While general manager Tim Murray will undoubtedly look to bring a top free agent into the organization this weekend, he should look to bring in a number of cheaper players for the same price that he would pay for one star. We’ve compiled a list of five free agents the Sabres should sign on cheap contracts this offseason.
1) Brian Campbell – Drafted by Buffalo in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft, Campbell played parts of eight seasons for the Sabres, becoming a fan favorite before being traded at the 2008 Trade Deadline to the San Jose Sharks. Campbell became one of the team’s best defensemen during his stint with the Sabres, and established himself as one of the top offensive defensemen in the league.
After Campbell was traded in 2008, he would go onto play for the Chicago Blackhawks and the Florida Panthers, earning a Stanley Cup ring in the 2009-10 season. Campbell has consistently produced near-30 point seasons throughout his career. Soupy also hasn’t missed a game since the 2010-11 season, so fans can count on him so be an anchor on the backend.
Although Campbell is coming off of a contract with a cap hit of over $7 million, there is no doubt that he will be taking a paycut this offseason.
Now 37 years old, Campbell will most likely be asking for anywhere between $2.5 and $3 million on a one to two year deal, something the Sabres could realistically deliver.
Signing Campbell would bring some much needed experience to the Sabres’ blueline. Currently, the d-man with the most NHL experience on Buffalo’s roster right now is 25 year old Zach Bogosian. Campbell could also play next to Rasmus Ristolainen, and help him develop into the offensive defenseman that Sabres fans know he can be.
2) Steve Ott – Ott established himself as one of the team’s hardest working players in his one and a half seasons with the Sabres, and fans were upset to see him traded along with Ryan Miller to the St. Louis Blues in February of 2014. Ott had earned the team’s captaincy at that point, bringing leadership to a team in a time of transition.
The 33-year-old forward is coming off of a two year contract with a cap hit of $2.6 million, but, like Campbell, will be taking a paycut this offseason. The Sabres could probably sign Ott to a two-year deal with a cap hit around $2 million in a move that would both improve the team and excite the fans. Ott has never been a flashy player, but his hard working attitude seemed to be infectious during his time with the team, and hopefully just having him in the locker room will be enough to get 110% out of his teammates.
3) Lee Stempniak – A player that many Sabres’ fans have wanted for quite some time, Stempniak could potentially be headed to his 10th NHL team this offseason. While the West Seneca, New York native has always been looked at as a bottom six forward with offensive upside, the 33-year-old may actually be going through a renaissance, as his 51 points in 2015-16 is his second highest career point total, second only to his 52 point year in 2006-07.
Like Ott and Campbell, Stempniak could add some much needed experience and leadership to the Sabres’ locker room. Stempniak had a cap hit of just $850,000 this past season, but may be asking for an increase following a 50 point season. Stempniak may be willing to give the Sabres a hometown discount, though, as the team could most likely bring the winger in for right around $1 million annually.
4) Mike Richards – Perhaps the most controversial pick on this list, Mike Richards, at one point in his career, was one of the best players in the NHL. The first line center that most Sabres fans would have done anything for a couple of seasons ago, Richards consistently produced high point totals in the early part of his career, including a 75 point season in 2007-08 and a career high 80 point season in 2008-09.
While the idea of signing Richards may seem like it has more cons than pros, it’s very low risk and could potentially have high rewards. Richards, a 31-year-old forward, should be in the middle of his prime, not nearing the end of his career.
If the Sabres gave the former NHL All Star a contract similar to the deal he received from the Capitals, the team would be happy to receive 15 points from a player that could potentially deliver 50.
Signing Richards to a cheap contract would be worth it for the Sabres due to the slim possibility that he could play like the player he once was. If Richards doesn’t produce, it really wouldn’t have a huge impact on the team, as the Sabres would be paying him just over the league minimum. If he is able to play at the same level he played at earlier in his career, the Sabres would be paying just $1M to one of their top players.
If Richards was entering free agency five years ago, he would have been asking for anywhere between $8 and $10 million, so the Sabres should pounce on the chance to sign the former star for a fraction of that price.
5) Joe Colborne – Joe Colborne was once looked at as one of the most promising prospects in the Toronto Maple Leafs organization. Selected 16th overall by the Boston Bruins in 2008, Colborne was traded to the blue and white in 2011 in exchange for Tomas Kaberle, who, at the time, was one of the better defensemen in the Eastern Conference.
Colborne’s 6’5” frame led many to believe that he could eventually develop into a first line center, but unfortunately, Colborne was never really able to establish himself as a regular in the NHL during his time with the Leafs. Colborne played just 16 games for Toronto throughout three seasons before being traded to the Calgary Flames in the summer of 2013. Colborne would play three seasons with the Flames, recording 100 points in 217 games.
Many expected that Colborne would be a restricted free agent going into this offseason, but the Flames failed to give him a qualifying offer by June 27th’s deadline, meaning that Colborne will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1st. Like Richards, giving Colborne a contract could be a low risk, high reward signing. If the Sabres gave Colborne a two year deal worth roughly $1.5 million, Colborne would have the chance to develop into a player with a similar game to Joe Thornton’s – a player with size and the skill to match. Colborne has proven that he has the skill to be a quality player, as he is coming off of a career high 44 point season with the Flames. If Colborne doesn’t produce for the team, it wouldn’t be a huge deal, as the Sabres’ could easily trade Colborne for a late round pick. There would be many teams interested in giving the 26-year-old 6’5” center a chance.
While many fans are hoping that the Sabres sign Steven Stamkos this offseason, perhaps the smarter move would be going after less expensive players that could bring leadership to the team as well as round out the lineup. If the signings do produce, the Sabres have added pieces that make a playoff run more likely. If they don’t produce, Buffalo could leave them unprotected in next year’s expansion draft, or just let their contracts expire without giving them a lot of ice time. Whatever the Sabres choose to do, this offseason is gearing up to be much more exciting than most.