The qualifying offers to restricted free agents are due today in the NHL. The Buffalo Sabres announced already that they will not be qualifying goaltender Robin Lehner. He’ll become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
If you need insight on how qualifying offers work, our friends at Cap Friendly break it down here.
If you count Lehner, in total the Sabres have 10 restricted free agents this summer. Most of the players are no-brainers to get qualified. Then there’s a group of players that are questionable and the final group is unlikely to receive an offer.
The Easy Ones
This first group of restricted free agents will be handed qualifying offers without a doubt. Sam Reinhart, Sean Malone, CJ Smith, Scott Wilson and Danny O’Regan make up this contingent.
Reinhart appears to be part of the Sabres core moving into the future. Malone and Smith could find themselves on the roster this season in a bottom-six role. While O’Regan and Wilson were acquired by Botterill last season and will get an opportunity to remain with the organization for the near future at the very least.
Both O’Regan and Wilson are arbitration eligible this year.
Yes, no, maybe so?
The next group of players is still likely to receive qualifying offers, but an argument could be made against it. I have Nick Baptiste and Justin Bailey in this group.
While both will probably receive offers, it wouldn’t be shocking if one or both of them were not retained. Neither are picks of the current management group and have had numerous opportunities to earn a roster spot on the Sabres.
If Botterill wanted to move on from Baptiste and Bailey it would make more sense to qualify them and then use one as an asset in a trade this summer.
Baptiste got the longer look with the big club last season playing 33 games, while Bailey only appeared in 12 games. Both have a lot of speed, which works in their favor as Jason Botterill is looking to add that very thing to the roster.
If both are back next season, it’ll likely be their last chance to grab a spot on the roster.
The final group is players that will likely not be qualified and will become unrestricted free agents. We already know that Lehner falls into this group. The other two that fall into this category are Victor Antipin and Jason Kasdorf.
Kasdorf was acquired as part of the Evander Kane trade with the Winnipeg Jets. He’s played one game with the Sabres and four in the AHL during his time with the Sabres organization. Most of his career has been in the ECHL.
His numbers were not great last season with a 3.04 goals against average and .903 save percentage for the Cincinnati Cyclones. Botterill could look elsewhere for organizational depth in goal.
Antipin has been an interesting story since the offseason begun. It was reported he was going to return to the KHL to his continue his career. Then a few weeks ago Botterill indicated the 25-year-old intended to continue playing in North America.
We all know that Antipin had a difficult time remaining in the lineup. Fair or not as the season ended it appeared his career with the Sabres was over.
With Botterill adding another young defenseman from Europe in Lawrence Pilut, it almost solidified Antipin would not return. Pilut players a similar style to the Russian defender, but is a few years younger. Pilut can also spend some time in the AHL to develop. Something that was not in the cards for Antipin.
If for some reason Antipin is qualified he could be dealt over the summer. If you count Antipin the Sabres would have 11 NHL defensemen currently on the roster.
We’ll find out today the actual decisions Botterill made with his restricted free agents as he continues to try to re-shape the team.