Shaping the Sabres Part 3: Free Agency and Beyond

Part three of the Shaping the Sabres series will put the finishing touches on our rosters. Whether via additional trades or free agency, this wraps up how we would build the team.

Chris: I’m feeling pretty good where my team is after the draft. I’ve improved in goal and Timo Meier could even flirt with some playing time this season. Despite that, my primary goal remains to find a quality veteran to fill a slot as a right winger this year. I’m also in need of a stronger veteran presence and a blueliner as well. Ideally one of those two players will fill the leadership quotient I’m lacking.

Cody Hodgson is out the door via buyout for both Chris and Tyler.

Prior to diving into unrestricted free agency, I must re-up those contracts the Sabres own until July 1. My very first move is will be to finalize the buyout paperwork on Cody Hodgson. There is no better time to execute a buyout on his deal and given how the depth chart is shaking out he’s likely going to be pushed out of contention for a roster spot. Anders Lindback, Andre Benoit, Andrej Meszaros, Tyson Strachan and Matt Hackett are all hitting the bricks as well.

I would re-sign Matt Ellis to another two-way deal that would pay him the same salary he received these past two seasons. He’s a terrific veteran to help lead the Americans and he can step in and play effective fourth line minutes when recalled. I’d hand along another offer to Pat Kaleta as well, although I’d have him penciled in to start the season in Rochester. A two-way deal that pays $1 million at the NHL level would be more than fair, I think. The best case scenario for each of those two is that they earn a spot out of camp. Worst case is they serve as veteran leaders in Rochester for the year.

Drew Bagnall would be another vet I’d toss a two-way deal to. He’s done a fine duty these past few seasons in Rochester and there’s no reason he can’t continue to serve as a mentor on the farm.

The only restricted free agents I wouldn’t tender are Nathan Lieuwen, Kevin Sundher and Jerome Gauthier-Leduc. Although an AHL deal for Leduc would interest me.

All of the other RFAs would receive qualifying offers and I’d be prepared to potentially negotiate a bridge deal with the likes of Johan Larsson and Mark Pysyk, although I’d be surprised if it reached that point.

Mikhail Grigorenko would also be getting his qualifying offer despite concerns he may bolt for Russia. The primary concern remains asset management and that means his rights should be retained whether or not he’s part of the plans moving forward.

Phil Varone, Zach Dalpe, Jordan Samuels-Thomas and Jerry D’Amigo would all be pegged to start the year in Rochester while Tim Schaller would be on the fence for me. I’d consider him as a 13th forward under the right circumstances. Pysyk and Larsson are obviously NHL players and there should no longer be any question about that.

For the most part, Buffalo’s free agents are a fairly straightforward exercise, are you doing anything different?

Ed Note: These were decisions noted prior to Tim Murray’s press conference on Thursday where he confirmed Sundher and Dalpe wouldn’t return while Leduc and Lieuwen would likely get AHL deals. Let it be known that Tyler and I are the best armchair GMs this side of the Buffalo River.

Tyler: When it comes with the in-house dealings prior to exploring the UFA market I am also buying out Cody Hodgson. I really think if he’s kept around he could post serviceable numbers, but the amount of young prospects coming through the system and the fact that buying him out now would only cost me 1/3 his remaining salary instead of 2/3 seals his fate.

The likes of Anders Lindback, Matt Hackett, and the two underperforming veteran defensemen (Meszaros and Benoit) will not be returning next year either. The case of Tyson Strachan is an interesting one; he was far from the worst defenseman last year, when he played, and if he’s willing to talk about a two-way deal I’d pursue it. He’d be a nice fit in the locker room in Rochester to start and be a capable call up if need be.

In terms of the two pending unrestricted free agent forwards, I think Matt Ellis deserves another two-way contract. He has done all that the organization has asked of him and is the perfect player for younger players in Rochester to learn from. He’s still capable of providing adequate cover on the fourth line in case of injury; while he doesn’t offer much offensively he won’t hurt you in other areas.

Pat Kaleta is in a difficult spot. Staying healthy and out of the league office has long been his main issue. Looking at where the organization’s young prospects are, and the free agency acquisitions to come, I think a one year, $1 million dollar deal is fair. The short term and low salary are minimal risk; if he is able to secure a spot on the fourth line that’s great, and if he ends up in Rochester it’s not a huge financial hit. It’s also not a huge loss if he’s lost going through waivers.

Looking at the various RFA’s and AHL UFA’s, I have to qualify Mikhail Grigorenko. While his spot in the lineup (or organization, for that matter) isn’t exactly isn’t exactly on solid ground he’s still very young and actually showed some promise the last few weeks of the season. Mark Pysyk and Johan Larsson are no brainers, as both will likely begin the year in Buffalo.

The second group of RFA’s and UFA’s includes players like Phil Varone, Zac Dalpe, Tim Schaller, Jordan Samuels-Thomas, and Drew Bagnall. I’d tender or re-sign all of these AHL type players, the only one that may fight for a spot with the big club would be Tim Schaller.

With the amount of AHL quality goaltenders in the organization I’d bid farewell to Nathan Lieuwen. Kevin Sundher and Jerome Gauthier-Leduc would also be shown the exit.

Eddie Lack is penciled in as my starter in net, and has a cap hit of $1.15 million even though he’s making $1.3 million. I’d work to sign him to a three year extension worth around $5.1 million, good for a $1.7 million AAV. This takes him into his age 30 season, and expires at an ideal time if one or two of the organization’s goaltenders down on the farm are ready for NHL duty.

With all the housekeeping taken care of, who are your targets in free agency?

Chris:While my primary target for the offseason was a capable right winger, the open market is very thin in that department. Justin Williams is probably the most attractive option of those available as we enter the summer months and he will be a tough get.

Likely the biggest challenge in signing Williams is the spot Buffalo stands in their rebuild. They aren’t a contender and probably won’t be for at least one more season beyond this one. Williams has been quoted as saying he wants to remain part of a team who can continue to win, so I’m sure he has concern over coming to a rebuild. Plus I’d likely be stuck overpaying him in both term and dollars, meaning the soon to be 34 year old would be getting at least four or five years at a rate well north of $4 million. That’s a hefty salary given his age.

What makes him such an attractive option is his ability to fill a secondary scoring role while also serving as a mentor in the room. While you can’t buy culture, Williams is certainly the type of veteran you want around Buffalo’s youngsters.

I’m sure Buffalo is far from the top spot on his list of preferred destinations. As I noted above, the Sabres could overpay him on a deal that would likely be well north of $5m per year, but I’m not sure that adds up for me. Other potential free agents, Joel Ward and Martin St. Louis are likely in the same boat as Williams. Ward likely won’t be leaving Washington while St. Louis is set to hit 40 and will be searching for a team that wants to win now.

With that being considered, I’d avert my attention to Michael Frolik. He’s a younger option who a positive possession player with the Jets this season all while posting 19 goals. The 27 year old is a solid penalty killer and if given increased minutes on Buffalo’s young roster I could see his numbers increasing. Frolik made $3.3m last season and I would expect his salary to climb above $4m this summer, especially with a thin crop of quality free agents.

While Frolik may not strike you as the type of veteran the Sabres need (or that I’m looking for), his resume says otherwise. He’s a terrific possession player, is just 27 and has a Cup to his name. In fact, he’s played 38 NHL playoff games in his career.

In order to lure Frolik, I’d be willing to offer at least $4.25m over the life of his contract. My hope would be that a four-year, $17 million offer would get the job done.

On the defensive side there are far more options to choose from. In fact, there’s likely to be a bidding war for the services of Andrej Sekera, Christian Ehrhoff and a few others.

There are two vets who I’d have varying levels of interest in. Paul Martin and Johnny Oduya. Odyua has long been a personal favorite of mine and he’d be my first choice to fill a responsible third-pairing role.

Oduya has begun to tail off in recent years and won’t likely be brought back to Chicago this summer. He’s still capable of handling a fair workload and given the makeup of Buffalo’s blueline, he could slot into a third pairing with Mark Pysyk alongside him. The Sabres could do far worse in terms of a third pair than Oduya and Pysyk.

Like virtually every other vet on the market – particularly those coming from a Cup contender – Oduya will need to get a hefty salary to come to a rebuilding club. Perhaps even a bump from his current $3.375m AAV. I would be very weary to go above $4m just as I would prefer to keep any deal for him under four years considering he’ll be 34 this season.

To round out the depth chart, I’d take a look at Mike Santorelli or even perhaps Marcel Goc. Basically a bottom six forward who is capable of contributing in some way beyond simply being a crasher. Santorelli is somewhat undersized for a typical fourth line role, but as a righty, he’d be able to flip between center or wing along with chipping in with some penalty kill time.

A two year deal at $1.75m per year I’d be confident that Santorelli would sign on and combine with the likes of Nic Deslaurier, Cody McCormick and Tim Schaller for fourth line minutes.

Let’s see what path you’re taking.

Tyler: I’m also on the lookout for a top six forward, preferably on the right side. There are a few names I’m not even considering. I don’t think Martin St. Louis would consider coming to Buffalo, I think Washington hangs onto Joel Ward, and I’m steering well clear of Martin Erat. The name on top of my list is Justin Williams, I don’t think it’s feasible for many of the reasons you’ve already talked about. I think the next two or three years of growing pains the Sabres are likely to experience makes Williams a nonstarter. If he’s willing to listen, the Sabres will likely have to overpay, and I’m leery of another Matt Moulson type contract, especially for a 33 year old with a handful of extended playoff runs in his legs.

With Williams out of the picture, it’s on to the lower priced options. I really like where your head’s at with Michael Frolik. He’s shown the ability to put the puck in the net, is on the right side of 30, and would come with a reasonable price tag. He’d be my top target almost by default. As you said, there will likely be a bidding war for Frolik given the status of the free agent market. I think the $4.25 million range is very fair for a player like Frolik, but I think I’m willing to make the offer 5 years for $21.25 to seal the deal.Frolik is only 27 so the extra year doesn’t scare me off, and in a few years the cap will likely be at a number that makes his hit palatable.

Shifting to the blue line, I need a veteran defender. I don’t think Christian Ehrhoff would consider a return to the Queen City, and Andrej Sekera had some less than complementary things to say about western New York after he was dealt, so I’m thinking he’s not picking up the phone if Tim Murray calls.

I’m targeting three names to fill out my blue line: Johnny Oduya, Michal Roszival, and Francois Beauchemin. I think Chicago will retain one of Roszival or Oduya, and Oduya’s performance in the playoffs this year may price him out of the Windy City. That leaves Oduya and Beauchemin. Oduya could require a salary in the $4 million range, but term may be the deciding factor when it comes to signing him. He’s 33, and the longest I’m willing to go is 3 years; if I need to go 3 years and $12 million to get him signed I’m ok with it, but I’m not offering 4 years. Beauchemin would be a cheaper option and would likely net somewhere around 2 years and $7.8 million, but for arguments sake lets say Oduya accepts my 3 year offer. I’m dressing a a defensive corps of Bogosian and Ristolainen, Oduya and Zadorov, and Gorges with Mark Pysyk.

Looking at the bottom six forwards my main target is Jay Beagle. He plays a heavy game and produces enough to be a nice 3rd line winger that could fill any role in the bottom six. He’s still only 29, and would likely cost between $1.5 and $2.25 per year. Inking Beagle would give more depth to the bottom of the lineup and provide a bit more offense. I’m taking the $1.75 million you’re giving to Santorelli and throwing it at Beagle, assuming he hits the market.

Chris: So we followed almost the same path when it came to free agents. Although that’s probably more by default than anything else given the market. With most of our moves locked in, we might as well close with a tentative depth chart based off the direction we went.

Extras for Chris’ roster include Mike Weber as the 7th defenseman and Tim Schaller as the 12th forward.

You’ll notice I’ve left Sam Reinhart (and Timo Meier) off this list. While I could see them fitting into the opening day roster there’s no harm in letting them slow cook- especially with Grigorenko back in the news cycle. So I’m sending Meier to Halifax and starting Reinhart in Rochester to start the year.

This isn’t a Cup winner by any stretch, but I’m happy with the makeup and I’m looking forward to seeing how this group grows.


I think the team would be best served with Meier returning to Halifax for another year of season, and looking at the potential line combinations it’s tough to see a spot for Mikhail Grigorenko. Here’s how my potential roster looks:

Extras on Tyler’s roster include Tim Schaller and Pat Kaleta up front and Mark Pysyk on the backend.

It’s important to note that this would be to begin camp. Johan Larsson’s play at the end of last year earns him the first crack at centering the top line, and I think it’s best to start Eichel on the second line. I could also see Beagle jumping up to the third line rather quickly; Marcus Foligno would be the prime candidate to slide down to the fourth line.


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