We continue our journey through the landscape of options at center for the Buffalo Sabres this offseason. The player we’re going to discuss in this piece is what I define as a “bridge-center.”
What that means is that he’s a player that can be a short-term solution at center to bridge the Sabres to when Dylan Cozens is ready to step into a bigger role. They don’t want to make the same mistake that they made with Casey Mittelstadt. If Cozens is with the Sabres next season, they need to do everything in their power to shelter him.
Nashville Predators center Nick Bonino is a player that I think is a good fit for the Sabres and fills the role of a bridge-center. The 31-year-old was having a good season for the Predators and would provide the Sabres with some experience at the position.
His production numbers are not going to jump off the page. He was on pace for a career year with the Preds. When the season ended he was producing at a 22 goals and 43 points per 82 games pace. Bonino has played the majority of this season with Rocco Grimaldi and Craig Smith on Nashville’s third line according to Evolving Hockey.
"Goodness gracious, this line...just unbelievable!"@cmace30 breaks down Nick Bonino's fourth consecutive goal for the #Preds, giving Nashville the all-important 1-0 lead to start this one! WATCH: pic.twitter.com/XzWE2hlnwj— FOX Sports Tennessee (@PredsOnFSTN) November 1, 2019
The veteran forward won back to back Stanley Cup’s with the Pittsburgh Penguins prior to signing with the Predators as an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2017. He could be the type of player that the Sabres need to assist Jack Eichel in being a leader on and off the ice.
5 on 5
On the ice, Bonino is a solid 5 on 5 player. Believe it or not, among all forwards to play 200 minutes over the last two seasons, he’s tied for 48th in goals per 60 minutes (0.98) at 5 on 5. For reference, other centers around him include Sebastian Aho (0.99), Mika Zibanejad (1.0), and Nathan MacKinnon (0.98). Of course, those three players are better than Bonino, but it’s good company to be in for 5 on 5 production.
Besides his 5 on 5 production, he’s a solid two-way player that the Sabres could rely on to play more difficult situations and take some pressure off of other players on the roster. Over the last three years, Bonino’s impact measures well in Evolving Hockey’s goals above replacement model. He’s ranked in the 86th percentile in GAR among all forwards over that time frame. His even-strength offense and defense are the highlights again in this metric.
Bonino has one more year remaining on his contract that carries a $4.1 million cap hit. He doesn’t have any no-trade protection in his deal, so the Sabres won’t have to worry about that being an issue.
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what the Predators would be looking for in return for Bonino. They’re in a weird spot as an organization. They were out of a playoff spot when the season was suspended and fired their long-time head coach Peter Laviolette. General manager David Poile brought in John Hynes as the new bench boss.
The Predators could be in some cap trouble if the salary cap doesn’t get up to $84 million with the season potentially ending early. They would only have roughly $11 million in cap space if the cap went to that $84 million ceiling according to Cap Friendly. If it goes lower, they’re looking at around $9 -10 million in space. They would like to bring back their two big unrestricted free agents in Mikael Granlund and Craig Smith.
Bonino could be used as a way to shed some salary and acquire a young cost-controlled player. The Predators could use some youth on their roster and outside of moving one of their top four defensemen, Bonino could be the best way to do that.
The veteran center checks off a lot of boxes for the Sabres and would be the ideal candidate if they’re looking for someone to bridge the gap to Cozens.