Now, that we’re in the second week of July, the news around the Buffalo Sabres and NHL will start to subside. Jason Botterill had a busy offseason over the last few weeks retooling his roster.
Looking at the team as it stands currently and a few years down the road it appears as though the Sabres general manager has a long-term vision of his hockey club.
Clearing the Cap
This offseason the Sabres took on some salary in both the Conor Sheary and Ryan O’Reilly trades. Cap space is becoming an important asset in today’s NHL. Teams with the space are able to take advantage of teams who are close to the ceiling.
We’ve seen numerous deals not only this offseason but the past few years where teams have capitalized on their cap availability in trades.
Botterill came over from the Pittsburgh Penguins as the “cap guy”, so it’s not surprising that he’s not only focused on the salary cap for this upcoming season but down the road in two or three years.
When you look at the situation for the Sabres a few years down the road on Cap Friendly, it jumps out to you how the deck is cleared for the 2020-21 season.
As of now, the Sabres only have six players under contract (Jack Eichel, Carter Hutton, Kyle Okposo, Rasmus Dahlin, Patrik Berglund, and Rasmus Ristolainen). Unless Sam Reinhart signs a two-year bridge deal, he’ll likely become the seventh player to join that list.
You could count Alex Nylander in the group still under contract as well if you’d like which would make it seven players if you don’t count Reinhart.
Two of the three “salary dumps” Botterill picked up in trades this summer come off the books in 2020 (Sobotka and Matt Hunwick). Also, Zach Bogosian, Marco Scandella, Scott Wilson, Tage Thompson, Casey Mittelstadt, Sheary and a handful of other prospects are up in the summer of 2020.
The 2020 offseason is significant for a variety of reasons. From a Sabres standpoint, they’ll need to hand out contracts to players who’ll probably play a prominent role over the next few years in Mittelstadt and Brendan Guhle. If Thompson plays well over the next two seasons, that’ll be another contract due that summer.
Mittelstadt has the potential to be the big money contract that year if he reaches his potential over the next few years. It also should be noted that Rasmus Dahlin will be due for his second contract the following summer in 2021, which will likely be another big money deal.
Botterill could also feel his team won’t be ready to make a huge leap until the 2020-21 season. The current core of the roster (Dahlin, Eichel, Mittelstadt, Reinhart, and Ristolainen) averages 20.6 years old right now.
While the Sabres could conceivably challenge for a playoff spot and even be a playoff team within the next two years. It’s plausible to not expect them to be big contenders for at least another two years.
Then when they’re ready to take the next step, the Sabres general manager has some cap flexibility to utilize in free agency and trade discussions.
Outside of the Sabres own affairs, some big league news could be looming in the summer of 2020. In September of 2019, the NHL and NHLPA have the opportunity to opt out of the current collective bargaining agreement.
We’ve seen players take bonus-laden contracts over the last few years in the event of a work stoppage and Botterill may be doing his own planning for it by having as few contracts on books as possible.
When the offseason rolls around in two years, clubs may not know for certain if there’s going to be a work stoppage in late June and early July where the bulk of the moves are made. However, they’ll likely have an idea the direction that the CBA talks would be headed if one of the two sides do decide to opt out.
The other interesting storyline that will start to become a bigger talking point is the potential expansion of a 32nd team. It seems like a slam dunk for the NHL to expand again into the Seattle market and the talk has been having that team begin in the 2020-21 season.
That means that summer we’ll have an expansion draft to deal with for the second time in four offseasons.
If the rules remain the same from the Vegas Golden Knights expansion draft (Gary Bettman has indicated that’s the plan), general managers will very likely do things differently this time around.
Botterill could be trying to get a jump start on positioning himself to be in a favorable spot with his roster. Doing so could allow him to drop another contract to give his team even more flexibility to improve.
We’ll chat about this more over the next few years, but a player like Berglund comes to mind with this. He’ll have two years remaining on a contract with a $3.85 million cap hit, that could be easy for Seattle to swallow and add some veteran depth to their roster.
It appears pretty clear that Botterill has some sort of plan he’s looking to set into action in a few years. It’ll be interesting to watch how he handles contracts not only this year but next year as well with the 2020 plan in mind.