It’s no secret the Sabres defense needed work after last season. The Sabres were in the bottom third of the league in goals against average. Josh Gorges certainly lost a step, and Zach Bogosian didn’t return to his early form. Dmitry Kulikov was a mess, missing a large chunk of the season with injury and only turning heads in a bad way when he did.
Well, Jason Botterill has already revamped the unit before even hitting free agency. Out are Dmitry Kulikov and Cody Franson, who will officially be off the books tomorrow when they become free agents. Taylor Fedun and Justin Falk are likely out of the day-to-day lineup thanks to recent moves.
In place of those four are Marco Scandella, Nathan Beaulieu and Victor Antipin, and the Sabres didn’t have to give up any of their core players or prospects, nor did they have to sign a player like Kevin Shattenkirk to an enormously large contract. Both those factors are enormous toward the building of this team.
The Sabres have minimal cap room when you factor in Rasmus Ristolainen’s $5.4 million deal going on the books and Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart waiting in the wings for new deals next summer.
The Sabres have also been in a pickle when it comes to trading a player like Evander Kane since the team has had issues scoring as frequently as they have issues keeping the puck out of the net. If you trade Kane, who led the team with 28 goals last leason, for a top defenseman you could solve the defense issue while making the offensive issues worse.
Scandella, Beaulieu and Antipin might not be as flashy as some of the others discussed over the past year, but in these moves Botterill has upgraded without sacrificing the future.
Even the Scandella trade, the biggest name added to the group barring a blockbuster, is a rather conservative deal. No one thought he’d cost this little. There were discussions on this site about whether the Sabres should be willing to part with Sam Reinhart to get Scandella.
It’s early for Botterill, but in just the first few months of his GM career it appears he’s been able to fix the defense in a way Tim Murray could not.