Well, there goes most of the excitement Sabres’ fans had for July 1st.
TSN analysts Bob McKenzie and Darren Dreger tweeted on Wednesday afternoon that star center Steven Stamkos would be resigning with the Tampa Bay Lightning, hence not becoming a free agent on July 1st.
Stamkos’ new deal is believed to be worth $8,500,000 annually over eight seasons, keeping him in a Lightning uniform until he is at least 34 years old.
This came as heart breaking news to Sabres fans, as it has been rumored for the past number of weeks that Buffalo general manager Tim Murray was going “all in” for the 26-year-old sniper. Many fans were hoping that Buffalo would be able to land Stamkos on July 1st, and sign forward Jimmy Vesey to an entry level contract shortly there after.
While neither look very likely as of right now, Sabres’ fans should know that Stamkos returning to Tampa is not the end of the world.
Although the Sabres signing Stamkos would have made headlines across the league, giving Stamkos a long-term contract worth anywhere between $8M and $10M would have harmed the Sabres’ ability to sign players currently on entry level contracts to long-term deals in the future.
Both Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart currently make roughly $925,000 per year, and will become restricted free agents after the 2017-18 season. The Sabres will obviously look to give them multi-year contracts once that time comes, but they may have not been able to sign one or both of them had they been paying Stamkos nearly $10M per year.
Another reason why fans should not be upset that Stamkos is resigning with Tampa Bay is that the Sabres already have two players in Stamkos’ position that can develop into stars. Stamkos, a center, would most likely have played on the Sabres’ first line, pushing Jack Eichel and former NHL All Star Ryan O’Reilly down to the second and third lines respectively.
Signing Stamkos would have meant Eichel and O’Reilly would have received smaller amounts of ice time, harming their development in the process. By not signing Stamkos, Eichel and O’Reilly will be able to become the stars for the Sabres, making the team their own in the process.
Stamkos resigning with the Lightning raises a number of questions for Sabres’ fans, one of them being what will the Sabres do in free agency this offseason? Well, the Sabres still have a number of areas they could improve in, and rather than spending all of their money on one player, Buffalo now has the ability to spend their cap space on a number of players that will improve the roster all around.
If Buffalo still wants to go after a star player, former Carolina Hurricane and New York Ranger Eric Staal is set to hit the open market this Friday. A 6’4” forward, Staal could fit in nicely on a line with Ryan O’Reilly, as the two play similar games to one another. Staal, however, is 31 years old, so Buffalo should be cautious on the term of the contract they offer.
The Sabres could also go after Kyle Okposo, a 28-year-old winger who will not be resigning with the New York Islanders. Okposo has 369 points in 529 games, and could bring some nice skill and experience to the blue and gold.
There are also some holes in the lineup that must be filled this offseason that can now be filled more easily thanks to the freed up cash. Buffalo must add an experienced defenseman to the team, and should probably look at adding a backup goalie, as Chad Johnson has yet to resign with the Sabres.
Although Stamkos has resigned with the Lightning, Sabres’ fans shouldn’t lose all excitement for this offseason. Buffalo still has a large amount of cap space going into free agency, and could still sign some quality players that will help out the team. Although it would have been nice to see Stamkos in a Sabres’ uniform, improving the roster in other areas isn’t a bad alternative.