With less than a week to go to the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline, one of the most common talking points has been how the lack of salary cap space has kept early negotiations to a minimum.
The Sabres head to the deadline with a handful of pending UFAs who will make decent bargain rentals for contending teams. But the real value Buffalo has at the deadline is their salary cap space.
As of this writing, CapFriendly shows the Sabres with over $55 million in space, the most in the NHL by $10 million. CapFriendly projects them to end the year with $13 million in space. That puts the Sabres in a perfect position to leverage that cap space to acquire useful assets at the deadline, something that Kevyn Adams recently said he hopes to do.
Buffalo isn’t the only team with space to broker a deal and the rumor mill doesn’t indicate that Monday will chock full of deals. Taking advantage of their cap space may be easier said than done, but there should be at least a handful of big contracts moving which would allow the Sabres to serve as a broker.
Further to that, there isn’t a bevvy of big contracts expected to be on the move at this point. Claude Giroux ($8.275m) has been the most notable big name rental on the market, while Marc-Andre Fleury, Mark Giordano and Hampus Lindholm all carry cap hits which could be useful to broker through a third party.
Adams will also need to be mindful of any salary retention he may want to use on his own players as he seeks to boost the return he gets from this year’s deadline. It’s highly unlikely that the Sabres wind up as a broker for more than one trade at the deadline and there’s probably a better chance that they qualify for the playoffs than using all three retention spots to broker deals. Still, Adams will need to balance his ability to weaponize Buffalo’s cap space to help the likes of Colorado or Vegas and to boost the return on his own rentals.
Luckily, the Sabres don’t have many big contracts of their own to navigate. Colin Miller’s hit is really the only contract where retention would offer any serious benefit. Cody Eakin’s $2.25m hit would as well to a certain extent, but modest salaries like Robert Hagg’s ($1.6m) or Hinostroza’s ($1.05m) probably don’t need to be reduced to facilitate a deal. Or to boost any potential return, for that matter.
The key benefit to this entire exercise is the potential to add draft capital, and potentially premium draft capital by serving as a third-party broker. The Sabres will probably be shipping out between two and five players on Monday, but none are expected to fetch a king’s ransom. Hinostroza has played well since returning from injury and could fetch a third-round pick in the right situation. Miller has the traits to snag the Sabres as much as a second-round pick, but I fear his injury will have harmed his value around the league. That might mean leveraging their cap space represents the best, or only, opportunity to acquire an additional top-64 pick.
I’d stop short of saying adding more second round picks is a necessity, especially with three picks in the opening round. However, it wouldn’t surprise me to see at least one of those selections used in a trade to acquire NHL talent com draft day. Finding a path to an additional second round pick or two, would offer some reinforcement for any picks that might get shipped out ahead of July 7.
There’s hardly a guarantee that any team will be able to serve as a way station for a larger deadline deal. But it’s encouraging to know that Kevyn Adams has thrown his hat into the ring should that opportunity present itself come Monday.