The Buffalo Sabres’ offseason is well underway. With the NHL Scouting Combine in the books, the Stanley Cup Final underway between Boston and St. Louis, and the NHL Draft coming up soon, there’s still plenty to be done.
Obviously, for many Buffalo Sabres fans, the priority for the team is (or should be) re-signing Jeff Skinner. Reports indicate that the two sides are close, and it appears that a deal could be announced any time now. But what about once that’s done? The 2019-2020 NHL season is still months away, and the Sabres have other priorities that need to be taken care of this offseason, too.
With that said, here are five things the Sabres organization needs to focus on this offseason, aside from re-signing Skinner.
1. Decide on the future of Rasmus Ristolainen.
With a lot of talk, there’s a chance that we could see the Sabres trade Rasmus Ristolainen this offseason. The 24-year-old has three years left on his current contract, but if the price is right, it’s not out of the question that he gets moved this summer.
On a related note...
2. Figure out what the blueline looks like next season.
There’s potential to be a lot of moving parts on the Sabres’ blueline this summer. Aside from the potential of a Ristolainen trade, Zach Bogosian and Marco Scandella will both be hitting unrestricted free agency. Matt Hunwick and Casey Nelson also face the same fate, while Brandon Montour will be an RFA.
Jason Botterill and co. need to decide what their blueline will look like heading into the fall, and make choices - signings, trades, etc. - based on that.
3. Sign Linus Ullmark.
With Carter Hutton seemingly returning for another season (two years left on his contract), the Sabres need to lock up Linus Ullmark, who will be an RFA, or else find another goaltender to compete with Hutton for the starting spot.
The Sabres are thin at NHL-ready goaltending prospects, and at this point, it’d be surprising (in my opinion) if they didn’t re-sign Ullmark.
4. Decide on AHL goaltenders.
Both Adam Wilcox and Scott Wedgewood are set to become Group Six UFAs this summer, leaving the Sabres thin on goaltending not just at the NHL level but at the AHL level as well. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen and Jonas Johansson are both signed on for next season, but that doesn’t mean either of them will, or should, make the full-time to the Rochester Americans. It may seem like a minor thing, but at some point, it is something that Botterill and co. will have to figure out.
5. Prep for the first season under a new head coach... again.
Ralph Krueger will be the bench boss for the Buffalo Sabres this season, and though we don’t know exactly what that will mean in terms of his coaching style or how the players will take to it, the regime change is something the Sabres organization needs to prepare for.
Of course, we know what everyone really wants the Sabres to do right now: sign Skinner. It’ll either get done or it won’t, but it isn’t the only thing the team needs to do to get ready for the upcoming season. October will be here before we know it.