Yesterday evening brought Kevin Bieksa a new contract and gave everyone a look as to what the UFA market may have in store come Friday.
The finances of Bieksa’s deal aren’t as interesting to me as the numbers game this plays with the remaining UFAs. Bieksa took a major hometown discount. Eric Brewer also took a little less money to stay in Tampa Bay. Combining those two signings with the trades for Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Devin Setoguchi and other trades completed on Draft weekend, the UFA market is gaining momentum. Despite the fact it is incredibly thin.
Now, the remaining free agents are in a much better position to leverage a deal from their potential suitors. The reason I raise this point is because the Sabres will have limited options come Friday, despite their new-found financial freedom.
Between tendering qualifying offers to their RFAs and acquiring Robyn Regehr, the Sabres will have no more than $10 million to play with in free agency. I am sure that number is a major stretch, too. When you look at the potential targets Darcy Regier may have, a few pop up right away. Scott Hannan, Brooks Laich, Brad Richards, James Wisniewski and Ian White are a few of those names. The money that would need to be allocated to acquire names like those guys will certainly be in the $10 million neighborhood, that was before any of these early moves were made. Now that guys like Bieksa and Brewer are off the market, the price tag on Wisniewski and White went up as well.
Thus enters the overvaluing argument. All 30 teams, not just the Sabres, are going to be forced to add 1 or 1.5 million dollars to their offers to about 50% of the UFA crop. That will severely handcuff and GM who is hoping to make a splash for his team. I am thinking of Darcy Regieras I type those words, surely you were thinking that as you read them.
In my opinion this does two things. One, it will also hamper the ability to sign role players. Max Talbot and Chad LaRose were two guys who I think could be on the Sabres radar. It will be very difficult to sign them if there is no space left under the salary cap. Two, it will force every GM to utilize the trade market. All 30 general managers will need to try to make deals early and often in order to free up the precious millions that will allow them to fit their stars.
This is why I think Darcy Regier will look to the trade market in order to improve his team. Reason being will be to find an alternative upgrade as to an UFA. I will use Paul Stastny as an example again. If his cap hit of $6.6 million is offset by the players the Sabres send in return (say Derek Roy at $4 million) the Sabres only lose $2 million towards the cap. I know it is simple math, but those are the cold hard facts. In order to assure he can bring in the right players. The other reason to utilize the trade market will be to simply clear space. Look at what the Kings did with Ryan Smyth. They shipped out his cap hit in order to allow space for Mike Richards. The same can be done in Buffalo. Send out a guy like Jochen Hecht or Shaone Morrisonn (both cap hits over $2 million) and you begin to build a buffer for a monster UFA signing.
Surely Darcy Regier knows all of this. However, I am afraid many people are overlooking the fact that he is still in a tough spot based on the incumbent roster. I have little doubt that Regier will succeed in bringing in one or two major players, I just wonder what avenue he will take in order to fit them in.