I've been wanting to make one of these for awhile now and the ideal version of the 2018-2019 and beyond Sabres keeps changing every time new information is announced (exit interviews, 1st overall pick). Now that we're in a pretty dead time for hockey (except for that whole Stanley Cup thing) I figured it would be a good time to jot down what my idealized version of the Sabres off-season would look like. While working on this exercise, I built this team with two assumptions in mind:
- Less is More - I don't think there is anything that the Sabres can do this off-season that is going to make them immediate Stanley Cup contenders. I think there are small, smart moves that can turn them into a more competitive team, maybe even playoff contenders, and can put them in a great position to succeed in the coming years. However, I think there are a lot of big moves that could make the Sabres immediately better this year that will handcuff them for years to come, which is not what this team needs at the moment. Therefore, no long contracts to players that are closer to 30 and no contracts over $6 mil per year which means no Tavares, Karlsson, or Carlson.
- Dahlin Turns the Rebuild - Tim Murray made a lot of mistakes but I think one of his biggest was trying to turn the team from rebuilding to contender too quickly. The Sabres were pretty unlucky with Murray but this draft lottery changed that luck. Again, this doesn't mean that the Sabres should go out and sign aging veterans for an immediate upgrade, but I think Dahlin shifts the timeline enough where the Sabres should be looking for younger players that can play now and grow with the team instead of draft picks that may be a few years away from contributing
(Note: As I said earlier I think less is more so if none of these happened I would be totally fine. However, this is GM For a Day and it's supposed to be entertaining so these are the couple of moves that I would make that I think would put the Sabres in a good position moving forward.)
Why would the Sabres do this?
Ryan O'Reilly is undoubtedly a great 2 way Center and arguably one of the most underrated players in the league. However, his teams have rarely been successful and another poor season combined with a bad locker room clean out have left his status, and his love for the game, uncertain. The $7.5 mil cap hit is an awful big one to carry for someone who does not project to be the Sabres' 2C of the future and a change of scenery might be the best thing for all parties. The same goes for Robin Lehner, a goalie who alternates between spectacular and horrendous which seems to average out to just good enough. I'm still in the camp that believes that Lehner is not a bad goalie but I think a change of scenery is necessary. The Sabres have a large contingent of bottom pairing D and even though Beaulieu showed promise at times, it's probably better to just move on.
On the flip side, the Sabres receive two young players with controllable contracts in Teravainen and Hanifin. Teravainen is coming off a 64 point season (23+41) and can immediately slot in as a top line wing and running mate for Eichel. He also comes at a cap hit of $2.86 mil and is an RFA next year. On the other side is Hanifin, a young left shot D whose goals (10) last year would've led the Sabres. Hanifin is an RFA this year and will need a new contract after being traded to the Sabres. With the additon of Hanifin, and Dahlin, the Sabres D could go from one of the worst in the league to one of the better young units in the league. Both Teravainen and Hanifin are extremely talented players that can help now and continue to grow with the team.
Why would Carolina do this?
Losing both Teravainen and Hanifin would hurt for the Hurricanes, but they have the pieces in place to recovery from these departures quickly. The Carolina D is pretty stacked with Pesce, Slavin, and Faulk all signed to bigger contracts. In addition to that, Carolina has former 1st round picks Jake Bean and Haydn Fleury as prospects on the left side so they have more than enough depth to recover from the departure of Hanifin. The Hurricanes also have the 2nd overall pick in the draft which means that they will most likely take Andrei Svechnikov who could immediately slot in as Teravainen's replacement without missing a beat while also making the team younger, cheaper, and better positioned for the future.
While the having Hanifin and Teravainen would be big losses for Carolina, they would be upgrading positions that have been constant weak spots for them. The Hurricanes have been searching for a true two way center for quite a while and adding O'Reilly to a very talented group of wingers (Skinner, Aho, Williams, Svech) could make this a pretty stacked top 9. Additionally, the Hurricanes had arguably the worst goaltending in the league last year and even with average goaltending could have been a playoff team. Adding Lehner to the mix with Darling could give them just enough talent between the pipes to turn this team into a contender. Beaulieu is kind of a throw in but can be a nice stopgap option for Carolina until Bean is ready to take over full time action, and his manageable $2.4 mil cap hit and 1 year remaining give them flexibility.
The Other One
Sabres Send: 2019 2nd Round Pick, 2019 3rd Round Pick to Minnesota
Sabres Receive: Charlie Coyle
This might be an overpay (or an underpay, I'm not really sure) but I think it makes sense for both sides. The Sabres have a plethora of 2019 picks that they need to turn into current production and they have a big hole at 2C now that O'Reilly is gone and Mittelstadt isn't ready. On the flip side, Minnesota has a new GM and with a disappointing season it's rumored that Coyle is on the trading block. Minnesota needs cap space in order to re-sign Zucker and Dumba and they may want to try to add another piece to try and make one more run. They also get to hedge their bets and if this season goes poorly they have 2019 draft picks in case a rebuild is on the horizon. Again, not sure if this is correct in terms of value but I think it gets both teams what they want.
Sabres Send: Johan Larsson to Anywhere
Sabres Receive: Anything
Another person who needs a change of scenery. I think Larsson could be valuable in the right place but that isn't going to be Buffalo. I'll take any meager draft pick for Larsson and in a worst case scenario, a buyout is possible.
Round 1, Pick 1 - Rasmus Dahlin
Round 2, Pick 32 - Benoit-Oliver Groulx, C/LW
I'm not a scout and I don't pretend to be, I'll let some of the wiser members of the board tell me that this isn't a good pick. But I've been compiling various prospect rankings to put together a composite rankings and Benoit-Oliver Groulx comes in at #32. There's a good chance that the Sabres go D here as there are a lot of good defensemen in this area (Rasmus Sandin, Jet Woo, K'Andre Miller, etc.) but it seems like most rankings have Groulx as a very solid, safe pick in this spot.
Rest of the Draft - Probably one more Rasmus, a guy no one's heard of, and a college prospect that we all worry is going to get too good and test free agency.
Sam Reinhart - 2 years, $3.25 mil per year
Reinhart has shown flashes of greatness but has also failed to put together for a full season so far. Although a great 2nd half of the season salvaged last year, it was also the first time that he hit the 50 point mark. I'm not opposed to signing him to a longer, cheaper contract in order to get some value but I also worry about committing long term to a player that has yet to put it all together. This bridge deal is right in line with what a player like Jonathan Huberdeau of the Florida Panthers earned, someone who put together similar averages over his first 3 years and was drafted in a similar spot and eats up RFA years while still keeping him as an RFA at the end of the contract.
Noah Hanifin - 6 years, $5.3 mil per year
Not committing to Reinhart but committing to Hanifin seems contradictory, but young defensemen are a more valuable commodity so I think it's important to lock them up while you have the chance. Hanifin's 3 year averages and draft position are very similar to Seth Jones and Morgan Reilly so the contract reflects pretty similarly on those deals.
Scott Wilson - 2 years, $1.2 mil per year
A very solid bottom 6 player that can play throughout the lineup but isn't a super important piece moving forward and I think this contract reflects that.
Zach Redmond - 2 years, $750K per year
An important part of the Amerks last year and a great veteran presence, I think he's an extremely important re-signing for the entire organization. He's a UFA an hopefully a pay increase will entice him to stay instead of looking for somewhere that gives him a better chance to play in the NHL
Seth Griffith - 1 year, $650K per year
Another important UFA for the Amerks. A player that's not good enough for the NHL but is a superstar player in the AHL, hopefully he comes back for another year and a Calder Cup run with the Amerks.
Colin Blackwell - 2 years, 650K per year
Put up great numbers with the Amerks. Probably won't make the Sabres but he's earned an NHL contract
There's a pretty solid group of players that have good potential but have yet to make a great NHL impact. Some of these guys may get multi-year deals but none of them should be much more than their qualifying offer level deals. This group includes C.J. Smith, Danny O'Regan, Sean Malone, Hudson Fasching, Nic Baptiste, and Justin Bailey.
Kari Lehtonen - 2 years, $4 mil per year
This is probably an overpay and Lehtonen is definitely not the goalie that he used to be. But in a reduced role in Dallas he put up good numbers and giving him a timeshare with Ullmark could help ease Ullmark into a full time NHL role. He's a veteran presence with playoff experience and could inject that same kind of attitude into the locker room.
Patrick Maroon - 3 years, $4 mil per year
A veteran who doesn't seem to get the love that he deserves, he's a consistent scorer with good possession numbers and has plenty of playoff experience. Another instance of an overpay, but I'd rather take the cap hit now and keep the years shorter when the younger core players are going to need new contracts. It's going to be difficult to pry him away from New Jersey but hopefully this price tag will be enough to do just that.
Harri Sateri - 2 years, $750K per year
With Ullmark in the NHL, the Amerks are going to need a solid goaltender. Sateri put up great numbers in the AHL and even put up pretty good numbers in the NHL in a short stint. He could play a big role for the Amerks and could even force his way into the NHL if Lehtonen starts to show his age.
Opening Night Rosters
O'Regan - Crisculo - Griffith
Smith - Malone - Porter
Nylander - Blackwell - Fasching
Oloffson - Asplund - Pu
Pilut - Redmond
Guhle - Borgen
Tennyson - Fedun
Teravainen - Eichel - Pominville
Maroon - Coyle - Reinhart
Rodrigues - Mittelstadt - Okposo
Wilson - Girgs - Baptiste
Hanifin - Ristolainen
Scandella - Dahlin
McCabe - Bogosian
I tried to be as thorough as possible but it was probably pretty tedious to read so thank you for your time. Also thanks to Cap Friendly for the figures and for being a tab on my computer for the past, like, 2 years. I think this 2018-2019 version of the Sabres could be a lot of fun to watch. I don't think this is a division contender yet, but I also don't think a playoff berth would be unrealistic. However, I do think this puts them in a great position moving forward and I think the young core that the Sabres have could be a really strong group for the next 5+ years. Thanks for reading and feel free to tell me how much you love or hate this in the comments.