I'm finally getting around to posting a GM For a Day. I haven't done one of these on here in a long while, but have 4 from the last year at various stages of completion in a draft stage. This is that fourth one and finally tidying it up and hitting publish!
1st Period - Pre Draft Roster Decisions, and the NHL Draft
There is so much that can and likely will change between now and whenever a draft is held, but for now I am going to assume that the extended playoffs proceed as planned. The Sabres organization has given themselves lots to do in the meantime, firing nearly everyone will do that, and one of those larger tasks is making existing UFA and RFA roster decisions. Some of this will take place after the draft, but some can be tackled beforehand.
First, here is a list of all players I am letting walk as either a UFA, or an RFA who I am not extending a QO to.. The only one of note might be angry Johan Larrson. I think Asplund can fill his roll with slightly diminished effect, but at over a 60% cost savings (I think JFL commands a 2m+ salary somewhere next year) and so I let him walk.
Handshakes and Thank You's list: JFL, Vesey, Simmonds, Frolik, Sobotka, Hunwick, Dalton Smith, Spencer, Nelson, Elie, Ogelvie (Smith, Elie and Ogelvie I sign to AHL only deals).
Of the remaining players, there are a few extensions I can take care of before the draft begins to unfold, with most getting prepared now and the inked after the draft concludes. The three I can take care of before the draft are:
Victor Olofsson: 2y, 3.2 mil AAV - This is on the shorter end for an Olof extension, but has his cap deal expire after what will likely be 2 years of a flat cap, and as an RFA. So we will have to pay more for his howitzer slapshots later on, but we keep the cap hit lower for the time being to give us a bit of flexibility. Tough to find a comparison for, and with the argument that he gets to stay on Eichel's line I think this AAV is sign-able.
Linus Ullmark: 3y, 3.3 mil AAV - Goalie contracts... if you are one who says they make sense, I think you are a crazy person! I flip flopped all over on this one from 2y, 3mil to 5y, 4.4mil and everywhere in between, but this 3-centric number feels both fair and makes sense. Lock up the big netminder who loves the Buffalo people!
Zemgus Girgensons 3y, 1.6 mil AAV - To those who Patreon Evolving Wild, I'd love to know what Zem's projections area. I think he is versatile enough to be thrown all around our bottom 6. I also think he has the straight line speed to be a PK asset on a faster PK that I would like to see this year, so we keep him in our bottom 6 for the next few years at a reasonable AAV.
With this done, we head into the draft! Trades start to come into play, but not for Buffalo and the number 8 overall pick. I think the first 7 selections go as follows: LaFreniere, Stutzle, Byfield, Rossi, Raymond, Perfetti, Drysdale. There are three players that I think make some sense here in Alexander Holtz (the goal machine), Connor Zary (2 way Center), and LHD Jake Sanderson.
2020 1st Round, 8th overall pick I've been plugging Sanderson a bit the last few days, and would much rather see him in the Blue and Gold than with a Montreal C on his chest, and therefore Jake Sanderson is my pick. He is a bit less aggressive than some of the higher picked defensemen of years past, but I think this matches will with a few of the other players that I think will be on the roster for years to come (chiefly Dahlin and Montour). If his more reserved style of play, combined with crisp passing, allows the more aggressive defensive partner to push the rush with confidence, I think this pick will be paying dividends for a decade.
However, Buffalo has been out of the hockey news cycle for so long at this point, we want to make one more splash on day 1 of the 2020 NHL draft. This leads to a trade with Nashville to get back into the first round for another draft pick I've loved since this past WJC, and also to get a shorter term fix at the 2C position.
Nashville still believes they have the roster to compete, and rightly so in my opinion. They do need to see if the goaltending can hold up... but we can't help them with that. We can help with scoring and zone entries by sending Marcus Johanson, who I believe had a great working relationship with head coach John Hynes in New Jersey. Colin Miller also helps them add some depth beneath their quality defensive core that just didn't have the support below them to play rested and with consistency this year. And they move back into the 2nd, with the picks available to trade back up should the so wish. Buffalo gets Nick Bonino to play 2C behind Eichel, hopefully providing a bit of stability down the middle, even if just for one guaranteed year. The salary retention is a wash for year one and has us paying a bit in year 2, and with this 900k~ in cash we ensure my pick of the prospects in David Farrance, the 1st and future pick. David Farrance, who feel a bit in his draft year but has been putting up great numbers at BU, goes into our prospect pool (and we count on Eichel recruiting to get him signed at the end of the 2020-2021 college calendar). Finally, with their first round selection coming our way, Buffalo selects JJ Peterka , the German sniper who had a great WJC playing next to Tim Stutzle. He adds that lethal shot to our prospect pool, something which was definitely lacking.
After this trade and selection, Buffalo sits quiet for a bit as the don't have a 2nd or 3rd selection. Remaining selections come in as BPA, with positional focus on forwards and one additional goalie. Sanderson and Peterka are NOT expected to play in Buffalo in the 2020-2021 season.
2nd Period - UFA and RFA Decisions, and final Roster Construction
With the draft complete, we head into the
July 1st Free Agency Period! Before we finish up the remaining RFA contacts, of which there are plenty, two more trades are completed. Let's get to those first, starting with the namesake of this fanpost.
BUFFALO<>NEW YORK RANGERS: Ryan Johnson, Casey Fitzgerald, Marcus Davidsson <> Henrik Lundqvist (2m retained in cap, as much actual cash as possible retained), Lias Andersson, 2021 BUF 3rd, 2022 NYR 3rd
You all didn't want to see the Hutton\Ullmark tandem more this year, well consider that blown up! This would require King Henrik approving this deal and not just go on LTIR, but for the last year of his deal, and a chance to mentor a boatload of Swedes, I think we can make this happen. I also hope bringing him in, if even for one year, might give the Sabres organization a bit of a reputation boost. His 6.5 mil cap hit for this season is huge, but I think he can still play well enough to be worth bringing in for one year. We also bring in Lias Andersson. He won't be playing with Buffalo in 2020-2021, and we will have to protect him in the expansion draft, but he does present some raw skill that can hopefully be molded into the future of Buffalo Sabres hockey. We give up three prospects, two of which I think are of Good quality in Johnson and Davidsson. The Rangers are in desperate need of the cap space we can provide in this trade, and we do make them pay for it. But Hank coming to Buffalo and hopefully being a stable presence for his final year in the NHL makes the deal worth it.
BUFFALO<>LAS VEGAS: Hutton (1.25m retained), Pilut rights, 2022 NYR 3rd <> Alec Martinez
Here we are bringing in another rental player in Alec Martinez. Like Bonino and Henrik, he will have some playoff experience to provide his personnel group (this time on the blue line), and can play the left side where we have a little bit of a lack in talent. In return, Vegas gets a cheap goaltender for a year, and the hopes that Hutton can provide more stability than Subban did last year. No matter what, the cap hit for him is reasonable with the money Buffalo retains. We also ship the rights to Pilut, who is likely gone from the Sabres org anyway, and the 3rd we just picked up from the Rangers. Vegas also gets some cap space, which they will also need with the upcoming flat cap.
Dahlin: 8y at 8.8m AAV - This one won't take effect this year, but its the most important one to get signed. I used Chabot as the main comparable, and just upped the AAV #BecauseBuffalo . It doesn't matter, this is a contract to overpay on, as its not just getting him under contract but making an organizational statement that this team will spend and the great players we do manage to draft will play here for a long time to come.
Reinhart: 4y at 6.5m AAV - Most Orgs would likely get a longer term deal done here. We are not most Orgs. The AAV in the 6s is possible with the shorter term, which I can't blame Reino in searching for in case he gets out of Buffalo faster, should these moves not work out. It might mean we have to give him a payday contract again when this expires, but that may not be Adams' problem anyway!
Montour: 5y at 5.2m AAV - This is an overpay... but that's what you have to do when you are an organization in turmoil. My hope is Montour will play into this contract, and put up more points (start him in the NZ and DZ more, Krueger!! Let that transition game get more exposure!!). But I like his game a touch more than Risto's, so I am going to pay the man and protect come expansion. I don't think this could be a true contract flop, but might be a touch high in AAV for what the player can provide.
Kahun: 1y at 1.9m AAV- He only got to play 6 games for us... I liked what I saw, but I think both player and organization go for a 1 year deal to see what he can really do, so with this the can is kicked one year.
Thompson: 1y at .9m AAV - Similar to Kahun above, but for different reasons... we just didn't see enough. The coaching and front office staff had said he really bought in, so one more year to prove it. I do have him starting in Buffalo.
Lazar: 2y at .85m AAV - He was a pleasant surprise, and certainly brought hustle. He gets two years of NHL contract in this turbulent time. If Thompson isn't ready, then Lazar is the first player to move in for that time.
Mittelstadt: 2y at .85m AAV (two way deal) - He will start in Roch next season... if Roch has a next season. I hope Roch has a next season...
Jonas Johansson: 2y at .8m AAV (two way deal) - This is actually an important signing in my armchair GM, as we need JoJoHo to be our exposed goalie in the expansion draft. You need to expose at least 1 eligible goalie, so if we didn't have one under contract, Ullmark would be forced to be there. Let's not let that happen, and give JoJoHo a two year deal.
Leier, Hickey, Gilmour, Hammond - All of these players signed to one year deals, designated to be waived to Roch. Hammond is signed as additional injury insurance in case the older Henrik can't play as many games as needed, the rest I don't think are controversial.
Patrick Maroon: 2y at 1.8m AAV - We bring in another Stanley Cup experienced player, this time on a two year deal. Maroon hasn't had a 2y deal in a while, so hopefully this entices him to Buffalo. I think he could be a good player for the third line, moving up if needed for injuries or a younger player (Cousins most likely) needs to reset a bit on a lower line.
UFA forward: 1y, .75m AAV - Who is this? You choose! Whoever you think may be this years Lazar type player, that can be signed for at or near the minimum. My options here might be a Leipsec redemption signing, or maybe Beau Bennet. Or Arttu is ready to make the jump (Covid might prevent the timing of this from happening thought). Hopefully they are a pleasant surprise, but not one that receives much ice time.
Cousins makes his NHL debut, and looks to stick with the big club starting next year. I think he has the size and skating to make the jump, so passed lessons on patience be damned and lets plug him into the roster! Borgen, on the other hand, has paid his dues, and comes up as the 7th defensemen. I try to work him in for McCabe every now and again should there not be any injuries.
And with that we have our full Sabres Roster! Let's take a look and make sure the cap space adds up. I also do like the idea of line pairs, with the other players being ones who could move about (hopefully not with Byslma's frequency, however). I'll note my pick for these pairs below. Finally, I'm rounding most all contracts to the nearest hundred thousand for simplicity.
Player (AAV in millions) = line cap hit (player pair)
Reinhart (6.5) - Eichel (10) - Olofsson (3.2) = 19.7m (Reino/Eichel)
Cousins (.9) - Bonino (3.2) - Skinner (9) = 13.1m (Bonino/Skinner)
Maroon (1.8) - Kahun (1.9) - Thompson (.9) = 4.6m (Kahun/Tage)
Girgensons (1.6) - Asplund (.8) - Okposo (6) = 8.4m (no pair here, they can move freely!)
Lazar (.85) - UFA flyer (.75) = 1.6
Forward Total = 47.4m cap hit
Dahlin (1) - Montour (5.2) = 6.2
Martinez (4) - Risto (5.4) = 9.4
McCabe (2.8) - Borgen (.9) - Jokiharju (.9) = 4.6
Defensemen Total = 20.2m cap hit
Ullmark (3.3) - Lundqvist (6.5) = 9.8m total
Roster Total = 77.4
Buyouts (.8) - Retained Salary (2.2) = 3m
Total = 80.4m Roster Cap Hit
The one tricky caveat is overage... I think that, with how the season ended, the Sabres actually won't have much, if any, bonus overage to account for? I'm not certain on this point, and haven't seen Cap Friendly tweet about this either way. I am only 1.1m below the cap, so I'm tight, but that is workable with this roster.
I like this roster (I did build it after all!) and I think it can compete. If the Lundqvist/Ullmark tandem can play a bit better then Ullmark/Hutton this past year, I think we are in playoff contention with this roster, likely as a wild card though as I don't see the Boston\Tampa\Toronto power cycle changing much one season from now. There is certainly some youth in this lineup, trading out the likes of MoJo, JFL and Simmonds for Cousins, Asplund, and Thompson. But I'm willing to start giving these younger players meaningful minutes to see what we have in them. We have some potential big names that could come to the roster in 2021, with Lias Andersson, Jacob Bryson, Arttu Routsalainen and Casey Mitts leading that charge, with hopefully Sanderson, Laaksonen, Pekar, Peterka, Farrance, Samuelsson improving at a steady clip right behind them!
Period 3 - Expansion Draft Planning
All of these moves have been made with the Expansion draft in mind. We'll be looking to protect 11 players (7F - 3D - 1G), so let's take a look at who that will be!
Forwards: Eichel, Reinhart, Olofsson, Skinner, Kahun, Mittelstadt, Andersson
Defense/Goalie: Dahlin, Montour, Jokiharju, Ullmark
Prime Players Exposed: Ristolainen, Thompson, Asplund, Maroon, Girgensons, Borgen.
In all likelihood this is where Ristolainen's Sabres tenure comes to a close. There is a chance one of these other players is taken instead, and I would probably pay a 2024 3rd to Seattle if it meant that guaranteeing Asplund and Thompson were protected. But I do think Risto's expose is too juicy a selection, and that his exposure basically protects all of these other names anyway. So not likely to be a need for any pay to protect schemes.
We would again be shedding tons of cap space, with 19.5 clearing in non-RFA contracts ending (plus Hutton's retention ending, with one more year to go on Colin Miller's retention). Additionally, if Seattle does take Risto, that is another 5.4m to play with. This provides us with another opportunity to try and improve via acquisition, prying a good player from another team who doesn't have the cap space to afford them. Dahlin, Joker, Kahun, Thompson, Asplund, Andersson would all need new deals, and Bonino, McCabe and Martinez would need to be replaced or re-signed. So that cap space would likely be put to quick use.
And there you have it, my plan for the Buffalo Sabres for next season and beyond! Feels good to finally be hitting Submit on one of these, so let me know your thoughts below, especially on the trade value for the three trades thought up!