The Sabres have just a few unrestricted free agent roster players this off-season, but it will be interesting to see who stays and who leaves. Tim Murray must make determinations on veterans and rookies alike. Let’s take a look:
Chad Johnson, Goaltender
There is very little debate among Sabres fans when it comes to the back-up goaltender. Almost every fan and pundit feels that he should be retained, and for good reason. In the absence of starter Robin Lehner, Johnson stood tall in net, posting a .920 save percentage and 22 wins.
The question now becomes, just how much will it cost to retain him. In a recent interview the 29-year-old mentioned that he wanted to stay in Buffalo, but only if the price and term make sense.
“Really, I’d like to be here for a long time – more than two years,” said Johnson. “I’d like to be here four or five. But again, who knows what the contracts will be like and what else will be out there? I know there will be other opportunities.”
Four or five years seems lofty regardless of how well Johnson played this past season. His career production has not been consistent enough for a contract of that term to make sense unless the cap hit is minimal. He has certainly earned a raise, whether it be from the Sabres or a different team. Contract length will be the key, but one thing is for sure; Chad Johnson is one of the best reserve goalies in the league and considering Robin Lehner’s injury history, the smart move would be to keep him around.
David Legwand, Center
When this 35-year-old center was brought in via trade last summer, many saw him as a cap dump on the part of the Senators (He was sent to Buffalo along with Robin Lehner for a first round pick). Few fans would have predicted how valuable his veteran presence would be on the Sabres young roster.
“We go over the faceoffs at the morning skate every day,” Coach Dan Bylsma said. “We have a scout on the players. We know who we’re going against, but David has his own book on each guy with his experience. He goes over each guy, each player with his tendencies with all our centermen.”
Despite his apparent value as a fourth liner, it would be a surprise if Legwand is retained. He would need to take a significant pay cut from the $3.5 million he earned last season.
Cole Schneider, Right Wing
Williamsville native Cole Schneider was brought in at the trade deadline as part of a multi-player AHL swap with the Ottawa Senators. Schneider only appeared in two games for the Sabres, but in 73 AHL games this season (split between Rochester and Binghamton), he posted 56 points.
Schneider seems like an ideal candidate for a top injury call up for the Sabres next year, not to mention a top contributor and veteran presence in Rochester. With so many players in the Sabres’ system slated to make the jump from juniors to the AHL, an elder statesmen with consistent production could be just what the team needs.
Carlo Colaiacovo, Defenseman
Colaiacovo was brought in to be a depth defenseman last summer, but spent most of the season either scratched or injured. In only 36 games played for the Sabres, Colaiacovo posted a pedestrian five points with a -11.
With players like Casey Nelson coming into the fold for next season, there really isn’t a need for a borderline roster player, especially at 33 years old. It would come as a surprise to see him retained by the Sabres.
Tim Schaller, Center
Schaller spent most of the season in Rochester, but he did appear in 17 games for the Sabres posting a goal and two assists. Schaller has been a top call-up for the Sabres for the past couple of years. To put it plainly; he is what he is. He will never be an explosive player, but in a pinch he can be a useful fourth liner. The Sabres could go either way on this one.
Matt Donovan, Defenseman
Donovan was brought in as depth on the blue line in Rochester. He was serviceable in the AHL with 31 points in 73 games for the Amerks. A case could be made to keep Donovan in the AHL next season to ease the transition for incoming rookies.
Chad Ruhwedel, Defenseman
Ruhwedel was brought in during the 2012-13’ season as a college free agent. Ruhwedel showed sky high potential when he was originally signed, however he has been mediocre in limited time at the NHL level. He has only played in 33 games for the Sabres over the past four seasons posting only two assists. His ability at the AHL level has been impressive however with 64 points in 119 games for the Amerks. There is a possibility that Ruhwedel is retained, but a change of scenery may be just what he needs to get his career going.
There are a few other minor league players like Jerry D’Amigo, Eric O’Dell, Michael Sdao and Bobby Sanguinetti, who are also slated to be UFA’s at the end of the season but their contributions have been exclusively at the AHL level. None of them are expected to return.