The Buffalo Sabres continue the offseason looking to improve their roster. At the top of the list is addressing the lack of depth on the wing. In particular the left side.
There are some free agents on the market they could explore like James van Riemsdyk, David Perron, Michael Grabner and James Neal. All of those players are closer to the end of their prime and will likely require big long-term contracts.
Perron and Grabner may be the two you can get on short-term deals. However, neither of them are top-six wingers.
Against the Cap
Believe it or not, one of the best options for the Sabres to get help on the wing may be a team in their very own division. The Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Bolts re-signed JT Miller to a five-year $26.25 million ($5.250 million AAV) yesterday. He was picked up along with defenseman Ryan McDonagh from the New York Rangers at the trade deadline.
Currently, the Lightning have about $5.3 million in cap space after re-signing Miller. They also have a meeting with John Tavares in Los Angeles today, who will command at the very least $9-10 million AAV if he signs with them.
Steve Yzerman has been a wizard the last few years with keeping this team intact and making it work within the salary cap. While he may have something else up his sleeve to make this work, it seems he may be running out tricks.
Even if the Lightning don’t sign Tavares, they need to make a move to give themselves some cap relief. Braydon Coburn, Anton Stralman, Dan Girardi and McDonagh all come off the cap after this season. That free’s up to $15.9 million in cap space for Yzerman.
Here’s the bad news.
In the next two years, Nikita Kucherov, Yanni Gourde, Brayden Point, Jake Dotchin, Andrei Vasilevskiy and Mikhail Sergachev are up for new deals.
While the salary cap goes up every year, it may not go up enough to bail the Lightning out. Kucherov is the big contract that Yzerman has to deal with. His new contract alone should come in around $10 million a year for a 26-year-old winger with an 85 and 100 point seasons the last two years.
Then when you throw the rest of the up and coming players in the mix you start to see where this becomes a problem.
If the Lightning add Tavares, then they have a two-year window and it’ll be time to break up the band. I can’t see a way it works with the salary cap long term.
Let’s Make a Deal
So, how do the Sabres come into this, you may be asking yourself?
One of the smart strategies for finding ways to improve your hockey club is to locate the teams that are in cap trouble and benefit from it.
The Lightning has a few players that could be on the block to clear cap space that could be of interest to the Sabres. The two players I would target are Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson.
Johnson had 21 goals and 50 points in 81 games last season. He has six years remaining on his contract with a $5 million AAV. The 27-year-old could be a good replacement for Ryan O’Reilly if the Sabres move him in a different trade.
The player that should be at the top of the list for the Sabres is left-winger Palat. He had 11 goals and 35 points in an injury-shortened 56 game regular season. When the playoffs rolled around Palat scored six goals and 12 points in 17 games during a long Lightning playoff run.
For his career, he averages 20 goals and 57 points per 82 games.
The 27-year-old is a physical player that can play in all situations. He’s a quick, skilled winger, which the Sabres are dying to add to their roster.
Palat has four-years remaining on his contract with a $5.3 million AAV.
Now, while Johnson and Palat would be the primary targets. There’s a catch to this potential trade.
The Lightning will likely request that any team, not just the Sabres, take on the contract of Ryan Callahan in a trade.
The 33-year-old forward has two years left on his contract with a $5.8 million AAV. He hasn’t scored over 10 goals since the 2014-15 season and is no longer the impact player he was when he first signed in Tampa Bay.
The Rochester native could provide some leadership and depth to the roster in the bottom six.
Taking on a big contract is never ideal, but doing so will make acquiring impact players like Johnson and Palat cheaper since they’re taking on the majority of the salary in the trade.
We don’t see teams within the same division get together on trades often, but in this scenario, we have two general managers who are not opposed to it. Yzerman executed a big trade with the Montreal Canadiens last season in the Jonathan Drouin deal. While Botterill has spent time talking with the Canadiens about O’Reilly this offseason.
We’ll see how things go down in Tampa Bay over the next few weeks, but the Sabres would be wise to contact the Lightning to determine which players may be on the trading block.