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Evaluating the Sabres’ Salary Cap Situation

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The Sabres still have a little cap space - but not a whole lot

NHL: Buffalo Sabres at Philadelphia Flyers Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

With the signing of forward Evan Rodrigues announced earlier this week, the Buffalo Sabres are seemingly getting closer to a full roster, but there’s still plenty of offseason remaining. The Sabres still have some work to do to complete their roster, not to mention the possibility of trades or buyouts.

With Rodrigues’ signing - a one-year deal worth a cool $2 million - the Sabres now have a projected cap hit of $78,384,524, according to CapFriendly. That leaves them with $3,115,476 remaining in cap space to presumably sign both goaltender Linus Ullmark and defenseman Jake McCabe.

Here’s a closer look at the Sabres’ current salary cap situation. All figures are accurate as of 12 noon on Friday, July 26, 2019 and are courtesy of CapFriendly.

The Sabres have $49,050,000 locked up in 13 forwards, ranging from captain Jack Eichel ($10,000,000) to Casey Mittelstadt, who’s still in his entry-level contract and earning $925,000 next season.

An additional $25,792,857 is locked up in eight defensemen, including Rasmus Ristolainen ($5,400,000) down to Casey Nelson ($812,500). McCabe is a restricted free agent, and his arbitration hearing is set for next week. The 25-year-old blueliner earned $1.6 million last season.

Finally, the Sabres have only Carter Hutton locked up in net for next season at $2.75 million. Ullmark, at 25 years old, is also a restricted free agent with an arbitration hearing set for next week. He earned $800,000 last season with a cap hit of $750,000 and will presumably be up for a decent raise heading into the next season.

And of course, the Sabres are still on the books for Cody Hogdson’s contract. The team is set to pay him $791,667 for each of the next four seasons.

With all that considered, the Sabres have 22 players on their roster for next season, with 42 total standard player contracts signed.

With just about $3.1 million remaining in cap space, Sabres GM Jason Botterill and his staff still have some work to do. Signing Ullmark and McCabe; possibly trading Ristolainen; maybe acquiring another piece like Nikolaj Ehlers - can all change the Sabres’ salary cap situation at any given moment and help make the team a more complete roster for the upcoming season.

Following the arbitration cases of Ullmark (Aug. 2), McCabe (Aug. 4) and Remi Elie (Aug. 1), a 48-hour buyout window opens for the Sabres. Candidates for a buyout have to make over $3.4 million and must have been on the team’s reserve list at 3 p.m. at the trade deadline.

Under those parameters, NHL-level Sabres players who would technically be eligible for buyout include: Kyle Okposo, Vladimir Sobotka, Rasmus Ristolainen, Zach Bogosian and Marco Scandella.

At this point, the focus should be on the upcoming season - but you also can’t ignore the years to come, and the implications that contracts being signed now will have then.

Next summer, the Sabres could have a lot of pending free agents. Sam Reinhart will be a restricted free agent and will likely be looking for a raise over the $3.65 million he’s getting in the fall; so will Rodrigues and defenseman Brandon Montour. Mittelstadt will be an RFA but won’t be eligible to receive offer sheets from other teams.

An additional crop of forwards will be unrestricted free agents, from Conor Sheary to Jimmy Vesey, Vladimir Sobotka (who many fans would be happy to see come off the Sabres’ books) to Zemgus Girgensons, Johan Larsson to Scott Wilson, Tage Thompson and Victor Olofsson. No matter your feelings on those players, it’s hard to ignore the sheer number of them, and the fact that so many will need to be signed - or replaced - in summer 2020.

Finally, on the blueline, Zach Bogosian, Marco Scandella, Matt Hunwick and Casey Nelson will all be unrestricted free agents. Again, depending on what Botterill & his staff do this summer will determine to an extent what needs to be done next season, but that’s still a sizable portion of the Sabres defense that could hit free agency.

It’s a delicate balance of looking at the present roster & situation, considering the upcoming season, and keeping the upcoming years in the back of your mind. That’s the task at hand for Botterill & his crew in the coming weeks as we get closer and closer to the 2019-20 NHL season.