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. Continue reading

Clever contract manuvering gives Murray flexibility

The Buffalo Sabres’ dismal 52-point campaign in 2013-14 was punctuated by a historically bad offensive output that put the team nearly 40 goals behind the next closest club and well below the 200-goal plateau.

It was a campaign that brought about the long overdue firing of Darcy Regier, the introduction of Tim Murray along with the groundwork to select Sam Reinhart second overall at this year’s entry draft. The selection of Reinhart set off a multitude of signings and roster moves that has the Sabres in a much different position than they were entering last year’s training camp.

After setting the table during his first trade deadline as a general manager, Murray went about a wide-ranging reshaping of the roster via buyouts and free agency. His moves will certainly make the Sabres a more entertaining and competitive club heading into next season. While the team may remain a bad bet as they work towards a shot at Connor McDavid, the new acquisitions ought to provide those looking at NHL betting lines a little more pause when considering a contest featuring the Sabres.William hill’s betting accumulator is a terrific site to look at if you’re considering a bet on an NHL game.

Locking up Tyler Ennis for five years gives Murray and the Sabres just five players with deals that stretch beyond four years while every other player under contract is locked up for three or fewer years. Two of those long contracts belong to Tyler Myers and Cody Hodgson, two players inked by the previous regime; meaning Murray actually inherited a pair of the few contracts that could be considered challenging to move.

Murray has repeatedly said that he doesn’t want this to be a lengthy rebuild and his actions this summer certainly indicate that it won’t be. While Ennis is under contract for five years, his $4.6 million cap hit is very manageable (especially should the cap continue to rise) and will be easy to move should the club reach a point that Ennis isn’t serving as a vital cog. Only having four other players whose contracts extend to the 2017-18 season or beyond means that Murray will have plenty of flexibility in the coming seasons to maneuver under the cap. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Patience a virtue on slow UFA Day

For months writers, hockey insiders and fans had talked about the thin free agent market for 2012. Apparently all of that was forgotten during one of the slowest openings to free agency in recent memory.

There were 59 total signings yesterday with a number of players working out a deal to stay with their former team. None of the big names inked their name to a contract, even the second-tier UFAs held off on making a decision. There were a few theories tossed around as to why players like Parise, Suter, Semin, Jokinen and others held off on signing. Some blame the expected trades of Bobby Ryan and Rick Nash, some point to others waiting for the dam to finally break. Some just blame the thin market.

The biggest signing (money) of the 2012 Free Agency period, thus far.

The reason for the dull showing yesterday probably lies in a number of different areas. The most obvious is that the top free agents are now waiting to make their final decision until they have heard and weighed every offer. NHL free agency is becoming less of a one day free-for-all and more of a two-three day process of discussion, offers and decision making. The Ryan and Nash trades likely have something to do with some of the waiting, but I suspect the shallow pool and the pending decisions for Parise and Suter likely have a lot to do with why next to nothing happened yesterday.

Looking down the list of transactions there isn’t one true winner. The Canucks got the biggest name, so far; the Senators made a trade and Anaheim tried to sign every defenseman on the market. Nothing of any profound impact occurred and I am of the belief that Parise and Suter will indeed set the firestorm for the rest of the league.

Those teams losing out on Suter will be screwed because Matt Carle is the only arguable top four defenseman left. Those teams hoping for Parise will either turn to Alex Semin or scramble for footing in the Nash and Ryan sweepstakes. Either way, there will be more action once today’s signings occur.

As for the decision by Darcy Regier to hold out and only make one marginal signing, I like it. Regier wasn’t quick to the trigger on overpaying for marginal talent, I’m certain he put out offers to those he wished to pursue and I think it is a safe bet that Uncle Terry pushed for a serious pitch to the Parise Camp. Continue reading

Ranking the 2012 UFA class: Defense and Goalies

My final group of free agents to analyze will be combined between defense and goaltenders. While there is an impressive number of defensemen hitting the market, there are only a few goaltenders available to be signed.

Despite being deep, I feel the defensive market only has a bit of cream which has risen to the top. As for the goalies, there isn’t much of anything to write home about from top to bottom. If you wish to read part one or two of this set of posts, click here for centers and here for wingers.


Ryan Suter – Age: 27 – 11-12 team: Nashville – 11-12 Cap Hit: $3,500,000

While Zach Parise is also going to be among the biggest fish landed this weekend, Suter is probably the most sought after commodity on the market this year. He is going to be due a raise in the $7M category and could possibly creep above $8M depending on who is bidding. He is an all-around talent who can be an anchor for any team’s blue line for a number of years.

Justin Schultz – Age: 21 – 11-12 team: Wisconsin (NCAA) – 11-12 Cap Hit: none

A rare occurrence, Schultz did not come to terms with Anaheim and will be a very young unrestricted free agent. Reports entering the weekend indicate that he is down to only a few teams, but he will still be sure to hit for an impressive pay day. There are certainly some question marks with no professional experience behind him, but he is NHL-ready and will be a mobile threat right away.

Matt Carle – Age: 27 – 11-12 team: Philadelphia – 11-12 Cap Hit: $3,437,500

Carle is still be courted by the Flyers and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him re-sign in Philly. The acquisition of Luke Schenn likely spells the end for either Carle or Pavel Kubina, but the Flyers seem to be high on Carle. I’ve never thought much of him when he hasn’t played with Chris Pronger, but that’s just me. Still, he is offensively gifted and has plenty to offer at a young age. If Philly doesn’t lock him up, he will get an impressive raise.

Jason Garrison – Age: 27 – 11-12 team: Florida – 11-12 Cap Hit: $675,000

Garrison became a high-priority target this year with a breakout offensive season. I’m not sure how sound he is in his own end, but I’m sure he is better than Erik Karlsson. The Panthers may not be interested in retaining Garrison just because they have a number of young, talented defensemen in their system. I expect to see at least $3M thrown at Garrison.

Bryce Salvador – Age: 36 – 11-12 team: New Jersey – 11-12 Cap Hit: $2,900,000

If he was even four years younger, Salvador would be due a massive pay day. However, with only four years until 40, I wouldn’t expect to see much movement for the stay-at-home defenseman. His playoff performance will certainly draw some extra attention, but I question him as an option just because he has probably already hit his ceiling.

Sami Salo – Age: 37 – 11-12 team: Vancouver – 11-12 Cap Hit: $2,000,000

Salo is an affordable option if you’re looking for some power play help. However, like Salvador, there isn’t much room under a ceiling that will be declining as each season goes by. I would only expect to see him get one or two years from any deal thrown his way since he is a good power play option for teams searching for a band-aid.

Carlo Colaiacovo – Age: 29 – 11-12 team: St. Louis – 11-12 Cap Hit: $2,125,000

It seems like just yesterday that Colaiacovo had been spurned by the Leafs in an attempt to buy up more talent. Low and behold, Colaiacovo has become a steady option with a few more years to give. While I’m not too high on him as an all-around defender, I think he will be a good option for a number of teams.

Michal Rosival – Age: 33 – 11-12 team: Phoenix – 11-12 Cap Hit: $5,000,000

I would imagine the Coyotes will need to re-sign at least one of their pending UFAs before the market opens. However, I don’t know is Rosival is one they will want. He is a good offensive defenseman who actually can play a bit of defense. He seemed to do quite well in Dave Tippett’s system this season. However, he is not worth $5M, he may not be worth $4M at this point.

Cory Sarich – Age: 33 – 11-12 team: Calgary – 11-12 Cap Hit: $3,600,000

Sarich seems to be on the back-nine of his career after having a number of very impressive seasons early on. I doubt he would get north of $2.5M, but teams may be desperate. He is still sound in his zone and can offer quality hockey for a few more years.

Others to watch: Bryan Allen (31, $2,900,000), Pavel Kubina (35, $3,850,000), Scott Hannan (33, $1,000,000)


Antero Niittymaki – Age: 32 – 11-12 team: San Jose – 11-12 Cap Hit: $2,000,000

Nitty was shelved in Worcester (AHL) all year due to a lingering injury and a log jam in San Jose’s crease. With the ability to restructure a deal that is more cap friendly, I would expect him to get plenty of attention.

Scott Clemmensen – Age: 34 – 11-12 team: Florida – 11-12 Cap Hit: $1,200,000

Clemmensen may be the best 1B/2A goalie on the market this season. He is a solid pick for any team hoping to platoon their goaltenders. With a very affordable price tag, I can see him getting a slight raise to provide quality depth in a new city.

Martin Biron – Age: 34 – 11-12 team: New York Rangers – 11-12 Cap Hit: $875,000

The Rangers are reported as being interested in retaining Biron for at least next season. He has certainly become a full-time backup with the ability to be counted on for stretches of time. If you’re a Sabres fan, he is the opposite of Joceyln Thibault or Patrick Lalime. I’d love for the Sabres to bring him back, but it would require trading one of their goaltenders.

Al Montoya – Age: 27 – 11-12 team: New York Islanders – 11-12 Cap Hit: $601,000

Montoya is a curious case because he has finally established himself as an NHL goaltender. While he lost his starting gig to either Evgeni Nabokov or Rick DiPietro, he will probably get some interest from teams searching for a 1B option. Tampa, Florida (if they don’t get Luongo) and a few other goaltending deficient teams will probably test the waters on Montoya.

Dan Ellis – Age: 32 – 11-2 team: Anaheim – 11-12 Cap Hit: $1,500,000

Ellis is in a similar boat as Montoya. While he is no longer in the same ballpark as other starters, he is certainly capable of carrying the load for a team over a lengthy course of time. He definitely falls into the 1B/2A category and is best suited to platoon with another goaltender. His injury history could be concerning.

Others to watch: Jonas Gustavsson (27, $1,350,000), Chris Mason (36, $1,850,000), Cristobal Huet (36, $5,625,000)

Ranking the 2012 UFA class: Wingers

With unrestricted free agency opening this weekend, I am putting together a master list of the top free agents available on the market this offseason. Part one of my rankings covered the thin crop of centers hitting the market this weekend. Part two will cover a slightly deeper group of players, wings. I combined left and right wingers into this ranking, which will extend the total number beyond ten. Once again, the players are ranked on how popular they will be amongst potential suitors on July 1. Each player will get a short summary and those I see the Sabres targeting will get a little extra attention.

Zach Parise – LW – Age: 27 – 11-12 team: New Jersey – 11-12 Cap Hit: $6,000,000

Together with Ryan Suter, Parise forms the crown jewels of the 2012 UFA class. There are reports that he is attempting to work out a deal with the Devils, but I think he is smart enough to see what the other 29 teams may have to offer. An elite talent, Parise is going to command at least 47.5M on an annual basis with his new contract and may even break the $8M barrier. If the Sabres are to make an honest run at him, Tyler Ennis and Pat Kaleta will need to accept their qualifying offers and not reach for a more lucrative extension. Buffalo’s cap situation may prohibit them from chasing Parise, but he is the type of talent that will instantly make his new team better.

Alexander Semin – RW – Age: 28 – 11-12 team: Washington – 11-12 Cap Hit: $6,700,000

A mercurial talent, Semin could possibly be the most talented player in the league if he gave a full effort each night. However, there are more reports of his shortcomings than his successes. Semin will likely get an offer from a team looking for a shot in the arm in terms of goal scoring. Some have pegged the Sabres as a suitor but I fear that some of his more “typical Russian” characteristics wouldn’t work well under Lindy Ruff, in the Sabres room and alongside their newest toy, Mikhail Grigorenko.

Shane Doan – RW – Age: 35 – 11-12 team: Phoenix – 11-12 Cap Hit: $4,550,000

When the news broke the Shane Doan would indeed be testing the free agent market, things got a bit more interesting for teams looking to find the ever so valuable intangibles. Depending on where he signs, Doan will round out a top six or provide an above-average solution on a team’s third line. Since he plays such a great two-way game, there will be plenty of teams knocking down his door. Based on what he brings to the table, I’d almost be more interested in the Sabres taking a stab at him instead of Parise. The Sabres could use more help on the right side and a $5M hit is more manageable than a $8M hit.

Guillamme Latandresse – LW – Age: 25 – 11-12 team: Minnesota – 11-12 Cap Hit: $2,500,000

Latandresse’s injury concerns are probably why he didn’t get a qualifying offer from Minnesota. He is probably going to command at least $3M, if not more. An unexpected addition to the UFA crop, Latandresse will draw plenty of interest in a thin market. I like the idea of Latandresse if he is paired with the right center. However, his recent injury history may scare some teams off. If he was a right winger I would think the Sabres would have some interest. Continue reading

Ranking the 2012 UFA class: Centers

Unrestricted free agency opens on Sunday afternoon with a class of free agents widely considered to be shallow in terms of overall talent. However, there is a small group of elite players at the top of this year’s class that will surely break the bank before any fireworks are lit on July 4.

This is the first of a three-part list ranking the available top 10-15 free agents, by position, based on how popular they will be amongst teams on July 1. Each player will have a short summary beside their names and those I see being a possible target for the Sabres will get a little more attention. Part one will cover the centers.

Olli Jokinen – Age: 33 – 11-12 team: Calgary – 11-12 Cap Hit: $3,000,000

Aside from goaltenders, center is the thinnest position in this year’s class. Jokinen is probably the most offensively gifted center in the class, but is probably looking at limited options. Depending on what teams are looking for, he could be due a little competition. He won’t be back in Calgary, which means the market just got one more skilled addition.

Jason Arnott – Age: 37 – 11-12 team: St. Louis – 11-12 Cap Hit: $2,875,000

Arnott had a respectable season with St. Louis last year, filling an offensive role without being a go-to guy at center. At 37 his intangibles and experience probably offer more than he will over 82 games, but you could still count on 15-20 goals in the right situation. Arnott could be a potential target for Buffalo to bring a bit more experience to a young locker room while filling a role on the third line behind Cody Hodgson and Tyler Ennis. I could see him being counted on for a solid two-way game if he signs in Buffalo.

Paul Gaustad – Age: 30 – 11-12 team: Buffalo/Nashville – 11-12 Cap Hit: $2,300,000

Told you this was a weak position. Gaustad became a hot commodity in Buffalo because girls think he is cute. Then he started blocking shots and winning faceoffs and other teams took notice. Those hoping he comes back to Buffalo may not want to hold their breath. While he would be a good fit back on the third line, I doubt he takes a hometown discount to return to the Sabres. Gaustad is probably looking at some offers in the 2.85-3 range in terms of a cap hit, that is a little too rich for what he brings to the table. Continue reading