The Buffalo Sabres are in a tight cap space situation, with three restricted free agents - Linus Ullmark, Sam Reinhart and Victor Olofsson - heading to arbitration in the next few weeks. Arbitration decisions don’t take into consideration a team’s cap situation, and the Sabres have only about $13.645 million in cap space at this point.
So what can we expect from these upcoming arbitration hearings? Let’s start with Linus Ullmark, who is the only goaltender in the league currently heading to arbitration.
Alexandar Georgiev had elected arbitration, but has since agreed to terms with the Rangers. Georgiev, 24, appeared in 34 games for New York last season, with a .910 save percentage and 3.04 GAA. Georgiev’s previous contract had him earning $792,500, and he’s gotten a significant raise, signing a two-year deal on October 15 with an AAV of $2.425 million.
With Georgiev’s contract signed, it appears that Ullmark will be looking for at least $3 million AAV. The 27-year-old is undoubtedly in for a decent raise; he’s coming off a one-year deal with a $1.325 million AAV after registering a 2.69 GAA and .915 save percentage in 34 games.
At this point, Ullmark should be the Sabres’ other goaltender for the upcoming season, alongside Carter Hutton. If the Sabres walk away, Ullmark becomes a UFA and the Sabres still need to find a second goaltender. The qualifying offer was for $1.325 million; at this rate, a deal in the range of $3 million for a one- or two-year contract for Ullmark is well worth it.
Sam Reinhart is also likely to get a significant raise in arbitration. The 24-year-old is coming off three straight seasons where he recorded at least 50 points. This past season, despite appearing in only 69 games due to the shortened season, Reinhart scored 22 goals and added 28 assists.
Reinhart’s last contract was signed on September 19, 2018 and produced a $3.65 million AAV for the two-year deal, including a $3.75 million base salary for the 2019-20 season. For. comparison’s sake, Colorado’s Andre Burakovsky had a similar contract to Reinhart and just signed a two-year deal with a $4.9 million AAV.
Reinhart has quietly been a big piece of the Sabres’ offense the past few seasons. He could certainly produce significantly if given the chance to play with Jack Eichel, Taylor Hall and co. this upcoming season, but at what cost? His contract could easily eat up much of the team’s limited cap space, so Adams will have to be careful. Let’s say he gets a deal similar to Burakovsky - which, by the way, would be a lowball in my opinion; that leaves the Sabres under $9 million to sign Ullmark and Olofsson as well as any other small pieces that may be needed.
Reinhart’s original qualifying offer was reported at $3.75 million. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get upwards of $5.5 million, and he could easily eat up half of the team’s remaining cap space. Worth it, but... yikes.
Finally, there’s Victor Olofsson, who has been impressive in his limited time in the NHL thus far. The 25-year-old is coming off his entry-level contract, which carried an AAV of $925,000 and included both performance and signing bonuses in both years with an overall cap hit of just $767,500 per year.
For me, this is where things get mucky. Olofsson undoubtedly has showcased his potential at the NHL level. He put up 42 points in just 54 games in his first full NHL season, and did so on a struggling Sabres team. He almost certainly has a bright future ahead, but at the same time, one good AHL season and one shortened (but very good) NHL season where he was in talks for the Calder don’t make any promises about a player’s future. So how much do you give him here?
Looking at Olofsson’s ELC that just ended, one of the comparables from CapFriendly is Toronto’s Pierre Engvall. It isn’t exactly a good comparison though, as statistically, Engvall was much less productive than Olofsson. The 24-year-old recorded only 15 points in 48 NHL games this past season, and 16 points in 15 AHL games. His new contract is worth $1.25 million each for two seasons. (Note: Olofsson’s ELC is not eligible to be taken into consideration by the arbitrator.)
Olofsson’s qualifying offer was for $735,000, which is undoubtedly a lowball for the promising young forward. With his performance, it’s better to compare him to other strong forwards across the league, which means he’s probably looking at a minimum $3 million award.
Things are tight, but not impossible. Ullmark and Reinhart will have their arbitration hearings at the end of October, with Olofsson’s coming in the beginning of November. The team can also settle a contract with any or all of the players prior to their hearings. Regardless of what happens, the Sabres will have to consider their cap space versus the non-financial cost of letting any one of these players walk into unrestricted free agency.