About 28 hours after the opening of the NHL’s free agency period, Buffalo Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams spoke with the media to discuss his strategy, pieces the team has added so far and what he & his staff hope to accomplish in the coming weeks.
Reiterating his earlier statements, Adams stressed the importance of having players who want to be on the team and doing what’s best for the organization as a whole, particularly when discussing a potential Jack Eichel trade. He also addressed building a team short-term while considering the long-term consequences of signings, trades and other moves.
As of writing, the Sabres have signed the following free agents to one-year, league-minimum deals: Craig Anderson; Aaron Dell; Jimmy Schuldt; Sean Malone; Brandon Davidson; John Hayden, and Ethan Prow. They also signed Mark Pysyk and Vinnie Hinostroza.
One of the team’s big losses, however, comes in goaltender Linus Ullmark, who signed with the division rival Boston Bruins on a four-year contract with a $5 million AAV.
“We certainly spent a lot of time planning around where we would go, or how we would pivot,” Adams said. “I felt that we made a strong offer; when he made a decision to go a different direction, we pivoted. We looked into where the market was from certain trade scenarios, but for us, giving up assets isn’t something we were comfortable with at that point.”
Despite losing Ullmark - and defenseman Jake McCabe, who signed with Chicago - Adams said he feels the team has landed where they wanted to be at this point, particularly in an effort to allow space for players like Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen coming up the pipeline.
“We don’t want to box players out in any position,” Adams said. “We want to make sure that guys like UPL, when they’re ready, they have the opportunity, but we have competition there. It’s gonna be guys competing for a spot.”
When it comes to goaltending, Adams said the team feels solid with the pieces they’ve got at this point, but will continue to do their due diligence and keep an eye on the trade market as well as netminders who may become available at the end of training camps.
In addition to the free agent signings, the Sabres also added Will Butcher (and a draft pick) from the New Jersey Devils in exchange for future considerations. Butcher was previously linked to the Sabres in 2017.
“We can look around the league & identify potential situations where we really like a player, maybe they’ve become expendable on another team or they’re looking to move on,” Adams said of Butcher’s situation, noting the Devils’ signing of Dougie Hamilton opened up the space to move Butcher. “That provided an opportunity for us to bring in a player we really have targeted. He’s had a good career in a short time. We think there’s upside to his game.”
With the recent signings, the Sabres have a projected cap hit of $52,233,333, according to CapFriendly. This leaves them just under $8 million shy of the salary cap floor, with players like Rasmus Dahlin and Casey Mittelstadt still to be signed.
When asked, Adams said the team does not have an “internal cap” and said the focus remains of providing flexibility in roster spots, again noting the need to not “box out” players.
“We know where we are right now, we know what we have to build toward,” Adams said. “But if you can get yourself in a position where then you can take a step forward, however long that time is down the road, you’re not going to be able to strike. We wanted to cover that flexibility... It’s about putting ourselves in a position that we help grow these young players and make sure we’re ready when the time is right to move forward.”
“We have to identify the players that we going to move forward with success with, and then we have to make sure we take care of that from a contractual standpoint. We build around those guys... and then we move forward. That, to me, is how you build a team over time,” Adams said.
Patience and discipline, not cutting corners or making emotional decisions, is key, Adams said. It’s not just about finding the right players, but also about giving those players a chance to succeed with the organization, including giving young players enough ice time.
“You have to put players in a position that they excel from an individual standpoint,” he said. “Then, what are they doing to make the players around them better? There’s certain players that also with what they bring, they give people a little more room on the ice.”
In other notes, Adams said they’ve had “productive conversations” with Rasmus Dahlin’s representatives, but didn’t elaborate further except to say the Sabres are open to any type of term that makes sense for both sides.
And of course, the elephant in the room as always - the Eichel situation, of which there aren’t any significant updates. Adams said there is no change on the medical side of things. The Sabres are having a lot of conversations with teams, but he stressed the narrative that in the end, it comes down what’s best for Buffalo.
“What’s critically important to make sure is clear is that we’re in control of this process,” he said. “We have a player under contract. We don’t feel any pressure. If there’s a deal out there that we feel is the right thing for the Buffalo Sabres, it’s going to help us improve - whether that’s right away or down the road - those are all the things we weigh. We’d be open to it, but we’re not in a position where we feel that we’re just going to do something to do it.”
“We want players that want to be here,” he added. “We have players that are on our team under contact, and we aren’t going to do something that we don’t think makes sense for the franchise. We have a bunch of good pros in our locker room, younger players that are hungry, that want to be here.”
Would having Eichel still around when training camp begins be a distraction to the team?
“I’m not worried about distraction,” Adams emphasized. “I’m worried about doing what’s right for the Buffalo Sabres. If there’s something that makes sense, we’ll do it.”