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

Sulzer re-upped for another year in Buffalo

Alexander Sulzer is no longer a rental property. The Buffalo Sabres took him off the market with a one-year $725,000 contract.

Sulzer, who was originally thought of as a toss-in to the Hodgson/Kassian trade was solid for the Sabres in the stretch run and earned himself an extended stay with the club. Sulzer has gone well beyond the pleasant surprise he was in March to a full-blown upgrade for the Buffalo blue line.

Remember, Marc-Andre Gragnani was swapped for Sulzer as each were pending free agents at the end of this season (Gragnani was an RFA). If the Sabres kept him, Gragnani would have likely been tendered on the basis that just about every RFA gets a tender on a yearly basis. That would mean he would have been in the conversation for a roster spot yet again in the fall. Now he is not and most fans are rejoicing over his absence.

Sulzer is now one of eight defensemen who will be vying for playing time next season. If T.J. Brennan is offered – and accepts – his tender, that number will climb to nine. Sulzer fit well as a fifth or sixth defenseman late in the year and showed patience and consistency in the defensive zone. Not to mention, his chemistry with countryman Christian Ehrhoff made for a sound defensive pairing.

I expect to see Sulzer as Buffalo’s sixth defenseman with Mike Weber being bumped to the seventh spot. In fact, I would even go so far as to say Weber is expendable based on this signing. Of course, Weber’s value may not be very high based on what he brings to the table for most teams.

Overall, this signing is very impressive for the Sabres, who received him as little more than a security blanket in their trade for Cody Hodgson.

The Morning Skate: Can’t hold anything back now

In what became a very schizophrenic season, the Sabres enter their final game with little to play for. The Bruins enter today’s game with a first-round series against Ottawa waiting around the corner. Boston rested a number of players this past week, but I’d expect Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron and Tim Thomas all to play this afternoon as a tune-up for the playoffs.

This will be a strange game as the Bruins will be just trying to avoid injuries and the Sabres will likely be just going through the motions. Jhonas Enroth will be the starter for the Sabres while Thomas will go for Boston. If Claude Julien is really playing it safe, Anton Khudobin or Marty Turco will start, but I would guess he wants his stud to get one more game under his belt. The only reason Turco would play, it could be his last game of his career.

Given that today will be a glorified exhibition game, I’ll just list a few bullet points to check out during the game.

  • Jochen Hecht isn’t expected to play, but this will be the final game you get to see Brad Boyes in a Sabres uniform. Boyes is a pretty unfortunate case. He lit it up his first few weeks on the job before tailing off last season. He has been nearly invisible this year and has been somewhat under-utilized, in my opinion. Either way, his acquisition was wise but didn’t pan out. That will be $4M towards another player come July 1.
  • Hecht may not be back in Buffalo either, unfortunately he won’t have a chance to play today. Matt Ellis could also be in the boat heading away from Buffalo as well.
  • Derek Roy and Drew Stafford were hot trade topics in January. Stafford has turned things around but could still be out the door, the same goes for Roy. They both have had solid runs to end the year, maybe that helps their trade value.
  • Thomas Vanek has historically been a final game superstar. Hopefully he can tally once or twice just to boost his numbers.
  • The goal of the day should be to get Jason Pominville to 30 goals. He is on the cusp and deserves to hit that milestone.
  • I’d venture a guess that the minutes will be spread evenly this afternoon. Cody McCormick, Matt Ellis and others will get a healthy does of ice time.
  • Jhonas Enroth could really use a win. He hasn’t necessarily fared well against the Bruins in his career, but it would be good to send him off with a victory, especially considering the way he has played since November.
  • So many people are calling for Lindy Ruff’s head. I doubt very much that this will be his final game in Buffalo. I will analyze exactly where he may be headed, but Ted Black’s previous statements make me think the players will be gone before Ruff or Darcy Regier. Those clamoring for his removal, don’t hold your breath.
  • Counted among those to get healthy ice time, T.J. Brennan and Brayden McNabb. Both will be heading back to Rochester to offer reinforcements. They will be counted on for big contributions, giving them a full go this afternoon would be good for the players and the Amerks.
  • One last piece of advice. Just enjoy this game for what it is, hockey. So many bandwagon fans are saying how much the team sucks and how they knew this would happen. Just shut up and enjoy the game. There were too many flaws on the roster for this to be a legitimate contender. Should they be a playoff team? Probably. But they aren’t, so root for them to win and start mulling over their offseason moves.

Sabres After 41: Looking back

Few expected the Sabres to be in this sort of hole at the halfway point of the 2011-12 season. Perhaps some pessimistic fans expected the team to struggle, but the vast majority of fans expected some sort of improvement over last season’s seventh-place finish.

The injury bug has certainly bitten this team hard. The results of the injury plague that has swept through the roster can’t be ignored. But there are still plenty of other factors at play which are far more telling signs as to why the Sabres currently reside in 11th place in the East.

Poor goaltending, spotty defensive play and barely any goal scoring have truly condemned this team. As the second half of the 2012 season begins, there are plenty of questions surrounding the future of the core, the coach and even the general manager. First, a few reflections: Continue reading

Breaking down the Sabres’ signings

For the first time in my 25 years on Earth, the Buffalo Sabres were major players in the NHL free agent market. In fact, the Blue & Gold had the highest payroll in the NHL when the dust had settled.

The week prior to July 1 saw Darcy Regier poach Robyn Regehr, a second-round pick and Ales Kotalik (a charity pick-up) from the Calgary Flames for Chris Butler and Paul Byron. Point Regier. What is more impressive is that Buffalo was attractive enough for Regehr to waive his no movement clause for.

Regier then snagged Christian Ehrhoff’s negotiating rights and managed to ink him to a massive deal prior to the UFA market opening up. Ehrhoff, has put up incredible numbers in Vancouver. He is a career minus in the playoffs. However, I blame his -13 this year – which put him deep into the minus numbers – on the shoulder injury that limited him in the later rounds.

Regehr looks a hell of a lot like Shrek, he also tosses people around like an angry orge. Sort of a fitting nickname, no? I don’t know if he will be reunited with Jordan Leopold, or if he will be paired with Tyler Myers to create a monstrous shut-down pairing. Ehrhoff could certainly compliment Myers well, and it may be a better fit considering both he and Leopold are quite offensively minded. Nevertheless, they make the blue line significantly stronger.

Regier went out and made two major additions to his blue line before the clock struck noon on Friday. It was expected that the Sabres would make a major push for Brad Richards. They never did, partially because the New York Rangers were given the final right to match an offer for Richards and because they may have lost out on Ville Leino.

Buffalo’s only UFA signing, thus far, has been Leino. Despite only signing one guy, Regier went out and got a big fish. Leino is a very talented forward, capable of playing all three forward positions who is a major playoff performer. He put a dagger in Buffalo’s series lead on Philly and has been on my personal radar since his first year with Detroit in 2008-09. They may have overpaid, but if he flourishes at pivot there is no reason to say they overpaid.

There is plenty of time left in free agency, despite the current financial restraints I don’t think Regier is done signing players. Especially if they are to make a trade or two, as I suspect.

Looking at the signings Buffalo has made thus far, including re-signing Nathan Gerbe, Cody McCormick and Mike Weber, they have made major improvements to the roster.

Between Shrek and The Hoff the Sabres’ top four is about six times better than they were last year. Just on paper, think about it. Tyler Myers, Jordan Leopold, Steve Montador and Shaone Morrison/Andrej Sekera versus Myers, Leopold, The Hoff and Shrek. It is sort of like buying a Chrysler 300 because it looks like a Phantom.

The Sabres’ back end will be better, no doubt. By association Ryan Miller should be better. It is the forwards, particularly the top six who will be interesting to watch.

Leino and Derek Roy are not exactly a deadly one-two punch at center. I still think Darcy has a trade up his sleeve. If Leino clicks and Roy continues that point-per-game clip from 2010-11 then there may be hope. The wingers are obviously set, Jochen Hecht or Brad Boyes will likely settle on to the third line. Tyler Ennis, Drew Stafford, Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek all have homes with Buffalo’s top two centers. Now they just need to produce.

Surely there will be some shuffling amongst the bottom six forwards. I think their help, or reinforcements, are still on the to-do list for Darcy. I have a few thoughts on who may fit well in that role, even as a number one center depending on a potential trade.

Until Regier knows his cap number moving forward, not much else will be done by the Sabres.

Don’t hassle the Hoff – Sabres ink Ehrhoff

No official statement has been made, but Nick Kypreos or Sportsnet and Bob McKenzie of TSN have both stated that the Sabres have reached an agreement with defenseman Christian Ehrhoff. Give credit to Joe over at Buffalo Wins for being the first on the scene. UPDATE: McKenzie just tweeted the deal is done and the terms are looking like 10 years for $40 million. (6:15 PM)

Kypreos said the deal should fall between $5 and $5.5 million per season. That is surprising news considering that is probably how much the Islanders offer was for. There is still no confirmation of the signing, once that comes down I will be sure to update.

The calm before the storm

Darcy Regier showed Buffalo Sabres fans what his strategy may entail this past weekend. He dealt for Robyn Regehr and a second round pick from the Calgary Flames, while only giving up Chris Butler and Paul Byron. He did the Flames a favor by agreeing to take Ales Kotalik, as well. But the option of hiding Kotalik in Rochester is the likely option the organization will take.

The next step comes this Friday as unrestricted free agency begins. The past few seasons haven’t yielded much for the Sabres, especially on the first day. The fact of the matter is Darcy wasn’t given the resources to truly attract the marquee free agents. All that has changed now that he has an owner willing to fly north of the border to persuade players to come to town.

Regier made some very interesting remarks this morning during his appearance on WGR 550. While he was very careful not to tip his hand, he indicated that upgrades will continue to come and that the center position will not remain the same entering the 2011-12 season. Continue reading

The Pegula Puzzle: Potential UFAs and trade targets

Compared to the previous three entries in my Pegula Puzzle series, this will be a bit more out of left field. I’m certain that I will echo the sentiments of most Sabres fans with my views, but I do warn you that this may come across as a little radical.

When I look at the current Sabres roster I see glaring deficiencies on defense and at center. Those are the two spots that need to be addressed over the next few months.

Tyler Myers is certainly a cornerstone for the future and Brayden McNabb and Mark Pysyk seem awfully appealing at this point in their development. Jamie Oleksiak would be another monster to pair with Myers if the Sabres are able to trade up to draft him tomorrow. Still, the Sabres don’t have any top four defensemen after Tyler Myers and Jordan Leopold. With Marc Andre Gragnani and Mike Weber looking like a soild pair to lock down the five and six roles, the Sabres will need to look outside the organization for two solid defensmen. I should point out that I peg MAG and Weber as five and six in a strict depth chart evaluation, the real pairings will certainly be different. Continue reading