Melissa’s post about building the Sabres got me to thinking. I know, a dangerous thing. But as I look at Kevyn Adams moving into the GM role, my initial apprehension has been replaced with…well, not hope…but, I think, possibility is the right word.
Adams is decidedly not a Hockey Man, a term some use derisively to refer to a person in management who came up through the traditional hockey apparatus. Adams was a guy who has dabbled in a number of areas – a long-time NHL player, an agent, a coach on an NHL bench, built the Academy of Hockey, held an executive position on the business side, before becoming the GM. He’s played in the NHL, IHL, AHL, Europe, NCAA, in the World Championships…he’s seen a lot of things. There are some similarities to Ralph Krueger in that regard, so maybe they are a nice fit.
Don’t get me wrong: this is a huge risk for a whole host of reasons. But there’s possibility here. And the possibility exists for the same reasons there is a lot of risk. Because he’s not a traditional GM. And he takes over the reins of the organization at a time when unconventional thinking could be enormously helpful to revive a franchise that’s been sputtering for more than a decade. Thus…possibilities.
First off, the Salary Cap looms over everything in the NHL as we transition from the COVID playoffs to next season. The Cap is flat for this coming season and the one after. Then it rises a mere $1M the following year. Escrow is way up. And teams did not plan for this. So there are ungainly contracts that once thought capable of being mitigated by a rising Cap, suddenly becoming an anchor. Good players, meaningful contributors, can be had by teams with Cap Space for very little cost…or they may even get paid to take on these players, the best of both worlds. Fortunately, the Sabres are one of those teams who will have a good amount of valuable Cap Space. This requires a GM who can see a couple of years down the road, who won’t be gun-shy on using that Cap Space to entice teams who are in terrible shape Cap-wise (Chicago, Arizona, Toronto, Dallas, Tampa, Vancouver, etc…) to get out of Cap Prison by handing the Sabres a player, a prospect, and/or a pick or two to help them out. These will not be superstars, of course, but certainly players who can be significant contributors.
Examples: Arizona could send Antti Raantta and Derek Stepan to the Sabres. It would upgrade the 1B goalie situation and address on the short-term the 2C problem. And both of them are on 1-year deals, so the impact to the Cap long-term is minimal. But more importantly, for taking on over $10M from a Cap-strapped team, BFLO can likely get a very good prospect (Jan Jenik?) or a couple of high picks (maybe a couple 2nds?) in exchange for very little. A middling prospect and a mid-round pick, maybe?
Or Chicago could send Brandon Saad and Olli Maatta to BFLO. Sabres get a productive 2-way winger whose won a couple Cups and can play up and down the line-up, plus a 4/5 defender on the left-side (where they need help with Pilut likely gone). Saad is on a 1-year deal, Maatta has 2 years left on his. Again, minimal cap impact long-term. And again taking more than $10M could get you a good prospect (Evan Barratt or Mike Teply?) or even a 1st round pick in this year’s Draft? After all, Toronto gave up a 1st rounder to move Patrick Marleau’s $6M contract…
Second, the Expansion Draft. Sort of hanging around in the background are the implications of the Expansion Draft. As most folks know, there are options but basically teams will be able to hold on to 9-10 players. The Cap (above) will factor into who teams protect, and there may be some pretty good, young players available that teams won’t be able to protect. Teams don’t like to give up assets for free, so it may be a case where the Sabres can deal picks or prospects to a team in exchange for a good young player.
Examples: Winnipeg has a bunch of nice young players especially up front. But they can’t protect them all. So a couple of Jack Roslovic, Mason Appleton, or Jansen Harkins will be available. Maybe the Sabres could grab one of them for a mid-round draft pick.
Or possibly Vancouver, who doesn’t have much they need to protect on the D-Man side, would like to add someone to their D-corps. BFLO has an excess of D-Men, can’t protect all of them, and might want to find something mutually agreeable where they sent a D-Man to the Canucks for a guy like Tanner Pearson and/or a Thatcher Demko (if they bring back Markstrom, they will need to deal Demko or likely lose him to Seattle).
Third, and rarely spoke of, the Offer Sheet. Now, for those of you who don’t know, issuing an Offer Sheet to a qualified Restricted Free Agent is often thought of as the nuclear option – that doing so would poison existing relationships with other GMs and management teams to the point where doing a deal of any kind would be almost impossible. While Offer Sheets are not made public if the player refuses to sign one, the team who owns the rights to the player being given the Offer Sheet can choose to match it, which they typically do. Just last year, we saw an Offer Sheet from Montreal to Carolina for Sebastian Aho. The Canes matched that offer, as have most. In fact only 2 that have been offered, accepted, and not matched by the current team: Dustin Penner in 2007, and former Sabre legend Chris Gratton in 1997. Who cares, you may say, if only twice did a team let a player go on an Offer Sheet in the past 25 years? The Cap makes this possibility much more realistic, and much more dangerous to teams close to the Cap that have young, talented players. AND, perhaps most importantly, Kevyn Adams did not come up through traditional routes. He doesn’t have all those pre-existing relationships with other GMs. Who cares if he pisses them off? He’s just trying to win!
Examples: Dallas is basically over the Cap right now. Marty Hanzal’s $5M of relief for being on LTIR will expire next year, and they have Miro Heiskanen and Denis Gurianov coming up to new deals in the next year. All of their big $$$ contracts will still be on the books in 2 years, and they don’t have a lot in the pipeline, so they’re going to need to go out on the UFA market to fill out their roster. One guy who I really like is Roope Hintz. He was on pace for 40+ points in the regular season and has 5P in 10 playoff games. He’s big, fast, and plays the kind of game Krueger seems to like. What if you offered him, say, $4M over the next 3 years? Would Dallas match that? Maybe, but it would be tough to do and the Sabres would only have to give up a 2nd round pick…that’s pretty good value.
Or, take a look at Philly. They have a bunch of expensive contracts on the books for the next few years. And they’ve got to sign Carter Hart in a year, likely for big bucks. Maybe offering Phillipe Myers, the big, young, really talented RHD, a $4.2M for 4 years deal would either require Philly to do some major restructuring, or at least try to move one of their existing bigger contracts. And again, only costing the Sabres a 2nd round choice. Now you could move 1 or even 2 of the current right-shot D for a new forward or even prospects and picks.
In short, there’s a lot of ways Kevyn Adams can attack the shortage of talent BFLO has without sacrificing huge pieces (Eichel, Cozens, Dahlin, #8 overall) to do it. It doesn’t have to be the free agent market, and it doesn’t have to be blockbuster trades. These next 2 years are unique since I’ve been following the NHL as far as shortages of available money, available Cap Space, with Labor peace, and Expansion all occurring at the same time. I hope Adams can use some of these non-traditional means to improve the Sabres’ roster and make this team, and franchise, formidable.