Now that the NHL Draft, free agency, and prospect camps are all but over, the hockey world has until August to finish up their honey-do lists before the entire league will take a month of vacation in order to freshen up for training camp and the start of the new season. As for the Buffalo Sabres and their new GM Jason Botterill, there are still a few key things that have to get done before they can take a break, on both the player and coaching sides.
Sign their RFAs
There are four restricted free agents (according to capfriendly.com) that still need to be signed by Jason Botterill - Robin Lehner, Zemgus Girgensons, Nathan Beaulieu, and Evan Rodrigues. Lehner is scheduled to head to arbitration on July 27, and the other three, based on last year’s performances, shouldn’t be too tough for Botterill and company to figure out.
Lehner’s deal, however, will be the most interesting one to keep an eye on. As anyone who’s visited this board knows, there are enough arguments to made on both sides of the Lehner coin to stretch this hearing into 2019. Good luck, Mr. Arbiter - feel free to swing by the comments section here if you need any help.
Extend Jack Eichel (sorry, Sam)
We talked about this earlier in the week, but the Eichel contract extension remains one of the most important items on GMBOT’s to-do list, and it should get done before we head into training camp. As for Reinhart, Botterill’s statement about not working on his extension yet should serve to put the young forward on notice. You want the big bucks next year? Work hard this summer, then go out and earn it.
Figure out the basic lineup structure
Where will Sam Reinhart play, third line center or on Eichel’s wing? How will the defense shake out, and why will it mean that Josh Gorges sits in the press box? Who will be the last guy in the top-six, Pominville, Pouliot, Girgensons, or a wild card?
Note that this doesn’t really take into account the question of who, if anyone, will be ready to make the jump from Rochester to Buffalo (except maybe the last question) and that’s for two reasons. First, Botterill and Amerks GM Randy Sexton have both preached patience and development, which would indicate that they would be more likely than their predecessors to leave a player like Alex Nylander or Justin Bailey in Rochester for some more seasoning. Second, much of this question will be answered by the players themselves with their offseason workouts, strength additions, and skill development all helping to determine where they land at the close of training camp.
Fill out any remaining lineup holes and coaching vacancies
The free agent frenzy is long gone, but there are still some players on the open market that could be used, at the right price, to fill holes at either the AHL or NHL level. Brian Gionta has said that a return to the Sabres “doesn’t look likely right now”, but our old friend Thomas Vanek is still out there. Rumors about a Matt Duchene trade continue to swirl, and there’s always the possibility of a surprise over the next few weeks, until the hockey world takes the month of August off, that is.
On the coaching side, Phil Housley still needs to hire one more assistant coach to head up the defense in order to complete his staff. Goalie coach Andrew Allen was retained from Bylsma’s crew, while Davis Payne, formerly of the St. Louis Blues, was hired as an assistant last week. Unfortunately, Ted Nolan is no longer available, having signed on yesterday to be the coach for the Polish national team.
Give us your thoughts on the Sabres summer to-do list, or let us know if we forgot anything in the comments.