After looking at a player that could improve the Buffalo Sabres bottom six last week in Jordan Weal; we’re going to focus on a bottom six improvement again this week. This time I’m going to dive into the restricted free agent side of the free agency pool. Current Winnipeg Jets’ forward Andrew Copp is the target this week.
The 24-year-old will be a restricted free agent this summer for the Jets and is on a list of players they need to pay this summer or the following. Big name forwards Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor are also restricted free agents this summer and will command a significant salary boost. Defenseman Jacob Trouba is another restricted free agent for them in July and Josh Morrissey will be up for a new deal after next season.
The Jets are looking at about $27 million in cap space this summer with an $83 million cap according to Cap Friendly. With the big-name restricted free agents due for paydays, that likely means they’ll let Tyler Myers, Kevin Hayes, and Brandon Tanev (we’ll talk about him eventually) walk as unrestricted free agents.
You always hear the suggestions to target the big names with potential offer sheets. Players like Mitch Marner, Sebastian Aho, Brayden Point, and Connor are a few common names you’ve probably heard for this summer.
On one hand, I’m one of the people that say I’ll believe an offer sheet will happen when I see it take place. The last offer sheet in the NHL was handed to Ryan O’Reilly in 2013 by the Calgary Flames. However, there has been chatter this season that general managers are serious about using them again this summer.
So, for the sake of this article, we’ll pretend that it’s possible. While the Sabres can offer sheet big-ticket free agents this summer, they’ll have to pay up four first-round picks if they do so. They don’t have the draft capital in 2020 to offer a contract in the tier below it (two first round picks, second, and third round pick). The Carolina Hurricanes have the Sabres 2020 third-round pick from the Jeff Skinner trade. I’m proposing if the Sabres want to go the offer sheet route to target a lower-tier free agent.
That’s where Copp comes into the picture.
The Sabres could offer sheet Copp at the second-round pick level which was a salary annual average value between $2,029,660 to $4,059,322 million last summer. According to Evolving Hockey’s free agent contract projection model, they have Copp worth a two-year, $4.2 million contract ($2.1 million AAV).
With the Jets being in a tough cap situation the Sabres could try to poach Copp by offering him a five-year, $18.75 million ($3.75 million AAV) contract, for example. They could even go up to a $4 million cap hit if they really want the player. Also, with the Pegula’s deep pockets the Sabres have the ability to front-load the contract with money and further deter the Jets from matching.
Paying a bottom six player that kind of cap hit is probably not what the Jets have in mind with their current cap situation. They could see the second-round pick as reasonable compensation for Copp and use the money elsewhere.
So far in the playoffs, we’ve seen the importance of having a deep team and how crucial the bottom six of the lineup is. The Jets had arguably the best fourth line in the playoffs with Tanev, Lowry, and Copp. That trio helped keep them in the series with the Blues. The Carolina Hurricanes have seen depth scoring from a player like Warren Foegele and the same for the Blue Jackets with Alexandre Texier.
It’s like a broken record the last few years but the Sabres need help badly in the bottom of their forward lineup. Roster construction is often overlooked in favor of desiring the big guns, which, the Sabres do need to add as well.
Copp can be the beginning of creating that solid foundation in the bottom of the lineup. This season he scored 11 goals and 25 points in 69 games. That’s 13 goals and 30 points per 82 game pace for the former fourth-round pick. The 82 game pace would have ranked him sixth on the Sabres this season in goals and eighth in total points. Even more impressive for Copp is 24 of his 25 points this season came at even strength. Another area the Sabres could use improvement.
He plays a fast and heavy game in the bottom of the lineup. Copp is hard to play against and has the offensive talent to generate offense as a third or fourth line player.
He also took 358 face offs last season for the Jets and won 55 percent of those draws. The Sabres missed a player with that type of face off ability last season. That’s one of the reasons we saw Phil Housley overuse Vladimir Sobotka defensively with his ability to at the very least be a 50/50 face off player.
Looking at Copp’s underlying numbers you get an even better picture of how impactful he is playing his role. He was second on the entire Jets roster in expected goals per 60 at 5 on 5 (0.77) and was tied for third in on-ice xG percentage (51.2%) on the Jets according to Moneypuck.
His isolated impact chart below from Micah McCurdy also gives you a glimpse into how he’s contributed at both ends of the ice throughout his career.
When you compare him against the players that occupied the Sabres bottom six last season, the game impact improvement is clear. The chart below using data from Evolving Hockey’s RAPM data in terms of xG metrics is the first visual representation of improvement. For clarity, you want the orange bars on the left of the graph and the other two bars on the right of the graph. That would indicate positive impacts in those metrics.
Here’s a look at the impact in terms of possession at 5 on 5 using Corsi metrics.
I added Weal to this chart as well to drive home my final point. A potential fourth line of Evan Rodrigues, Weal, and Copp would be a dangerous trio. That’s the type of line that can play with speed, be responsible defensively, add depth scoring, and also control possession when they’re on the ice.
If the Sabres were able to land Copp it would look like a small roster move in the grand scheme of things but would go a long way constructing a complete roster. A lineup that has the potential to score and control the play regardless of which line is on the ice.