The Sabres enter the offseason hitting a home run by winning the draft lottery and the right to add Rasmus Dahlin, a generational talent who just turned 18 years old.
He will help fill a glaring hole on defense, but this summer still feels paramount for the Sabres’ long-term future, hinging on choices they make to build their roster and improve in 2018-19.
Jason Botterill is big on building his roster from within. Many of the Sabres departures will be filled internally by guys like Casey Mittlestadt, Nicholas Baptiste, Justin Bailey and Casey Nelson.
John Tavares Note:
While there has been much speculation already, there’s a chance he stays on Long Island. With the New York Islanders eventually moving back there full time, it may make his choice easier. If he does leave, it’s hard to envision him choosing Buffalo. But the idea of joining Jack Eichel, Mittlestadt, Sam Reinhart, Dahlin, Ryan O’Reilly, and Brendan Guhle can’t look awful either, and the Sabres have been rumored to have interest in Tavares.
Forwards: Jack Eichel, Ryan O’Reilly, Sam Reinhart, Casey Mittlestadt, Kyle Okposo, Jason Pomminville, Justin Bailey, Nick Baptiste, Zemgus Girgensons, Evan Rodrigues
Needs: Top 9 Forward & Bottom 6 Center
The Sabres issue was secondary scoring last year. They have some youngsters like Mittlestadt, Rodrigues, Bailey, and Baptiste who will get their shot this year to add production. But the Sabres really need a top 9 winger especially on the left side to fill the scoring void left by Evander Kane. They also need a veteran lower line center who can provide some leadership and a little scoring.
LW James Van Riemsdyk TOR: The former No. 2 overall pick may not be an all-world star but he is really good and very consistent. In his career he has broken 30 goals twice, 20 goals five times, and was at pace two other seasons for more than 25 goals. He is big guy who does have a strong net presence. He will have a lot of bidders after having another strong season, but perhaps being close to his current home in Toronto is enough to make JVR consider Buffalo.
LW Patrick Maroon or RW Michael Grabner NJD: Both players have found roles generating around 15 goals and 30-40 points a year. They both have playoff experience and can alter their role a bit for whatever is needed. Maroon has a bit more size than Grabner, but Grabner is incredibly fast and can torch opposing teams defense. Either player would be far cheaper than Van Riemsdyk while still providing solid top nine production. At 29 (Maroon) and 30 (Grabner) they are not ancient either so they wouldn’t hurt to have for 2-3 years.
LW James Neal VGK: Neal has found a good role as a top nine forward who averages in the 25 goals a year and close to 50 pts. He has developed some strong leadership attributes and has a boat load of playoff experience. He would strengthen the left wing side, the only concern is his age at 31 this upcoming fall and possible regression.
C/RW Eric Fehr SJ: He has been around for a while with some good playoff experience and is a great team player.
C Matt Stajan CAL: He has had a solid career, is good on faceoffs, and can step up into the top 9 at center if needed
C Jay Beagle WSH: Closer to a top nine player then bottom six he has some nice scoring touch and should be a cap causality out in Washington.
C Mark Letestu CLB: Similar to Jay Beagle, his production sometimes can move closer to being a mid-tier player, and he has the ability to hit 10-12 goals routinely.
Defense: Rasmus Dahlin, Rasmus Ristolainen, Brendan Guhle, Marco Scandella, Jake McCabe, Lawrence Pilut, Nathan Beaulieu, Zach Bogosian
Adding Dahlin gives the Sabres a franchise-defining player to build around, which in turn, allows the rest of the defense to play more where they should. They also have Swedish hockey league defenseman Lawrence Pilut, who should have a chance at the top six on defense. Depending on what happens with Bogosian, Botterill may not even need to make an addition on defense. If he does add a player to let the young defensemen grow, he could target one of these players:
Thomas Hickey NYI: He has rounded nicely into a defenseman that averages 20 points a year with five to six goals. He has some good experience to hold a fourth to sixth spot on defense.
Nick Holden BOS: He can get between 20-30 points and 10 goals a year. He has good size and would be a good stay-at-home defenseman that would allowed Guhle to run around as much as he wants.
Ian Cole: He is well regarded for his puck possession abilities and seems to have a good feel for making smart break out passes. Pittsburgh loved his presence with their youthful back end and ability to keep things controlled in their own zone.
Goaltender: Linus Ullmark
Needs: Backup goalie who can handle 20-30 starts at least
Ullmark has fulfilled the potential he showed over the last few years to get his chance to be the Sabres starting goalie. Robin Lehner won’t be coming back and the Sabres need a goalie who can take the pressure off from Ullmark from time to time.
Carter Hutton STL: He has settled in as a nice backup goalie who can play 20-30 games. 17 wins and a .931 save percentage is a pretty nice line.
Jonathan Bernier COL: He stepped in for Colorado during the playoffs and played quite admirably. He won’t ever be the franchise goalie many thought, but he can be a reliable backup after being about a league average goalie this year.
Anton Khudobin BOS: Nothing like stealing a division rivals backup, but Khudobin has played quite well when he has stepped in for Tuukka Rask. He would be a good mentor for Ullmark after backing up Tuukka for a bit.