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Building the Sabres: Let’s Get Weird

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Another offseason where the need to get better is beyond apparent, the Sabres need to be aggressive.

NHL: Western Conference Qualifications-Calgary Flames at Winnipeg Jets Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Buyout Carter Hutton:

To buy out Hutton, it would cost the Sabres $916,667 in 2020-21 and 2021-22. Ideally, the Sabres would be able to keep Hutton around, but after his very disappointing 2019-20 season, where he struggled with a condition called convergence insufficiency, it is hard to pin any hopes on Hutton’s return to form.

Restricted Free Agents:

I don’t fancy myself an armchair general manager, which led me to use the Evolving Hockey projections for the players I believed will be retained this offseason. Quick, simple and to the point.

  • Sam Reinhart – 4 years, $8 million AAV
  • Dominik Kahun - 2 years, $2.5 million AAV
  • Victor Olofsson - 4 years, $4.5 million AAV
  • Curtis Lazar - 1 year, $925,000 AAV
  • Brandon Montour - 2 years, $4.3 million AAV
  • Linus Ullmark - 2 years, $3.5 million AAV

Trades:

1.) Buffalo Sabres acquire center Andrew Copp and right winger Mathieu Perreault from the Winnipeg Jets in exchange for defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen, center Rasmus Asplund and a 2020 fourth round pick

At the risk of sounding like a broken record here, this needs to be the offseason the Sabres finally pull the trigger and trade Ristolainen. While those old-school “you have to watch the game” analysts love Ristolainen’s game, the analytics continue to do anything but backup Ristolainen’s lackluster play in the large role he has been given. With two seasons remaining at a $5.4 million AAV, the time is now to try to maximize the value for Ristolainen.

To steal a page from Chad DeDominicis, the idea of trading Ristolainen to the Jets is too hard to resist.

2.) Buffalo Sabres acquire center Jared McCann and center Nick Bjugstad from the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for defenseman Brandon Montour

With the Penguins recently clearing cap space and notably looking for help on the backend, the next trade came together on paper relatively quickly.

Bjugstad is a solid bottom-six player who finds himself heading into a contract year, coming off a major spinal surgery to repair a herniated disc. With Buffalo in need of a mid-to-bottom six forward with ability to generate, Bjugstad is a very strong candidate for that role.

As for the addition of McCann in this deal, a restricted free agent who is projected by Evolving-Hockey to get a two-year deal worth around $3.12 million, it just makes sense. McCann scored 35 points (14 goals, 21 assists) in 66 games with the Penguins last season and is known for his ability to not only get on the scoresheet but also play a solid two-way game that would most certainly benefit a depleted Sabres bottom-six. With McCann, it does almost feel like buyer beware though. McCann fell out of sorts in Pittsburgh as the season progressed into the restarted season. In his final 22 regular season games, McCann failed to score a goal and ended up being a healthy scratch at one point against the Montreal Canadiens.

With Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford ready to wheel-and-deal to capitalize on the Penguins’ Stanley Cup window, Buffalo should get on the phone and get a deal done.

3.) Buffalo Sabres acquire goalie Antti Raanta from the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for a 2021 fourth-round pick.

As Chad pointed out in his most recent roster article, the salary cap is likely to remain flat and the Coyotes are absolutely up against the cap.

Both goaltenders in Arizona will count for over $4 million dollars each next season. Raanta and Darcy Kuemper shared time this season in goal, but with Kuemper having a better regular season coupled with a strong postseason performance against Nashville, it appears that Raanta could be the odd-man out.

Linus Ullmark is certainly the No. 1 goaltender in Buffalo. Aside from injury or inefficiency, Ullmark should have no issue shouldering a full starter load in 2020-21. This deal ended up being an old-school cap dump. Buffalo had the room and the need for a goaltender.

It would likely take more than a fourth round pick, but desperate times, and the ability to re-sign Taylor Hall, could make a team do desperate things.

Free Agency:

After acquiring and signing McCann to a two-year, $2.75 million dollar deal, the Sabres would have $3,922,500 in cap space heading into free agency with one spot to fill.

There is a third-line left defense role sitting wide-open with no real prospects ready to fill that position. Off to the used hockey player bin, it is!

While there are certainly deals to be had throughout the list of available left-handed defensemen, the one that stuck out was Ben Hutton.

Most-recently a member of the Los Angeles Kings, Hutton mostly played as a second-pair defensemen for the Kings but did shift up and down when needed. According to Evolving Hockey’s projections, Hutton is looking at a projected five-year, $4.315 million dollar deal. These projections would not comfortably fit under the cap in Buffalo. To make this happen, you would need to stretch the bounds of your imagination to believe that Hutton could potentially take a shorter deal with less money to cash in again after his age-30 season.

Getting Hutton under contract would also be very important to allow Buffalo some breathing room with defenseman Jake McCabe, who is projected here to be Buffalo’s second pairing left-handed defenseman in 2020-21. McCabe is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent following the 2020-21 season.

Final Roster

Forwards:

Olofsson - Eichel - Reinhart

Skinner - Copp - Johansson

Kahun – Bjugstad - Perreault

McCann – Cozens - Okposo

Defense:

Dahlin - Miller

McCabe - Jokiharju

Hutton - Borgen

Goalies:

Ullmark

Raanta

Final Thoughts

On paper, these moves and signings all feel like they fall within the realm of possibility.

It is easy to create outlandish trades and think the Sabres will pay tens of millions of dollars for top free agents but we all know that expectations must remain tempered with this organization.

Diversifying your assets in exchange for more assets seems like the most effective way to rebuild a roster in tatters.

There is a big job ahead of Kevyn Adams this offseason. A better roster is attainable - the question remains whether or not Adams can handle the job.