In this version, I’ll go on the assumption of the more likely scenario that the Sabres lose the lottery and pick second overall. Prior to writing this, I did a quick lottery simulation and that’s where the Sabres fell. If you’re curious the Chicago Blackhawks won the lottery in that simulation. Rich get richer.
If the Sabres pick second or third it won’t change much. The likely selections would be Barrie Colts forward Andrei Svechnikov or Halifax Mooseheads winger Filip Zadina. They would be interchangeable in this scenario.
If they were to drop to fourth then things could change slightly as players like Oliver Wahlstrom, Adam Boqvist and Evan Bouchard come into the picture. None of which are likely to step into the NHL next season.
For the purposes of this exercise, we’ll say the Sabres pick second or third overall and draft one of the wingers.
Let’s get to it.
We’ll start the minor trade of the three that I made. Johan Larsson was sent to the Dallas Stars for a 2019 fourth-round pick. The Stars really have no relevance, I just picked them because. Long story short here I have Larsson being traded somewhere for a late-round pick.
The next move spices things up a little. I targeted a prospect that may have worn out his welcome with his current franchise. That player is current New York Islanders winger Josh Ho-Sang. After some comments near the end of the season about his displeasure with the organization, as well as his past missteps with the franchise, I anticipate he’ll be on the block this summer.
To acquire the speedy winger, the Sabres sent Zach Bogosian, Justin Bailey, and a 2019 third-round pick to the Islanders. As in my previous version, the Sabres retain 50 percent of Bogosian’s salary for the next two years.
Ho-Sang is another prospect on the wing that Jason Botterill can add to his cupboard. The former first-round pick also has the potential to step right into the NHL next season. He comes with some baggage, but also has the talent to be an impact player.
Now, we get to the big move of the offseason. In my previous version, I didn’t touch the core of the roster. That won’t be the case this time around.
A shakeup to the foundation of the roster came at the expense of Ryan O’Reilly. He was sent to the Carolina Hurricanes along with Zemgus Girgensons and Robin Lehner in exchange for defenseman Noah Hanifin, forwards Derek Ryan, Marcus Kruger, and a 2019 third round pick.
A lot is going on here so let me break it down.
O’Reilly becomes the top six center the Hurricanes need and a big name to present to their fans. Hanifin fills a big need on the blue line for the Sabres. Lehner will compete with Scott Darling in goal, since Cam Ward is heading to free agency.
Marcus Kruger was part of the deal as a salary dump for the Hurricanes since they’ll be taking on all of O’Reilly’s remaining contract. For their courtesy, the Sabres pick up a draft pick in the trade.
After the trade is completed Kruger will be bought out and become a free agent. The buyout will result in a $1.55 million cap hit next season and $766 thousand cap hit in 2019-20.
Derek Ryan is the interesting piece in this deal. He’s scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, so the Sabres are acquiring his rights to work out a new contract. Ryan is a 31-year-old center that can slot in as the third line pivot man for the next few years.
He had a career year last season with 15 goals and 38 points in 80 games for the Hurricanes. Ryan also had the best Corsi rating on Carolina among players who played at least 11 games with 57.1 percent Corsi at even strength. Also, was tied for a team-best even strength relative Corsi at 3.2 percent.
Ryan also fills an area vacated by the loss of O’Reilly in the face-off dot. He ranked 10 in the league among centers who played at least 30 games with a 56.5 face-off winning percentage.
So, to recap here were the trades:
Stars receive: (F) Johan Larsson
Sabres receive: 2019 fourth round pick
Islanders receive: 2019 third round pick, (F) Justin Bailey and (D) Zach Bogosian
Sabres receive: (F) Josh Ho-Sang
Hurricanes receive: (F) Ryan O’Reilly, (F) Zemgus Girgensons and (G) Robin Lehner
Sabres receive: (D) Noah Hanifin, (F) Derek Ryan, (F) Marcus Kruger and 2019 third round pick
Free Agent Signings
All of the other restricted free agents were signed except Victor Antipin who I didn’t qualify allowing him to become a free agent. That list includes Sean Malone, Nick Baptiste, Hudson Fasching, Scott Wilson, CJ Smith, Danny O’Regan, Sam Reinhart and now Hanifin
Smith and Wilson were given two-year $2 million contracts. The others were all given one or two-year deals under $1 million per season.
Hanifin was handed a similar contract to what Rasmus Ristolainen received. A five-year contract worth $27.5 million ($5.5 million per season).
With the big-ticket free agent Sam Reinhart I decided to go the bridge route. Awarding Reinhart’s strong second half of the season with a three-year $13.5 million contract, same as the previous version
I also re-signed Casey Nelson to a two-year $3 million contract ($1.5 million per season). Newly acquired Ryan was given a two-year $5 million contract ($2.5 million per season).
On the next few contracts, we jump into the unrestricted free agency pool. I stood pat with signing former Leafs, Kings and Avalanche goaltender Jonathan Bernier. He was given a two-year $4 million contract ($2 million per season) to split the load or back up Ullmark.
Now, we get to one of the big-ticket moves of the offseason. In my last projection, I had the Sabres pulling in big fish John Carlson. This time I went another direction and have them signing winger James van Riemsdyk to a five-year $32.5 million contract ($6.5 million per season).
The 28-year-old left winger scored 36 goals this season and could be a nice finisher to add on the wing with either Jack Eichel or Casey Mittelstadt.
Like Carlson, to jump into the big free agent market it’s going to cost you. If the Sabres can get three years of a 30 goal scorer out of van Riemsdyk, it’ll be worth it.
So, that’s it. Now you’ve seen two different ways I’d build the roster over the summer. After the draft order is finalized in the final weekend of April and some rumors start to swirl, I’ll post another projection prior to the draft.
Here’s a full recap of the lineup:
Svechnikov/Zadina - Eichel - Reinhart
van Riemsdyk - Mittelstadt - Ho-Sang
CJ Smith - Derek Ryan - Kyle Okposo
Rodrigues - Malone - Wilson
Hanifin - Ristolainen
Scandella - McCabe
Nelson - Guhle
Ullmark - Bernier