One of the Buffalo Sabres needs heading into the offseason is to add to their forward depth in the top six of the lineup. That need grows larger if they’re unable to keep Jeff Skinner from hitting the open market and signing with a new team.
Jason Botterill could explore the trade market to help find a scoring winger for his team, but the unrestricted free agent landscape offers him a few options as well. One such option is former Detroit Red Wings and current San Jose Sharks forward Gustav Nyquist.
The Swedish forward has had a lot of success in the league with the Red Wings and has done well in his short time with the Sharks. He’s scored 20 goals three times in his career and has scored at least 40 points in each of the last six years. This past season he scored 22 goals and 60 points combined with both clubs. The former fourth-round pick has good vision, playmaking ability, and speed that allows him to be a threat to opposing defenses.
Nyquist has done well generating offense throughout his career. He ranks 28th in the NHL in expected goals for per 60 (0.253) at even strength from 2016 to 2019 according to Evolving Hockey. This past season alone he ranked 35th among all forwards.
Last season the 29-year-old led the Red Wings in on-ice xG differential, was fourth on the team in the 2016-17, and was fifth in the 2015-16 season according to Moneypuck. His on-ice impacts offensively are exactly what the Sabres are looking for and especially at right-wing. His isolated impact chart below from Micah McCurdy paint the picture of a strong offensive player that also isn’t a liability in his own end of the ice.
The Sabres were again in the bottom portion of the league (21st) in even strength scoring. While it was an improvement over the previous season, it’s still not good enough to give them a chance to win on a consistent basis. Nyquist would be the right player to help remedy that issue.
He ranked 42nd in the league in even strength scoring this season and 36th in even-strength goals last season according to Evolving Hockey. For his career, 74 percent of his goals and 76 percent of his points have come at even strength. If Skinner is back and the type of even strength scoring the Sabres get from Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart; with the addition of Nyquist that weakness could become a strength.
Here’s the catch with Nyquist; he’ll start next season at the age of 30. Meaning he probably doesn’t have a lot of time playing at his top level. Ideally, if the Sabres were interested in him, they’d probably want a deal with a term of four years and at the maximum five years. Evolving Hockey’s new and improved roster projections has Nyquist worth a six-year contract with a $5.753 million annual average value.
If the Sabres can get him with a cap hit in the $5.75 million range, it’s not the type of money that should deter them from giving that fifth year in term if that’s what it takes to get a deal done. As I said, going beyond five years starts to get into the territory of half of the deal being tough to swallow for a player past his prime.
Nyquist fills a need positionally, will add offense, add speed, and perhaps most importantly add even strength production. We’ll see if he’s on the Sabres radar come July.