Well Sabres Nation, it’s been a tough year for the Blue and Gold but, like any good Buffalo fan we always have hope that the future will be better. "Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of good things and no good thing ever dies" according to Andy Dufresne and the Buffalo fan base will never give up hope. We have been kicked, punched, and kicked again but we are the best damn fans I’ve even seen. Living in another city has proven this point time and again that Buffalo fans will never give up on their teams. And this time with Tim Murray in charge that hope feels more grounded. I’ve been thinking of a realistic opening day lineup for the Sabres next year. This post comes with the disclaimer that Murray seems like a wheeler and dealer so things can change over the summer. With the draft still more than a month away (June 27th, Philadelphia) here is my projection of the opening day roster for the 2014-2015 edition of the Buffalo Sabres. I have listed the players and their salaries, a full breakdown of the line combinations and choices will come in part 2 of this post; keep an eye out for it this week. Part 3 will come last (call me captain obvious) and deal with possible trades made in summer or during the year. Thanks for reading and let me know what you want to see in the comments below.
*Bennett ($925,000)-Ennis ($4.25M)- Stafford ($4.00M)
Hodgson ($4.25M)- Girgensons ($894,167)- Stewart ($4.15M)
Foligno ($2.0M)-Larsson ($763,333)- Ott ($4.25M)
Kaleta ($1.25M)- Flynn ($637,500)- Deslauriers ($605,000)
*Bennett is drafted 2nd overall and makes the team out of camp
Ehrhoff ($4.00M)- Myers ($5.50M)
Pysyk ($870,000)-Ristolainen ($925,000)
Ruhwedel ($874,125)-Tallinder ($3.5M)
Ellis ($550,000), Mitchell ($1.90M), Weber ($1.67M)
Captain: Steve Ott
Chad Ruhwedel, Marcus Foligno, Nic Deslauriers, and Tyler Ennis are all restricted free agents so the Sabres have to offer them a contract to retain their rights. I used capgeek.com for player salary information. According to them,
For Ruhwedel: "Because his base salary of $832,500 — total salary of $925,000 minus signing bonus of $92,500 — is greater than $660,000 and less than $1,000,000, it is increased by 5 percent for the purposes of his qualifying offer" (capgeek.com). He hasn’t proven anything yet so gets the standard raise in a two year deal.
For Deslauriers: Ditto as for Ruhwedel. He gets minimum qualifying offer but with a 10% raise.
For Foligno: I looked at contracts given to players with similar production and age around the league to estimate their salary. Marcus has similar stats to John Mitchell of the Colorado Avalanche who makes $1.9 million. Mitchell is older and has probably maxed out his potential whereas we are hoping Marcus can become a solid power forward in this league. However, with his play to this point I think a two year bridge deal for $4M total would be fair given his potential. It would not saddle the Sabres down with a long-term commitment but help them get to the cap floor.
For Ennis: I did the same as with Foligno but with more than a bridge deal since Ennis has preformed better at this point. Ennis made $3.0M this season and has similar numbers to Hodgson so even with a new regime, Nolan seems to like him so barring a trade I can see him getting a deal for 3 years averaging $4.25M a year. It’s the same average as Cody but he has a chance to sign a more lucrative offer in three years.
Who's Out: Gone are Jamie Mcbain, Cory Conacher, John Scott, Zenon Konopka, and Matt D'Agostini. No hearts broken there but if the Sabres wanted to offer Mcbain and Conacher a contract to make training camp more competitive then send them to Rochester then that's fine by me. It makes the Americans better and provides competition for the young guys. I wouldn't care if they kept Scott in place of Matt Ellis either with Torrey Mitchell around as a spare. I hate the Bruins so much that he can play those games and sit the rest.
UFAs: Steve Ott and Henrik Tallinder are unrestricted free agents. Nolan and Murray have both said they don’t want a team full of just young players so having a few veterans around to help them compete is needed. It will be tough to entice and veterans to sign with a last place club but money talks and so does comfort. Ott and hank both know the team and the area so by giving them a sizable chunk of change they can justify coming back to Buffalo. They have both shown in the past to be solid players and good in the room as well.
For Ott: I overpaid him to come to a last place team. He is 31 years old and does not produce points like a top 6 forward. A four year deal takes him to 35 years old and with a salary of $4.25 million a year it is more than any other team would give for his production and a hefty raise from his $3.2M this year. With him being captain and laying his body on the line very night too there wouldn’t be friction in the room for his salary compared to his stats. That is fine as on this team he is a top 9 forward, will be captain, and have a chance to play in a real hockey city with a low cost of living, a place where players who come to play end up retiring here, and with a long enough contract to see the team go from last place to contention.
For Hank: He made $3.5M this past year and that was a lot for his play. He is 35 and may want to play closer to his home country in Sweden but another year of making $3.5 million might be enough to have him put that on hold.
Salary Cap Implications:
According to Darren Dreger, reports from the NHL Board of Governs meeting are that the cap ceiling will be near $71 million up from $64.3 million this year with a floor around $52 million. Using the great capgeek.com I calculated that there are currently 16 players under contract for a total of $36,538,333 million with the construction I am using. Add in Bennett, the UFA’s (Ott and Tallinder) and the raises for the RFA’s (Ruhwedel, Foligno, Deslauriers, and Ennis) and you get another $16,404,125. Adding in Ville Leino's buyout which according to capgeek.com would cost the Sabres $1.72M this year and the Sabres payroll will be $54,662,458 for 23 players., higher than the floor, barley.
Joel Armia ($894,167/$70,000)-Grigorenko ($925,000/$70,000)- Luke Adam ($771,750/$70,000)
*Hackett is a RFA who had a serious knew injury this past year. With the injuries the Sabres had in goal if Hackett recovers well I can seem them tendering him a contract and letting him battle for a spot. Lieuwen is under contract but has concussion issues so that is why I’ve kept all three in the organization.
The players are listed with their NHL salary first and AHL salary second. It seems that $70,000 is a top salary for young AHL players, which is nowhere near what they earn in the NHL but still, it beats having to teach at a terrible Middle School or sit in a cubicle for a living. Also, there is a lot of skill on the top line in Rochester with an AHL veteran in Adam and a couple of boom or bust picks. I think most fans of the Sabres would be happy if just one of Armia or Grigorenko pans out at an NHL level. That gives the Sabres a highly skilled player that can score, something this team desperately needs. Depth in goal was a concern but the Sabres have a mix of highly touted prospects and those that came out of nowhere. Scouts say that goalies are the hardest to project so having quality competition in the net is good for the organization and they have that at both the NHL and AHL level. Plus, goaltending has been a strength of the Sabres as an organization since the days of Don Edwards and Desjardins. Nolan and Murray have said they want Rochester to have a good team and help players develop properly. With solid AHL performers like Phil Varone, Luke Adam, and Drew Bagnall already around, keeping players like Mike Zigomanis and Jamie Tardif to work with the Armia’s, McCabe’s, and Grigo’s can keep the farm team winning and help those young guys develop. And I’m not even mentioning the prospects in junior and college (that’s an after the draft summer time post).
With a billionaire owner and rising ticket prices why are the Sabres just spending to the floor? Well fans may have to suffer, er, struggle to get excited for next year but going out and getting a top free agent like Paul Stastny or Ryan Callahan is not going to get us the cup. It might get us 7th or 8th place at best. Having solid veterans (Ott, Hank) and younger vets (Stafford, Stewart) mixed with young promising players should make the 2014-2015 edition of the team more competitive but not in the Buffalo Billsy way of not being good enough to make the playoffs but still not drafting high enough to get players who will help you win the cup. Think of the Leafs this year and which team you would rather have. For now we can enjoy watching Sam Bennett (or Reinhart but hopefully Bennett) and Zemgus and Rasmus grow and whoever else gets called up when the injuries hit knowing that with another bottom finish in the standing but top finish in the draft we are adding elite talent at a fast pace. With some savy trades and signings (Patrick Kane please if Chicago is on crack and doesn't sign him) we will compete for the playoffs in as little as two years from now and the cup in as little as three.