially if they fail to add anyone significant at the position. The top priority HAS to be getting them under contract for next season. All three are scheduled to be restricted free agents with arbitration rights. Kahun and Olofsson are both young forwards who have shown promise in a limited sample of games (Kahun only ended up playing six games in Buffalo).
Personally, I would look to sign Olofsson to a long-term contract. He has the type of shot that is going to allow him to be an effective goal scorer even as other abilities may decline. If Olofsson produces anything like he did in his rookie season and you sign him to a short-term deal, you might be pricing yourself out of him very quickly. The hope has to be to capitalize on the small sample size and flat cap to get Olofsson signed to a value contract. The problem is the team needs to be judicious with their spending as they have numerous areas of their roster where they need to improve. Striking a balance between spending more now and saving later will be critical. I have budgeted $4.5M for Olofsson. I would assume that would be enough to get him signed for some term.
Kahun is someone who is on his third organization in his only two years of playing in North America. He has shown promise but also doesn’t possess any unique skill that would make him impossible to replace if his future contracts start to get expensive. Unlike Olofsson, I would look to get a short-term deal done. For him, I have budgeted $2M, which is probably erring on the high end but that would be the correct way to go through this exercise. Underbudgeting would allow me to spend more money than I have. Being aggressive on the contracts would leave some wiggle room to either offer someone more or give the team cap space to work with through the season.
Sam Reinhart is probably the most interesting player in this group. I fully expect his name to be brought up in trade rumors this offseason. If the team is looking to make a major shakeup, he is one of the few players remaining in the organization that fit the bill. To me, Reinhart is not “untouchable” but a trade offer for him would need to be overwhelming. I am still not completely out on the idea of Reinhart playing center and would like to see him get a run as the second line center and play with good wingers. Even if you view Reinhart solely as a winger, it is undeniable that he is at worst a second-line winger and can more than hold his own on the top line.
If you decide to trade Reinhart, you are basically looking for a Reinhart-like player in return. I think the only way you can trade Reinhart is if you get: 1) A clear-cut center to play on the second-line (almost should be capable of playing on the top line) or 2) A cheaper RW who can perform at a near identical level. Considering neither return is very likely, I think you are just spinning your wheels and gambling whatever player you bring in to replace Reinhart has similar chemistry with Eichel. As an aside, you already have a superstar player who has to be getting frustrated with the losing, I’m not sure trading his best friend on the team is going to stave off the frustration boiling over.
My goal is to lock Reinhart up to a long-term contract. I’ve set aside $7M to make that happen.
For these three restricted free agents, I would look to sign both Olofsson and Reinhart to long-term contracts. For Kahun, I would go short-term. For the three players, I have allocated $13.5M of cap space. To me, these are the no-brainer moves and with this business out of the way, I now have $20.5M in cap space to retool the rest of the roster.
Address 2nd Line Center
How many times will I have to write about this until the Sabres get it right? There are a couple ways the team could address the position. If it were me, I would strongly consider giving Reinhart a look as the 2nd line center. If he can handle the responsibilities, it would significantly balance the rest of the roster AND be the least costly option (both in terms of dollars and potentially assets). The problem is there simply isn’t enough data to form a conclusion that we can feel confident in. The last time Reinhart played center regularly was on the third-line between Seth Griffith and Benoit Pouliot. Assuming my memory is correct, those are not players that provide the best case study on whether Reinhart could be successful at center.
Having said that, I highly doubt this will be the route Buffalo takes. Instead, I expect them to once again look to unrestricted free agency (UFA) or the trade market for someone under contract or to acquire the rights to a restricted free agent (RFA). I went through every player who I could envision being a possibility to acquire and coded them as green (go), yellow (proceed with caution), or red (avoid) based off how much better their team performed when they were on the ice, both in terms of shot quality and quantity. Although some consideration should be given to point production, I don’t think it should be the main factor for Buffalo. Whoever the team brings in is going to play with at least one of Jeff Skinner, Sam Reinhart, and Victor Olofsson.
Ideally, the team adds a true second-line center but from my list of available options, I don’t see many realistic options to fill that role. If they can’t land one, fit becomes important. I think there are a couple of ways to approach fit. I think it is likely Kruger rolls Skinner on the second-line again. You need to find someone to compliment him. I do think Skinner’s two-way game is a little underrated. I don’t think he is a defensive liability by any means. That said, he also isn’t a defensive stalwart either.
To compliment Skinner, I think the team needs to either find a creative offensive player and give the line favorable deployment or find a skater who can fly or find a responsible defensive center who would allow Skinner to “cheat” to offense. I am going to present the options I believe are realistic possibilities for the Sabres to acquire.
One consideration the Sabres have to discuss is the long-term outlook at the position. How high are they on Cozens taking over that role? Do they view him taking over after a season or further down the road? Obviously having an abundance of players who can fill the role of 2C effectively isn’t a problem but are you going to be comfortable potentially having $25M – $30M committed to three centers down the road? Are you comfortable with one playing on the third line or on the wing instead? This doesn’t preclude them from making any move but it does, in my opinion, impact the price they should be willing to pay and what players they might target.
If I were Buffalo, my first inquiries (in order) would be checking the availability of Anthony Cirelli, Phillip Danault, Andrew Copp, and Derek Stepan.
I don’t know how available Cirelli would be but at some point, someone in Tampa will have to be the odd man out. Cirelli was good this year but borderline elite the year before. In the past two seasons, one of the best teams in the league did a better job controlling shot quality while Cirelli was on the ice. The Lightning also improved their shot differential last season but just about broke even this year when Cirelli was on the ice versus off. If available, I think the Sabres have to consider including Cozens in a trade for him. I would offer Colin Miller, Will Borgen, Casey Mittelstadt, and 2020 8thoverall. I would assume Tampa would have their eyes on Jokiharju or Cozens. Acquiring Cirelli instantly gives Buffalo one of the best, young 1-2 punches down the middle. Because Eichel and Cirelli would fill the first two lines for a long-time, it makes parting with Cozens possible but still not desirable. I’m not sure parting with Jokiharju here would be the best move.
When I was originally compiling my list, I didn’t include Danault because I didn’t think Montreal would have interest in moving him. However, after reading some of the reports out of Montreal this past week, it sounds like Danault could be more available than I originally anticipated. He would be an ideal target for Buffalo. I think a trade for him would have to come with an extension. On one hand, Danault is coming off an elite season where he should have been a Selke finalist, if not winner, so he might be looking to capitalize on that and parlay it into a nice contract. On the other, he has not consistently put up the numbers that traditionally lead to significant contracts. If you can get Danault for a reasonable price in a trade and sign him to a new contract, he would be a perfect addition for Buffalo. He would be a surefire 2nd center for the next couple years. As he ages and Cozens begins to step into his prime, Danault is an elite two-way player who could easily slide down to the third-line and play a little more of a defensive role. If Danault can be traded for with an extension, the trigger has to be pulled.
I do not know how different players in general but especially prospects are valued by different teams in the NHL. If I’m Buffalo I look to offer Mathias Samuelsson, Rasmus Asplund, and Tage Thompson and see what Montreal thinks. Montreal might value one of those prospects highly or might prefer another. I would be hesitant to include Jacob Bryson but I think Samuelsson could be swapped for another defensive prospect. I think this trade partnership makes a lot of sense but them being in the same division makes me a little less confident of the teams making something happen.
The downside with Copp is he hasn’t been a major point producer and has mainly skated on the third line in Winnipeg. He did spend some time playing an expanded role during the restart and seemed to be perfectly fine. Pairing him with Skinner would allow Skinner some more freedom offensively and also give Skinner a center who can play with some speed. Winnipeg has been a better team with Copp on the ice for the past three seasons. I don’t see why the Sabres couldn’t count on him to help control play. Buffalo and Winnipeg have been connected as trade partners for over a year now. Is this the offseason where they finally pull off a trade?
I question how available Copp is. Winnipeg should look to swap a forward for a defenseman this offseason. I question if moving a quality center on a good contract is the way to go. To me, them moving a winger seems more likely.
Much like Danult, Copp is a player who probably could handle the second-line until Cozens is ready to take that role. He could then move to the third line and be a great depth option. Contract wise, Copp probably would be reasonable as he will be arbitration eligible when his current contract expires. I would offer Ristolainen and Asplund for Copp. I would also consider Mittelstadt or Thompson instead of Asplund but I might need a little more in return.
Likelihood: Slightly more than Danault
Stepan will likely be available and I don’t think the assets needed would be too much either. Stepan didn’t move the needle much in Arizona either positively or negatively and is coming off a year with low point production. However, Stepan is still good enough to fill the role the Sabres would need him to and playing with Skinner might give him his best winger since his time with the Rangers. Stepan is probably on the wrong-side of the age curve but also is the type of player who seems like he could adapt if he loses some speed. There might be a little added motivation for him with UFA looming after next season. Lighting things up could pave the way for another nice contract.
I might like the idea of Stepan more than other observers. I think he would make the most sense from a pure asset management standpoint. First, he fills the needed role next season. Second, he should be fairly inexpensive to acquire. Third, he should serve as a good bridge to Cozens, who I think should be slotted into that spot for the 2021-2022 season. Finally, if the team once again finds themselves outside of the playoffs, Stepan probably could be traded at the deadline, possibly for a profit of assets. I think a 2nd round pick gets it done. I also could see this trade evolving into something bigger.
I don’t think any of the solutions presented above are perfect as the perfect scenario is Dylan Cozens or Casey Mittelstadt coming in and grabbing hold of the position. However, going into the season with that as the plan again would be gross negligence. The next tier of solutions is a little more flawed than those above. Here I look at Erik Haula, Colin Wilson, Vlad Namestnikov, or Craig Smith who are UFAs, Dylan Strome, who is an RFA and might become a UFA with no qualifying offer. I think the most realistic trade option here is Alex Wennberg.
I will not go as much into detail with these players but give a quick overview of why they could make sense. Craig Smith is probably the most attractive option but I am not sure how I feel about playing him at center. I could the Sabres signing him and it working out like Marcus Johansson where he is fine but plays out of his comfort zone. I don’t mind the idea of signing him but I don’t see him as an answer at 2C. Of these options, Wennberg probably is going to be the “safest” option as he has shown he can be a shot driver in Columbus but the quality of those shots has lacked. However, the point production has not been there and at $4.9M for three more seasons, I’m not sure that’s a contract I want to take on. I’m not sure I see Namestnikov as a fit in Buffalo.
That leaves us with Haula, Wilson, and Strome. Haula and Wilson have had injury concerns. Of the two, I’d much rather roll the dice on Haula. Wilson would be low on my list. Strome is most interesting. First, he might not be as available as I think. If he is, putting him with Skinner would likely create a sort of glass cannon line. Strome has done better suppressing shots this past season but his value has largely come from his offensive generation. If the team went this route, they would certainly have to construct a good defensive line to help with matchups.
Most likely other option: Erik Haula
Second Line Center Solution: Buffalo acquires Derek Stepan and the rights to goalie Adin Hill for 2020 2nd round pick
Sort out the Blueline
The Sabres currently have four right-handed defensemen under their control, Rasmus Ristolainen, Henri Jokiharju, and Colin Miller are under contract for next season while Brandon Montour is an RFA, who the team can retain by extending a qualifying offer to. The Sabres have $34M in cap space but I have just spent $20M of my cap space, leaving me with $14M to go about improving the rest of my roster. I would anticipate Montour’s next contract coming in around $4M. The team can’t go into next season with Ristolainen, Montour, and Miller accounting for over $13M, and one (or Jokiharju) will have to play on the left side. The Sabres will not get any better by having this happen again.
If I were working in the front office, I would go about determining who the odd man out should be in a logical manner. First, Jokiharju is the player I am least interested in trading. He is young, cost-controlled, and has shown he can be a positive play driver. I wouldn’t say he is untouchable but someone would have to blow me away with an offer to have me move him. That leaves us with Miller, Ristolainen, and Montour.
I think an argument could be made for any of the three so it really comes down to fit and value for me. With Rasmus Dahlin coming into his third pro season, it is time to make him your unquestioned top-pair defenseman. The priority has to be putting him in the best position to succeed. If the team had more left-handed defensemen, I think an argument could be made to have Dahlin play on the right side but with a plethora of right-shot defensemen already, that makes little sense. Out of Montour, Miller, Ristolainen, and Jokiharju, Dahlin performed pretty well with the first two so one of those should have the inside track to play with Dahlin. Let me be clear, under no circumstances should Dahlin and Ristolainen be the team’s top pair next season. They haven’t shown the ability to spend more time in the offensive zone than their own end when paired together. Last season, Jokiharju was actually the worst partner for Dahlin so counting on that to work would be a risk that probably doesn’t need to be taken. I lean toward rolling Dahlin with Montour. They struggled with shot quality as a pair but were absolutely dominant in controlling the shot differential. Miller and Dahlin were very average together. I think there is a much better chance of Dahlin-Montour catching fire than Dahlin-Miller.
Let’s pencil in a first pair of Dahlin-Montour. I think the chatter of Buffalo having some interest in Pietrangelo makes sense as they really could use a bona fide top RD to pair with Dahlin. However, unless someone unexpected becomes available, I just don’t see how the team can justify adding additional cost at a position where they have options already instead of spending to improve the roster elsewhere.
Next, we move onto the second pair. Here, we are currently looking at McCabe being the option on the left side and one of Jokiharju, Miller, or Ristolainen as the partner. Ristolainen and McCabe did not work last season so I don’t think that makes much sense. Out of Jokiharju and Miller, McCabe and Jokiharju did the most to improve the Sabres’ performance while paired together. That would then leave Miller and Ristolainen who played almost 60 minutes together last season and were an absolute disaster. To me, one of Miller or Ristolainen would need to be moved. I think Ristolainen will be viewed as more valuable by other teams around the league. I also would much rather shed his $5.4M cap hit than Miller’s $3.875M hit. Right now, I have penciled a blueline of:
I think Jacob Bryson will be a really quality NHL defenseman and I believe he finished higher on the team’s organizational depth chart than Lawrence Pilut last season, which is one of the reasons I believe Pilut left for the KHL. These names are penciled in for a reason because I would be looking to see if there are options for improvement.
I think the Sabres would be fine if they went into the season with that as their blueline. However, I think there are improvements that can be made. First, McCabe is entering the final year of his contract and will be a UFA next offseason. I’m not convinced he is a player that is part of a long-term solution. I would be very open to trading him this offseason and would definitely move him at the deadline if the team is out of playoff contention again. I also think there are a couple of current UFAs that would make sense to bring in on a short deal, allowing Bryson to start in the AHL and then be promoted during the season. Here, I would be targeting Brenden Dillon or Jon Merrill. However, the player I am most interested, who seems to be available is Vince Dunn from St. Louis. I might also inquire on the Islander’s Devon Toews.
I think Dunn would be a tremendous pickup for Buffalo. His point production was not there last season but he has consistently been a tremendous possession and shot quality driver in his career. Sabres fans can think of him as a left-handed Henri Jokiharju. I am not sure exactly what St. Louis might be looking for to move Dunn so my offer in this exercise would be Jake McCabe, rights to Ryan Johnson, and Rasmus Asplund. In this case, St. Louis might want Buffalo to take Gunnarsson back. If I do that, I wouldn’t be happy to give up both Johnson and Asplund but I also am not letting that deter me from acquiring Dunn.
My other move on defense is to inquire on Merill and Brenden Dillon to see if I could sign one to a short contract. However, I have bigger moves still planned so I am not sure if one of those will be able to be fit in. If something else falls through, I might circle back. You will notice I haven’t addressed Ristolainen yet but know he will be traded shortly.
Trade: Buffalo acquires Vince Dunn for Jake McCabe, Ryan Johnson, and Rasmus Asplund
I have budgeted $4M to sign Dunn. I would hope it would be enough to lock him into a long-term deal. With Dunn coming off a season where he didn’t put up a lot of points, the team should be able capitalize and sign Dunn to a value contract. Dunn is a RFA without arbitration rights so the team could conceivably acquire him and play “hard ball” with his contract to save salary cap space.
Address Forward Group
My forward group for Buffalo is looking better with the acquisition of Derek Stepan but it is time for the team to get aggressive. Currently, here is how my lines would shake out
Olofsson – Eichel – Reinhart
Skinner – Stepan – Kahun
M. Johansson – Cozens – Thompson
Hole – Lazar – Okposo
First, I am bringing back Curtis Lazar and Tage Thompson. Lazar, I am giving a little raise to $800,000 and Thompson will get his qualifying offer of $874,125. Thompson showed glimpses of major improvement before getting injured late in his first NHL game of the season. With him still being waiver exempt, there is little risk in retaining him for another season. I am also open to including him in a trade if the opportunity presents itself but I am not counting on it. Lazar was a good fit last season and can work well on the 4th line as a center and could move up in the lineup in event of injury. Much of what I said about Thompson also applies to Mittelstadt. The difference between the two is I anticipate Mittelstadt having more trade value.
I think Buffalo would be competitive with the above forward group but as I previously said, I would want to get aggressive and I think the moves I have made so far allow me some flexibility now. I have multiple forward targets that I think could slot into my forward group throughout the lineup. I break the UFA wingers I would have interest in into the following tiers:
- Mikael Granlund, Tyler Toffoli
- Craig Smith, Evgeni Dadonov
- Hoffman, Fast
- Maroon, Ennis, Nosek, Simmonds
Some other players that are on my radar are Andres Athanasiou, Chandler Stephenson, Jesper Bratt, Ryan Donato, Ryan Hartman, Nikolaj Ehlers, Mason Appleton, Alex Killorn, Jack Roslovic, and Johnny Gaudreau. I am realistically looking for right-wing solutions so Kahun can slide down to the third line and I don’t have to count on Thompson on being a regular. Since I have already traded away this year’s 2nd round pick, Ryan Johnson, Rasmus Asplund, and Jake McCabe my well is starting to run dry of assets that teams likely value enough to get an impactful player for while also leaving some sort of prospect pool. I still have all my 1st round picks, all my 2022 picks (less a 5th), and my 2nd, 4th, 6th, and 7th picks in 2021. As far as players go, I have Marcus Johansson, Kahun, Ristolainen, Mittelstadt, Thompson, Cozens, and all my defensive prospects outside Ryan Johnson. If I’m going to move Cozens, it has to be for a young player who has already established themselves as a really good player. Few teams are going to be willing to make that type of trade so I am not planning on moving Cozens. The other players are all firmly in play.
Last offseason we wrote about how the team should trade Ristolainen only to see them keep him through the season. With Botterill fired and Adams taking over, the time is now. Winnipeg has been the logical trade partner for over a year now. It’s time to get that trade done. If I were Buffalo, I’d strongly consider doing Ristolainen for Andrew Copp one for one and then use the extra cap space elsewhere. However, I don’t see how Winnipeg could make that work from a salary standpoint. Copp is a really good player signed to a very reasonable contract. With them having many other really good players who they are paying more, I think they have to look to move equal or greater money in a trade. Maybe a swap of McCabe for Copp could make sense. Instead, I will re-visit the player who has been most connected in a Ristolainen trade, Nikolaj Ehlers.
Getting Ehlers would be a major coup for Buffalo. Ehlers is coming off an elite season but because Winnipeg has a plethora of good, young forwards who are going to take up a significant amount of their salary cap, someone is likely going to have to be traded to bring in some defensive help. Buffalo would go from a question at 2nd line RW to being in the discussion for the best top-six wingers in the league with Olofsson, Skinner, Ehlers, and Reinhart. I don’t think Ristolainen alone is enough to get Ehlers at this point. I am more than happy to include Mittelstadt, Thompson, and/or possibly one of my remaining defensive prospects. I would not give up my 8th overall pick but I would be open to swapping it for Winnipeg’s tenth overall.
Trade: Buffalo acquires Nikolaj Ehlers, 2020 10th overall in exchange for Rasmus Ristolainen, Casey Mittelstadt, Marcus Davidsson, 2020 8th overall, 2020 4th round pick
I am starting to build a quality roster but I think I can improve even more. Here is where my forward group now stands:
Olofsson – Eichel – Reinhart
Skinner – Stepan – Ehlers
M. Johansson – Cozens – Kahun
Hole – Lazar – Okposo
I think this forward group is solid but I also want to have an eye on the Seattle expansion draft. Right now, I would have Cozens exempt and would protect Olofsson, Eichel, Reinhart, Skinner, Ehlers, Kahun, and probably Thompson. I’m fine with leaving Thompson unprotected if I can bring in a player that will have more of an immediate impact. I have had my eyes on Craig Smith. He would bring some versatility to this lineup and if one of my other moves falls through, he can slot in that position instead. I have budgeted $4M for Smith and would go more if I can’t pull off one of my other forward moves. Signing Smith now moves either Kahun or Johansson to the fourth line. It also puts me in a precarious cap situation. In order to bring in Smith, I am trading Marcus Johansson. I am looking to replenish some of my draft capital in return. Minnesota and Nashville are two teams that could make sense but the only limitation I have is Johansson’s 10 team no-trade list.
Signing: Craig Smith 4 years; $4M AAV
Trade: Buffalo acquires 2020 4th round pick from Nashville for Marcus Johansson
I am not actively seeking to trade Johansson unless I have to for salary cap purposes. I am perfectly fine going into the season with him as long as I can move him back to left wing, his position of comfort. I think he would be a very good fit alongside Dylan Cozens. However, I see an opportunity to improve my team now and in the future so I am moving Johansson to do so. If Smith is a good fit, he gets protected in the expansion draft. If not, he becomes exposed. My forward group now looks like this:
Olofsson – Eichel – Reinhart
Skinner – Stepan – Ehlers
Kahun – Cozens – C. Smith
Hole – Lazar – Okposo
At this point, I probably could plug just about anyone into the open fourth line spot. I might consider Arttu Ruotsalainen at center with Lazar and Okposo on the wing. However, I believe I still have a hole in my lineup and that is on the power play. About halfway through last season, the Sabres moved Reinhart to the perimeter and Ristolainen to the net front on their top power play unit. They also really lacked a net front presence on their second unit. Regardless of whether the Sabres move Reinhart back to net front, they still would benefit from someone to fill that role on their second unit. I also think it is important to acknowledge the type of hockey the Sabres’ fourth line is going to play. Last season, Kyle Okposo played with Johan Larsson and Zemgus Girgensons. They were incredibly effective because they played a physical, grinding game and were certainly not flying up and down the ice. Lazar certainly has some speed but Okposo is not going to be able to keep up with two guys flying up and down the ice.
I look at how Vegas has built their fourth line as inspiration while also keeping in mind I could use a power play net front guy. Some fans reading this might think this idea is crazy but I would look to bring Wayne Simmonds back on the fourth line or might look at Pat Maroon instead. I have budgeted $2M to fill this role. If I end up having to pay more somewhere else, this becomes a luxury and someone on a deal that pays them less than $1M might be inserted. I think from a pure numbers standpoint, Maroon makes more sense. Our contract predictions have him a slightly less expensive option and I think he is a more impactful player. This season is the first time in five seasons that Maroon’s team has not been better with him on the ice than when he was on the bench. The concern with him is he does appear to be trending downward so I would not be willing to give him more than one year. The same would be true of Simmonds.
Signing: Pat Maroon 1 year; $1.5M AAV
I have acquired Aden Hill from Arizona along with Derek Stepan. Is he going to be an upgrade on Hutton? Possibly. If so, I would bury Hutton in the minors. If not, Hill can go to the minors or possibly be moved to another team. Grabbing Hill also sets the team up to be in a good position for the expansion draft. I know fans were frustrated with Carter Hutton last season. Linus Ullmark also hasn’t shown to be a completely dominant force either. Although an upgrade to the goalie position should be considered, I think anything more than a marginal upgrade would be too costly. The only reason I am making a significant investment this offseason is if I am not confident in a long-term solution of Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen/Ullmark/Eric Portillo. In that case, I might look at acquiring Tristian Jarry or Casey Desmith from Pittsburghs or Alexandar Georgiyev from the Rangers.
I am very hesitant to acquire another stopgap goalie like Hutton was intended to be out of fear of ending up in a similar situation in another two years. I’m going to operate that I have improved my roster enough where a poor goaltending performance can be overcome. The only way I make a change at goalie is if I fail to significantly improve my roster in other places.
Below is my final roster. Please note that players whose names are red would be protected in the expansion draft while green ones are exempt.
I think this team looks tremendous on paper. The issue will be the salary cap and whether the organization will be willing to spend this type of money. The roster I have constructed leaves very little wiggle room for extras. The first cost-cutting option is not spending $2M for Maroon or Simmonds. By replacing them with a minimal player like CJ Smith, there is plenty of cap space. Another option would be to sign Olofsson to a one-year contract that would come in way under $4.5M. One concern that I would have is fitting Dahlin’s next contract into this roster with a flat cap. Next season, you would have Stepan’s $6.5M and the $2M fourth line money coming off the books. I also try to get Seattle to take one of Okposo, Montour, or Miller to free up more space. A little more movement might have to be done but I think it is workable. I would rather have too many good players than be devoid of talent. As long as that happens, the team should be able to trade someone to clear space and replenish assets. It’s time for the Sabres to get aggressive and this roster would do just that.
Stats are courtesy of naturalstattrick.com and contract data is courtesy of cap friendly.com.
KYLE STICH is the Director of AFP Analytics. In addition, Mr. Stich is a tax specialist and Director of Operations at AFP Consulting LLC, whose clientele include professional athletes performing services on three separate continents. Mr. Stich earned his Master of Science in Sport Management with a Concentration in Sport Analytics from Columbia University in 2017. He earned his undergraduate degrees in Accounting and Sport Management from St. John Fisher College in 2015, where he has served as an adjunct professor teaching Sport Finance and Baseball Analytics.