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Which RFAs Could Buffalo Target?

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How does this dynamite class of restricted free agents affect the Buffalo Sabres plans?

NHL: Washington Capitals at New York Islanders Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

The National Hockey League has quickly turned the page from the Stanley Cup Final to the offseason, as they normally do.

While St. Louis celebrates their Blues first ever Stanley Cup, teams are in final preparations for the Entry Level Draft in Vancouver.

Beginning on Friday, the Entry Level Draft will provide a quick look into the seemingly bright future of the NHL.

Shortly after the Draft completes, many will be staring free agency directly in the face.

For many teams, free agency has become a very treacherous time - big contracts for players who might not necessarily fulfill the terms of said deal.

Many fans plead for their respective team to look toward restricted free agency as a potential fix for that issue.

With the salary cap increase being reportedly smaller than expected, collars begin to tighten for general managers that have been taking on salary cap water.

Despite multiple general managers speaking to the lack of movement in the restricted free agent market in the past, it seems like this year might just be the year that breaks the dam.

Before jumping into the restricted free agent pool, a quick reminder as to how the process works:

If a player is offered:

- $0 to $1,395,053: no draft pick compensation

- $1,395,054 to $2,113,716: cost is a 3rd round pick

- $2,113,717 to $4,227,437: cost is a 2nd round pick

- $4,227,438 to $6,341,152: cost is a 1st and 3rd round pick

- $6,341,153 to $8,454,871: cost is a 1st, 2nd and 3rd round pick

- $8,454,872 to $10,568,589: cost is two 1st, a 2nd and a 3rd round pick

- $10,568,590+: cost is four 1st round picks

The team that signs the player to an offer sheet must own their own pick to be eligible for that level of compensation.

A team can also re-acquire their own pick to line themselves up for an offer sheet.

When it comes to the Buffalo Sabres, their options are a little limited.

Buffalo currently owns their own 1st, 3rd, 6th and 7th round picks in this year’s draft.

What happened to their other picks? Glad you asked:

- Buffalo’s 2019 2nd round pick: dealt away for Jeff Skinner from Carolina on 8/2/18

- Buffalo’s 2019 4th round pick: in deal for Matt Hunwick / Conor Sheary on 6/27/18

- Buffalo’s 2019 5th round pick: in deal for Scott Wilson from DET on 12/4/17

With the remaining draft picks, Buffalo can offer the following:

- $0 to $1,395,053: no draft pick compensation

- $2,113,717 to $4,227,437: cost is a 2nd round pick

- $10,568,590+: cost is four 1st round picks

Now, we can dive into the list of available restricted free agents – categorized for simplicity:

Pipedreams: Mitch Marner (TOR), Brayden Point (TB), Mikko Rantanen (COL), Sebastian Aho (CAR), Patrik Laine (WPG), Brock Boeser (VAN)

These players are quite self-explanatory but why not strap ourselves in for a little ride. All of the aforementioned players are either superstars or budding superstars.

Players like this normally do not hit the open market, which makes the restricted free agent process a little more attractive.

Toronto might be a target due to their tight salary cap situation but can someone expect to see Mitch Marner get $10,568,591 million or more per season from a team willing to part with four first round draft picks?

Quite plausible but hard to see that coming from the Buffalo Sabres.

The same goes for all of the other aforementioned names.

Each one of these players would slide right into a very nice role for the Sabres but it is very difficult to imagine any of this coming to fruition.

Not enough fire power: William Karlsson (VGK), Kevin Fiala (MIN), Jacob Trouba (NYR)

These three players are talents in their own right, which is why they find themselves on this list.

William Karlsson, a one-time 40 goal scorer, suffered through some much expected regression last season. One might find it hard to believe but shooting 23.4% over an entire 82-game season is not sustainable into the next season.

Karlsson is coming off of a one-year deal worth $5,250,000 – which makes it hard to believe he would settle for less.

Despite his 64 goals in the last two seasons, Karlsson also does not find himself looking to make north of the $10,568,591 that Buffalo would be able to offer.

Kevin Fiala would be an upgrade over what Buffalo currently has in the bottom six.

A talented player who struggled at even-strength last season, split between the Nashville Predators and Minnesota Wild, has still shown positive even-strength capabilities from 2016-2019.

Evan Rodrigues would be a better option to re-sign, if the cost of Fiala gets too high. Then again, Fiala would be an upgrade over a player like Scott Wilson.

The last name on the list is the freshly traded Jacob Trouba.

Trouba has been a hot name on the rumor mill for what feels like forever now.

With the New York Rangers ponying up the assets to acquire Trouba, seems hard pressed to believe that the Rangers will let him walk / not match any potential offer sheets.

Sweet spot: Andreas Johnsson (TOR), Kasperi Kapanen (TOR), Jakub Vrana (WSH)

We land softly in the sweet spot of available restricted free agents that Buffalo could potentially find themselves interested in.

Andreas Johnsson and Kasperi Kapanen are two popular names that have been tossed around for a multitude of reasons.

Toronto currently has a projected cap space of $8,790,301, with a handful of players to re-sign.

Johnsson and Kapanen have been solid even-strength players and have been able to blossom around the Maple Leafs’ multitude of talent.

Johnsson comes off of a season where he tallied 43 points (20 goals, 23 assists). As for Kapanen, a 44 point campaign (20 goals, 24 assists) should also give him a little more financial stability.

Another restricted free agent that has developed into a nice player is Jakub Vrana.

In 82 games last season, Vrana put up 47 points (24 goals, 23 assists). This comes off the heels of a 73 game performance which included 27 points (13 goals, 14 assists).

As shown above, Vrana has had success at even-strength – which continues to be a struggle for the Sabres.

If Buffalo feels Vrana can fit in and continue to grow, he could be a target coming soon.

Despite all the hype around the restricted free agent market, we always find a way to bring ourselves back down to Earth.

When speaking to Sportsnet recently, Calgary Flames general manager Brad Treliving said it best, “You can’t go out and buy all sorts of cars before you know what the mortgage payment is. People have got to take care of that piece. Until you have some certainty there it’s hard to chase a bunch of things.”

It feels like truer words have never been spoken on the topic, when it comes to chasing the dream of signing a restricted free agent.