How can the Sabres hit the cap floor

There’s been quite a hubbub over Tim Murray having the capability to get the Sabres to the cap floor during free agency. It’s a concept that Murray has expressed his annoyance with publicly. Frankly, the worry that has been expressed over getting Buffalo above the league-mandated $51 million cap floor seems a bit overblown. And when the GM whose proven that he operates on a very even, analytical keel with all of his team’s roster moves has such little worry over a topic, there probably shouldn’t be much concern given by fans and media alike.

Buffalo currently has 37 NHL contracts on their books – not counting contracts like that of Linus Ullmark which haven’t started yet – with just over $38 million committed to the cap according to CapGeek. The work required to get to the cap floor will be markedly easier once Murray works out the contracts for Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno. Assuming Ennis gets just north of what Cody Hodgson received, he’ll be looking at roughly $4.5 million per year. Foligno might wind up in the neighborhood of $2.5 million on a bridge deal. That covers $7 million in space right off the bat.

Murray has not only insisted that the Sabres will not only spend in free agency, but work to find veterans who are capable of providing quality leadership to Buffalo’s rising prospects. Steve Ott and Matt Moulson have received the most press and attention due to their time spent in Buffalo but Brian Gionta has also been mentioned as an early target for the Sabres as free agency is set to open. Since I’m not in Buffalo’s front office I don’t know who exactly the Sabres will focus on. However, I do know that a pair of contracts valued at $5.5 and $3.5 million on two forwards (or another combination that reaches $9m in cap spending) brings the Sabres to $47 million towards the cap.

That leaves roughly $3.5 million needed to fill the rest of the space to the floor. Considering all of my focus has been on forwards, putting at least one veteran on defense would do enough to fill out Buffalo’s roster. With Michael Del Zotto not receiving a qualifying offer from Nashville, he could be on his final chance to prove he’s a worthy NHL defenseman. While he doesn’t fit the mold of what Murray’s looking for in terms of a veteran, he could be motivated to sign for a bit more on a deal that could serve as a showcase to the league’s other 29 teams. When you consider the Sabres could use another quality puck moving defenseman, he certainly becomes a viable option.

It’s easy to click around CapGeek’s armchair GM and pick out five or six names of quality NHL veterans to fill out Buffalo’s roster. But considering the challenge it will be to identify players who are willing to buy into a rebuild, Tim Murray’s work may extend beyond tomorrow afternoon. So, rather than list the exact players I’d sign if I was in the GM’s chair, I just wanted to identify the areas that I’d commit money to.

To recap, after committing $7 million to Ennis and Foligno, I’d pass out another $9 million in short (two years or less) deals to veteran forwards. I’m not adverse to signing a player like Steve Ott but I wouldn’t be handcuffed to him as the only option. At least one veteran signing does need to be a skilled forward who will be capable of scoring goals on a somewhat regular basis. Lastly, I’d commit to two veteran defensemen at an average of $2.5 or $3.5 million per contract to put the team’s cap number over the top.

It’s not an overwhelming task and there are certainly enough players who were already hitting the market that have been joined by those who weren’t qualified or bought out over the last week. Buffalo certainly won’t be signing the cream of the crop in terms of free agents, but I expect to see them bring on a handful of new faces for the next season or two before Murray’s rebuild begins to hit high-speed.

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