2021 Jaeger Plan is here. I based it on media reports and some review of team needs and tendencies, as well as some assumptions I made to allow me to finish the off-season plan. I also tried to keep it simple and as realistic as I could without either underselling or overselling players. Shout out to Capfriendly as a great tool to keep off-seasons in the realm of the realistic. As a start point, General Manager names Don Granato head coach. Here we go.
Pre-Expansion Draft Moves
Jack Eichel to Anaheim for center Trevor Zegras, center Adam Henrique, goaltender Lukas Dostal, and Anaheim's 2021 1st round pick, 3rd overall.
Why Kevin Adams and the Sabres make this move: It's not the four 1st round picks or equivalent deal being reported. But it's the best deal out there. Vegas and Minnesota can provide more NHL ready players for Eichel, but Anaheim has the futures that Adams needs for a rebuild. Zegras has first line center upside, potentially leading his team in points. The 3rd overall pick could be any number of players who can help the Sabres rebuild. Henrique gives the Sabres a center to protect his younger players. Dostal provide young depth with potential to develop.
Why Bob Murray and the Ducks make this move: Murray is a Brian Burke disciple, and he's old school. Anaheim was among the last teams in the league to upgrade their front office with an analytics department. Not to say Murray is not a smart guy - he is, and he's built Stanley Cup contenders before. This insight, however, provides some framework to how he approaches deals.
Murray knows how to build a contender. He joined the Ducks in 2005, serving as Burke's vice president of hockey operations. Murray helped put together a team that made the playoffs in 11 of his first 13 seasons with the Ducks, winning the Stanley Cup once, reaching the Western Conference finals three times, and posting 100+ point seasons in seven of those years.
While Zegras and the 3rd overall pick are great assets, Jack Eichel is a franchise, first line center. Those types of players don't come along often. Murray build the majority of those great Ducks teams around Ryan Getzlaf. Murray is also on the hot season, missing the playoffs for the past three seasons. I don't envision Murray sitting in Anaheim waiting on prospects to develop, which he's figuring out what to do with four important players on the last season of their deals (Lindholm, Rakell, Manson, Terry). It's not Murray's style. He'll make a move for the present.
3rd round pick, 2021 (Montreal) to Washington for goaltender Vitek Vanecek.
Why Kevin Adams and the Sabres make this move: The Sabres don't have a legitimate NHL goaltender on the roster under contract, and can protect a goaltender in the expansion draft.
Why Brian MacLellan and the Capitals make this move: The Caps have Ilya Samsonov and Vanecek available to Seattle to select in the expansion draft, and can only protect one. The Caps gets something back instead of risking exposing Vanecek.
Sam Reinhart and Rasmus Ristolainen to Los Angeles for center Alex Turcotte, left winger Carl Grundstrom, defenseman Helge Grans, and Los Angeles' 2nd round pick, 2021.
Why Kevin Adams and the Sabres make this move: Reinhart seems to want out. Unless Granato smooths over the frustration - and Reinhart signs a long-term deal - it's in the team's best interest to move Reinhart. Adams adds in Ristolainen rather than having to make an expansion decision between him and Will Borgen, who could be part of the Sabres rebuilt defensive corps.
Turcotte is a potential second line center who plays a 200-foot game to go along with exceptional leadership traits. Grans is a right handed defender with good offensive traits, who needs development in his defensive game and decision making. He's a good player to tuck away for the future, letting him develop slowly in Sweden and eventually in Rochester. Grundstrom is a net-front player the Sabres could use.
Why Rob Blake and the Kings make this move: The Kings are ready to compete. They've got the old core of Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Drew Doughty, and Jonathan Quick still in place. Cal Peterson has taken over in net, and a bunch of younger players are contributing. Adding in a second line center in Reinhart and a defenseman like Ristolainen bolsters that group and could put them into the playoffs.
The Kings have an impressive prospect group, and while losing Turcotte hurts, it won't change their future. The future is Quinton Byfield. Adding in Reinhart means that Byfield won't be rushed into a top line center role. And once Byfield is ready, and Kopitar can no longer handle the top line duties, Los Angeles could have Byfield and Reinhart as their one-two punch down the middle.
Todd McLellan has the Kings playing fast, hard-hitting hockey again. Ristolainen fits into that type of game well, and won't need to pull top pair defender minutes with Doughy on the team. Reinhart at center on this type of Kings team is shades of Mike Richards.
Expansion draft Protection List
Forwards: Jeff Skinner (NMC), Casey Mittelstadt, Victor Olofsson, Tage Thompson, Anders Bjork, Rasmus Asplund, Carl Grundstrom
Defenseman: Rasmus Dahlin, Henri Jokiharju, Will Borgen
Goaltender: Vitek Vanecek
Major players exposed: Zemgus Girgensons, Adam Henrique, Cody Eakin, Kyle Okposo, Colin Miller. While Jason Botterill, now on staff with the Seattle Kraken, did trade for Colin Miller, he's only got one year left on his deal. And the expansion draft tends to offer more quality defensemen than forwards due to the 7-3-1 protection format. Girgensons, with two years left on his deal, and solid defensive play, would make an ideal 4th liners for the Kraken.
1st overall pick: Matthew Beniers, center, University of Michigan. A no-brainer pick in my mind. If you haven't watched Beniers play, think of a fast Ryan O'Reilly. Adams passes on Owen Power, for now, and continues to build down the middle. Adding Beniers to Mittelstadt, Cozens, Zegras, and Turcotte give the Sabres enviable depth at center.
TRADE: Buffalo trades Anaheim's 2021 1st round pick (3rd overall), Buffalo's 2021 2nd round pick, and Los Angeles' 2021 2nd round pick to Seattle for the Kraken's 2021 1st round pick (2nd overall).
2nd overall pick: Owen Power, defenseman, Michigan. Power is high on some lists and lower on others, mostly due to his impressive offensive ability and need to develop defensively. However, the trait which scares me away on hockey players more than anything else is lack of "hockey IQ." Essentially, hockey IQ is knowing where to be, what to do, anticipating plays, and making the right play. Power is no size-speed freak who is just dominating his level physically. His international play this Spring with Team Canada showed that he's a smart player. He can spent time at Michigan developing, if needed.
TRADE: Buffalo trades pick 52 and 87 to Ottawa for pick 38.
38th overall pick: Tyler Boucher, forward, US National Team Development Program (U18). Boucher is a power winger, with size, who plays an edgy game. He'll battle along the boards and in front of the net. He's also a right handed shot.
Restricted Free Agency
Dahlin. 8 years, $8M. No need to screw around with Dahlin. He was playing near-Norris level hockey once Granato was named head coach. He was the best player on the ice most games, and as such, was targeted by teams (Boston especially) to try to take him out of the game. Future team leader.
Mittelstadt. 2 year, $2M. I'm high on Mittelstadt after seeing his play once Granato was name coach. I see him regaining his form that once made him the top prospect in hockey.
Asplund. 1 year, $1M. I'm a little more cautious with Asplund. Give him a one year deal and see if last season's end was his true development path, or not.
Jokiharju. 2 years, $1.5M. This deal keeps Jokiharju a RFA at the end of the deal. I think he'll develop nicely as Dahlin's partner.
Borgen. 1 year, $900K. No need to spend big on money or term on Borgen until he shows he can play at the NHL level.
Unrestricted Free Agency.
Linus Ullmark. 3 years, $4.5M. He's loyal to the team and played well when healthy. Having Vanecek, Dostal, and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen ready behind him helps.
Jake McCabe. 1 year, $3M. Another loyal player, signed to a 1 year deal. I don't think the Sabres can add more years until they know his knee is healthy.
Adam Larsson, defenseman. 3 year, $4.5M. The Sabres are incredibly young on the back end. Larsson helps stabilize the defensive corps.
Phillip Danault, center. 3 years, $6.5M. Buffalo's young centers were were shielded by Reinhart last season. It's a lot to ask those same centers to match-up with the NHL's best on a nightly basis. Danault has that type of experience.
Opening Night Line-up
Skinner - Danault - Cozens
Asplund - Mittelstadt - Thompson
Bjork - Henrique - Olofsson
Grundstrom - Zegras - Ruotsalainen
x Okposo (Eakin in Rochester)
Dahlin - Jokiharju
Samuelsson - Larsson
Bryson - Miller
x Borgen, McCabe