For the third-straight offseason, Jason Botterill has been active in adding new blood to the Sabres locker room. For the first time in his tenure, he also faces a near necessity of needing to shed bodies as well.
There are quite a few usual suspects who have been along for far too much of Buffalo’s prolonged playoff drought and many fans were looking forward to the fat being trimmed by Botterill’s “roster surgery”. Improvements came quickly once the draft wrapped up. Jimmy Vesey, Colin Miller, Henri Jokiharju and Marcus Johansson all figure to feature prominently for the Sabres this year. As far as attrition goes, the only body to be shipped was Alex Nylander, sent to Chicago in exchange for Jokiharju, leaving fans wondering when the other shoe will drop.
There’s still over a month until training camp opens and it’s not completely unusual for deals to come through into August or September (Jeff Skinner and Erik Karlsson just last year), so it’s not as if Botterill is out of time to clean up the roster. But he has work to do. The right side of the defense is packed with bodies and the left side isn’t far behind while the Sabres could compile about three fourth lines with the number of bottom-six forwards they have.
Just looking at potential fourth line candidates is a waking nightmare in terms of skill and salary:
Jason Botterill made a big move on the blueline today, acquiring Marco Scandella from the Minnesota Wild in a package that included old friend Jason Pominville. Chris and Tyler offer up our thoughts on only dealing Marcus Foligno and Tyler Ennis to get the deal done and what we think it means for the Sabres plans in free agency and how it affects the outlook for the 2017-18 season.
While the Sabres didn’t lose Linus Ullmark to the Vegas expansion draft, Buffalo’s goaltending pipeline remains a weak point within the organization; something that will need to be addressed this summer.
It appears evident that Cal Petersen will exercise his right as a free agent and sign with one of the league’s other 30 clubs. UPDATE: Jason Botterill confirmed today that Petersen will test free agency, adding that he doesn’t expect Petersen to sign with the Sabres.
That leaves the Sabres with only Jonas Johansson and restricted free agent Jason Kasdorf (edit: Kasdorf still has a year left) in the pipeline. With Ullmark set to graduate to full-time duty as Robin Lehner’s backup, the Sabres will need to get to work on finding help in net.
Count on the draft being the first step towards remedying the situation. The Sabres will draft at least one goaltender this weekend and may have been slated to spend a late round pick on a second had they not shipped their sixth round pick to Vegas as part of the expansion draft. Spending a pick on Jake Oettinger or Keith Petruzzelli (profiled in Kris Baker’s draft preview) would provide the Sabres a high value prospect to groom over the next couple of seasons. Both fit the blueprint of a modern NHL goaltender; a big body that can move well and both would instantly upgrade Buffalo’s goaltending depth.
Beyond the draft, the Sabres could use a few assets to take on key minutes in Rochester and to push Lehner and Ullmark. At the very least, the Sabres need to acquire one goalie this summer. Kasdorf is most likely to be shuttling between Rochester and Cincinnati, if not taking permanent residence with the Cyclones after a rough rookie season. A goaltender to work in tandem with Johansson in Rochester, if not a player capable of ascending to a higher level with additional growth, will be needed. Continue reading →
Through just under a month it seems as if Jason Botterill’s train of thought on reshaping Buffalo’s blueline is similar to that of his predecessor.
Addressing the lack of talent and depth on Buffalo’s blueline would be the priority of any general manager and while the market for defenseman will be tight, there are more avenues to explore than the most popular bandied about on Twitter. Anaheim and Minnesota might be the most popular targets, but there are plenty of other teams who may find themselves in a tight spot when the expansion draft comes around.
Botterill took the first step towards shoring up the defense corps by finishing the Victor Anitpin saga. He could have easily walked away from the puck moving Russian but Antipin’s resume and Buffalo’s glaring need for help likely kept Botterill from pulling the contract offer off the table. Despite not knowing what he will offer at the NHL level, Antipin is already Buffalo’s fourth – if not third – best defenseman despite never having set foot on the ice for the team. Antipin’s resume is certainly that of a mid-pair defender but at the very worst he’d see third pairing minutes if his game doesn’t translate for whatever reason. His addition not only helps fill a hole on Buffalo’s blueline but it gives the team another puck mover, something they badly needed.
Puck moving defensemen will likely be the name of the game for Botterill and the Sabres. Even though Antipin wasn’t a player he had sought out to sign, wrapping up the contract says enough about Antipin’s ability and the type of player Botterill is likely to covet. Taking a look at Pittsburgh’s blueline can tell you that much more as Kris Letang, Justin Schultz, Olli Maatta, Trevor Daley and even deadline acquisition Marc Streit are adept puck movers. Not all of those players can be traced directly to Botterill’s former duties with the Pens, but it’s unlikely he had no influence over acquiring them either.
Pittsburgh may even be a team Botterill attempts to pull another defenseman from as the offseason progresses. While the Pens aren’t backed into a corner like Chicago or Minnesota, they still need to make a decision on a few contributors. Ian Cole, Justin Schultz and Brian Dumoulin all need to be protected in expansion, as do Patric Hornqvist, Carl Hagelin and Bryan Rust. Meanwhile, the Pens already have three forwards with no movement clauses, meaning they’ll need to choose between leaving a number of young forwards exposed or dangling multiple defensemen.
What seems to be the most likely route for the Pens is to expose Ian Cole while protecting Schultz, Maatta and Letang. That would also leave Dumoulin exposed (along with Derrick Pouliot) available to be selected by Vegas in expansion, thus creating an opportunity for another GM to strike.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I just don’t feel quite confident with the prospects of the 2016-2017 Buffalo Sabres being a playoff team. Yet.
Considering the recent arrest of Evander Kane, missing out on Jimmy Vesey, and Rasmus Ristolainen still lacking a contract, there are more than enough possible impediments to Tim Murray’s club breaking its four season playoff drought. Its time for something positive to happen, and what better way to get the team on the right track than to make a trade. I think the Kyle Okposo signing will yield highly positive dividends for Sabres, and his acquisition cements a very formidable top six going into next season (and a scary good top six going into the future), but I do believe that more will be required to make that extra push. Continue reading →
Chris and Tyler come together to discuss the lack of a contract for Rasmus Ristolainen while looking at some of the recent deals inked by RFAs around the league. Meanwhile we discuss the remaining options (or lack thereof) on the free agent market in the event that Tim Murray needs to find a final body or two for his club. You can subscribe to The Instigator on iTunes or tune in via Stitcher by hitting the links.