FanPost

Sabres Mock 2022 Off-season: Trades and Unrestricted Free Agency

The Sabres made a trade for Ben Bishop, and I couldn’t help but notice that it is may not just be a move to get to the cap floor. It’s also could be a reality check for the upcoming off-season.

The reality is simply this: the Ben Bishop trade serves as a reminder that the Sabres will likely not spend a ton of money this off-season, and historically it goes against everything that the Kevyn Adams front office has been about. Adams has been all about player development, youth, and building through the draft and trades, not free agency.

Historically Adams has not handed out a lot of term and money in free agency, and rightfully so. As Paul Hamilton has mentioned numerous times, teams who hand out the long term, big money contracts to UFA’s, almost always that team regrets it.

Granted, if they can find a guy who on a one year deal fits into their plan and lineup, they probably would do it, as they did with Taylor Hall a couple years ago, but there was no risk associated with that deal. If they can do it again with a goaltender, there may be something to be had here.

But overall, I am not expecting the Sabres to throw money at top four right handed defenseman, or top nine forwards. I’m expecting the Sabres to engage in business as usual with their version of "Trust the Process". I do think it’s very possible that they add some guys, but aside from a goaltender, I believe it will be mostly complimentary players.

So let’s dive in to unrestricted free agency and the trade market.

Unrestricted Free Agents

Nico Sturm 4 years / 9 million, 2.25m cap hit

Nico Strum is an under the radar signing who functions as a replace for Cody Eakin in the lineup as a fourth line center, and key faceoff man. Eakin was the only player on the Sabres last year to win >50% of draws last season, and they’ll need to replace that in the lineup. Sturm is 52.2% on draws for his career. It’s not that faceoffs win you games, but losing them at critical points in the game can hurt you.

He was traded to the Colorado Avalanche at the deadline for Tyson Jost, and has been a key part of the Avalanche’s cup finals run, and a stout penalty killer. Sturm has great size, and 6’3, 206lbs and plays a complete 200 foot game, with the upside to move up in the lineup if needed.


Marc-Andre Fleury 1 year/ 6 million, or Braden Holtby 1 year/ 3.25 million

For the Sabres goaltenders, I have two options depending on who they can land, with Marc Andre-Fleury as plan A, and Braden Holtby as plan B. I know I said no big splashes in terms of committing lots of years and lots of dollars at UFA's, but on a short term, one-year contract, I'm open to anyone.

I have to say, if the Sabres could pull off Fleury, I would be extremely exciting.

I know many hate the idea of Fleury. But the reason why I like this idea is because of the impact Fleury will have in the room for Buffalo, and the resume he brings to the team. He’s a three time Stanley Cup champion, NHL All-Star, Veznia Trophy winner, and future all of famer. If you’re looking for the perfect veteran mentor for Ukko-Pekka Lukkonen to eventually help transition him into a starting role, you can’t do much better than him, especially if Craig Anderson hangs it up this off-season.

The other thing about Andre-Fleury though is that unlike Anderson at age 40, he’s still capable of handling a big workload and playing 50+ games at age 37, and injuries plagued Sabres goaltenders all of last season, including Luukkonen.

Why would he sign here? I think he has a shot for some consideration. First, there’s not many starting jobs available on contending teams that can afford him. A reunion with Pittsburgh would be nice, but they are cap strapped. Minnesota could re-sign him, and right now that could be the favorite, but they have 12 million in dead cap, and only have around 7.3 million in space with Kevin Fiala’s contract status up in the air and poised for a trade. They’d need to move out some money to make it happen. Maybe that’s Cam Talbot, who has a 3.66 million dollar cap hit?

If the Sabres can’t land Fleury, then Braden Holtby would be the next best option.

My hunch tells me that the Sabres are not going to want to block a young guy long term from having a shot to be the long term number one goalie, such as Devon Levi or Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen. So that rules out a guy Ville Husso for me, whom will probably get a Linus Ullmark type deal. Jack Campbell and Darcy Kuemper are also going to get lots of years and a cap hit north of 5 to 6 million, and that may not fit in the Sabres plans.

Holtby is perfect here because he comes here with a ton of experience, a Stanley Cup and Veznia on his resume, and a lot of experience. He would be a perfect candidate to mentor Lukkonen, and personally I think that’s what the Sabres want, a veteran mentor to compliment their young prospect. A concern for Holtby however will be durability and injuries. He hasn’t played more than 40 games since the 2019-20 season, but he did find his groove in Dallas last season after struggling the previous two years with Vancouver and Washington.

There is also a possibility to add a veteran netminder like Holtby or Fleury, and also bring Anderson back as a number two or insurance policy number three, similar to what Washington had a a couple years ago with Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek. If Lukkonen struggles horribly next season, or if a veteran goalie gets hurt, Anderson could be a nice insurance policy.

Nicolas Deslauriers 2 years 3.6 million, 1.8m cap hit

Ironically it’s another guy who was on the Minnesota Wild. Deslauriers was originally acquired in the Brayden McNabb deal back in 2014, and then was shipped out three years later to Montreal for Zach Redmond. He spent the past couple years in Anaheim and then was traded to the Minnesota Wild at the deadline for their playoff run.

Deslauriers is a target for me because he can play a dual-role of enforcer, and grinder on the fourth line. He’s also a great guy in the locker room. He gives you more bang for your buck and value on the roster and in the lineup than John Hayden.

Trade Market


Buffalo acquires LW Alex Iafallo and RHD Jordan Spence for LW Victor Olafsson and LHD Ryan Johnson

The Kings and Sabres swap homers. Looking at improving the Sabres through trades is likely going to be the best course of action and with this deal, the Sabres shake up the roster, adding a solid defensive forward capable of chipping in 15 to 20 goals, as well as a 21-year old right handed defense prospect in Jordan Spence. The Kings are loaded on the right side of their blueline, and with the Sabres potentially looking at adding a righty to the mix, it’s best to look at who has the most to offer.

It wasn’t long ago when Buffalo was that organization rich in righty defenseman with Rasmus Ristolainen, Colin Miller, Henri Jokiharju, and Brandon Montour. Jokiharju is all that remains from that group.

With the Kings and their embarrassment of righty defenseman riches, but with significantly less on their left side with their main roster and in their prospect pool, the Sabres offer up a prospect in Ryan Johnson to make this a pure hockey trade.

Johnson, the former first rounder, is a really good prospect but unfortunately I feel the writing is on the wall for him to join the Kings down the road as he’s from Southern California, and his dad Craig was a long time player for them. For him, it might be a dream come true, and a perfect fit to play in the NHL quicker on a team that has a need. While the Sabres send the Kings one home town product, they ask for one in return with Eden, NY native Iafallo.

The Kings also need a sniper, and power play help and that’s where Victor Olafsson comes in, which is the key to the deal. The Sabres also open up a roster spot potentially in their top six and on the power play for Jack Quinn, J.J Peterka, or Artu Ruotsalinen to potentially seize.

For Jordan Spence, he is familiar with Dylan Cozens, Peyton Krebs, and Devon Levi as they were teammates at the World Juniors a couple years ago, and should he a fit here as a third pair right handed defenseman with second pair upside.

The only problem here is that he is smaller at 5’10, 180 lbs, and I do want to see the defense pairs remain: Dahlin and Samuelsson on the top pair, and Power and Jokiharju on the second pair. That would leave Spence and Bryson on the bottom pair, which would be a tremendously small pair that would probably have problems. A bigger defenseman may need to be acquired, which sets up the next trade with the Seattle Kraken.

I know I mentioned Sean Durzi as a potential target before as well, however, while I do think he can be had, I think he’d be the one guy that would be the toughest for the Kings to part with.

Buffalo acquires LHD Carson Soucy for LHD Jacob Bryson, Linus Weissbach and pick 41 in the 2022 NHL Draft

I should also say, I don’t hate Jacob Bryson at all, and he’s not nothing. At 5’9, 175 lbs, and when you’re that small, you better put up major production offensively, which he doesn’t. But he is a capable puck mover, and respectable in his own zone, but his size can be problematic. I do think he’s a respectable bottom pair defenseman, who needs the right partner to succeed, preferable a bigger defenseman good at puck retrieval. The only thing I dislike about Bryson is that he's not a guy that's going to run your power play, and not a guy that's going to be a major point producer in the league, but the righty Jordan Spence is a guy who can do that for you.

I want to see Samuelsson and Dahlin remain the top pair, with Power and Jokiharju on the second pair. Potentially pairing Bryson with someone like Jordan Spence who is also small could he disastrous, but Spence is an offensive catalyst. Both Bryson and Spence are guys who ideally I want paired up with a bigger complimentary defenseman.

There are plenty of options in free agency for a quality defenseman for the bottom four. Nikita Zadorov is a guy that stands out, but with his size, enforcer skill set. He will likely get overpaid in free agency as will many others. P.K Subban is another option, however, as I have mentioned before, he is not the guy he was in Montreal and Nashville. Subban is slower, not as dynamic and can’t make a lot of the plays he once did.

Carson Soucy makes for a good option to add. He’s a quality 4/5 defenseman who has good mobility for his size, will hit, drop the gloves, and has shutdown ability. The Sabres should look to get bigger as a team if they can, and to add another physically imposing shutdown defenseman, it would be a huge boost to the team next season.

Soucy has one more year left on his contract at 2.75 million. A high second round pick and a couple young players should be good value for him.


Projected lineup with UFA’s and trade additions

Forwards:


Skinner-Thompson-Tuch

Krebs- Cozens- Quinn/Ruotsalinen

Iafallo- Mittelstadt- Okposo

Girgensons- Sturm- Asplund


13th forward: Deslauriers

Key roster spot battle: Jack Quinn vs Artu Ruotsalinen vs JJ Peterka

Victor Olafsson’s trade to LA will open up an opportunity for someone like Quinn or Ruotsalinen to see significant minutes. Alex Iafallo does come over in that deal and he can play in the top six if need, but he should go to the third line and play in key defensive situations. Another battle will be for the second line center role between Dylan Cozens and Casey Mittelstadt. Mittelstadt is going into next season with by far the most to prove

Defense:

Samuelsson-Dahlin

Power-Jokiharju

Soucy- Spence


7th D: Pysyk

Key battle: Mark Pysyk vs Jordan Spence vs Casey Fitzgerald

This is battle is for the final top six defense spot on the right side. Spence has one more year of eligibility for the AHL. Pysyk is a very capable depth defenseman for the third pair.

Goalies:


M.Andre-Fleury or B.Holtby

U. Lukkonen


3rd goalie: M. Subban

Conclusion

My suspicion is that I don’t think the Sabres are going to want to spend too much draft capital in trades, just like they are not going to want to spend too much money in free agency. From what we have seen from the Kevyn Adams front office so far. Valuing draft capital, prospects, and young players and shying away from spending stupid amounts of money that result in trying to get out of bad contracts with in a couple years seems to be the belief of the Adams regimes.

Jeff Skinner is scoring again but the Sabres are still saddled to his nine million dollar cap hit for the next few years, and that’s something they’ll need to deal with down the road. Kyle Okposo became a bad contract from his UFA deal when he was the number two free agent behind Steven Stamkos in his class.

I do think they would be ok with moving a second rounder, but they may not want to go crazy. That’s not a bad thing, because it’s the opposite of what the Sabres have done in the past 8 years and it didn’t work.

I think they like the guys they have, but I think they just want to tweak the roster in the off-season, add good complimentary role players to support the young skill guys, and figure the goaltending out.

In terms of the salary cap, his roster would be anywhere between 63 to 66 million dollars, or approximately 3-6 million over the floor.

I know it's boring and I know it's not exciting, but sometimes simple and modest is the way to way to go. Last season's group of guys became a team that people enjoyed watching, and it's been a long time since that has been the case. This group improved as a team, and several individual players enjoyed some of their best seasons of their careers under Granato. This is a group that may need some tweaking from the outside, but overall, the Sabres must stay the course.

This is a FanPost written by a member of the community. It does not necessarily express the views or opinions of Die By The Blade.