This offseason is the most interesting the Sabres have had in a decade. Unlike previous years where the highlight was drafting players like Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart, this offseason is absolutely crucial in filling out the rest of the lineup for the long haul. This is the hard part of the GM’s job, drafting top three is easy compared to adding the right complementary and role players to the team.
What follows is what I’d do if I took the reigns as the GM for the summer.
The Sabres biggest issue last year was scoring and they need one more true top six forward, top nine forward, and top three defenseman. I know the Sabres have a lot of good young kids in the hopper, but I do not want to rush their development so players like Fasching, Carrier, Guhle, and Bailey have enough time to develop. My additions would be based through trades and free agency.
Stamkos – Steven Stamkos is a dynamite player worthy of a big pay day. However, if you’re asking me to do a 5-7 year contract at $11 million, I say… no. The Sabres will need to pay players in the future and a contract like this could cripple their ability to keep them. If Stamkos would take a contract in the $9 million dollar range, I’m in. But if he’s insistent on numbers in the high $10-11 million range I’d say no and add more impact players collectively with the open cap space.
The Draft – The Sabres need to add some prospects for the future with high end talent especially on defense. With the 8th pick, I would select either defenseman Olli Juolevi or Jakob Chychrun. Both are highly rated with Juolevi being compared to Subov and Chychrun being a potential franchise defenseman despite his struggles. There has been a lot of talk about trading the pick for Kevin Shattenkirk or Tyson Barrie. My issue there is it will be a potential bidding war and the free agent market has some nice names there that would not cost any picks to get. Chicago has dominated so long because they have had a pipeline of talent available to replace players that left due to cap reasons, the more draft picks the Sabres have the better chance they have at this type of talent redundancy.
Trades – It has been widely known that Ottawa and forward Mike Hoffman do not see eye to eye on contract terms and even with Guy Boucher coming behind the bench who Hoffman has played for before I still think that a budget team like Ottawa will be looking for value and open to a trade for Hoffman at the right price. Tyler Ennis had for years been a very dependable healthy top 6 forward that constantly puts up 40-50 points and his contract is not a killer for any team that he would go to. I would trade Ennis, 2017 2nd, 2016 3rd, and Connor Hurley. Hoffman is absolutely a stud top 6 forward who fills a big need upfront. He would need a new contract, but he is certainly affordable. Figure a 5 year deal at $5.5 million for him.
Rick Nash is another name that pops up. He may not hit the 40 goal mark that he did in the past, but 25-30 goals a year and 50-60 points would seem reasonable. Also he is an excellent two way player and a Corsi favorite by many on the analytic front. Odds are if the Sabres are truly trying for Nash they’re looking at giving up a guy like Girgensons or Ennis, high-ranked prospect like Nick Baptiste, and at least a 2nd round pick probably another 2nd or 3rd also.
Free Agency- The two names I have circled are Keith Yandle and Alex Goligoski. Both defenseman are quality top 4 players who have a major offensive prowess and take pressure off Ristonlainen. Both Dallas and New York have cap issues and if both of them hit free agency as expected then Buffalo needs to do what it takes for one of them. I prefer Yandle because he is a year younger (29) and I think he fits Buffalo’s system a little better. Sign Yandle for 5 years for $32 million. Other defenseman to keep an eye on would include former Sabre Brian Campbell and Jason Demers, if you couldn’t get one of the big two.
The Sabres need one more top 9 forward. A lot of people like guys like Troy Brouwer, Andrew Ladd, even Jamie McGinn. The guy I would prefer the Sabres to go for though is Teddy Purcell. Purcell is routinely a guy who puts up 35-45 points a year and 12-15 goals. Last year he put up 43 pts and 12 goals which would’ve been good for 3rd overall on the Sabres. His production is similar to the three names above but because he recently played in Edmonton and finished the season in Florida he is a name that slips under the radar despite being a nice 2nd to 3rd line player.
Lineup – Between trading for Hoffman, signing Yandle, and signing Purcell that would max out this year’s money for free agnecy when keeping in my future contracts for guys like Eichel, Reinhart etc. If those players just hit their career averages in goals it would add 41 more goals to the Sabres, including the loss of Ennis 3 goals in 2015-16. Even if the Sabres add 30 goals to last year’s roster that would bump them from 26th in goals scored in 2015-16 to 11th. That would be a healthy improvement goal wise. In goal, I’d offer Johnson $3 million for 2 years and hope he bites.
Here would be my opening night lineup:
Line 1 Girgensons-Eichel-Reinhart
Line 2 Kane-O’Reilly-Hoffman
Line 3 Foligno-Larsson-Purcell
Line 4 Deslauriers-Bailey-Gionta
Pair 1 Ristolianen – Yandle
Pair 2 Bogosian – Pysyk
Pair 3 Gorges – McCabe
Goaltender Lehner Johnson
Backup: Chad Johnson