Hello everyone, and welcome to part 2 of this GMFAD, which covers the 2023-24 season. In part 1, I made the following moves for the Sabres in the 2022-23 season
Acquisitions: RW Jesse Puljujarvi, RW Patric Hornqvist (pre-season), LHD Radim Simek, RHD Santtu Kinnunen, C Maxim Letunov
2023 2nd (EDM), 2023 3rd (NSH), 2023 4th (CAR), 2024 2nd (CAL), 2024 3rd (SJS), 2025 3rd (FLA), 2025 4th (SJS), 2025 5th (CAL)
Departures: C/LW Zemgus Girgensons, RW Vinnie Hinostroza, RW Patric Hornqvist (@ trade deadline), LW Anders Bjork, C Matteo Constantini
2023 2nd (BUF)
Going into the draft, the Sabres have the following picks:
1st, 2nd (PHI), 2nd (VGK), 2nd (EDM), 3rd (NSH), 4th, 4th (CAR), 5th, 6th, 7th
While normally I'd be a very strong advocate for moving up with these excess picks, I don't think it's necessary given how deep the draft is. That said, I wouldn't be opposed to using 2 picks in the 2nd/4th to move up a round if the opportunity arose. While I'll leave the prospect talk (at least this far out) to Brass and McGee, here's how I'd roughly like the Sabres to draft positionally.
The Sabres' prospect pool at both LHD and RHD is going to be bone-dry with so many players either graduating or having their rights expire; this draft keeps them stocked to avoid the Sabres turning into the Bruins, Pens, etc. when they're consistently drafting in the 20's or hopefully even better. The extra picks I acquired in part 1 for 2024 & 2025 will help with that as well.
RHD Albert Lyckasen, 2 years/$825k
The seventh-rounder put together a very good year in the SHL last year; if he does it again (and I see no reason why he won't), he'll have earned a chance to cross the pond.
LHD Nikita Novikov, 3 years/$825k
I haven't seen any information about Novikov's contract, but if it's up at the end of this season, I want him in North America in 2023, as he will have had two KHL seasons under his belt by then. I'd want Poltapov as well, but his contract still runs a couple more years.
C Tyson Kozak, 3 years/$800k (At end of season)
Kozak has been another late-rounder who's been a very pleasant surprise. He gets his ELC once his junior season ends, as he's not eligible to play in the AHL until that happens.
RW Kyle Okposo, 2 years/$3 million
This will probably be Okposo's last contract. He's earned the right to retire a Sabre, and I wouldn't be shocked if he puts up 40-ish goals between those two seasons.
LW Brett Murray, 1 year/$1.1 million
Murray finally gets his full-time shot at the NHL. He's got the brains and physicality, as well as decent hands. I just don't think he's a good-enough skater to be in the lineup every night. Still, as the 13th forward he should get a few dozen games a year, if not more.
G Malcolm Subban, 2 years/$900k
Subban gets a bit of a raise for his loyalty and leadership, not to mention his services as the anthem singer.
RW Michael Mersch, 2 years/$825k
Someone I honestly just forgot to include in the Part 1 post, he's a solid leader for the Amerks and should be plenty productive even as he gets into his early 30's.
C Tyler Sikura, 1 year/$775k
Forward depth for the Amerks. Always liked Sikura's skating and versatility.
C Michael Chaput, 1 year/$775k
An AHL vet as center depth and a PK'er for the Amerks.
LHD Devante Stephens, 1 year/$775k
A reunion with a former draft pick. After struggling with the Amerks and being sent to the ECHL in 2018-19, Stephens has shown over the past couple seasons that he's a solid AHL contributor, and that's all he'll have to be.
LHD Cale Klague, 2 years/$850k
I've always liked Clague, so he gets some continuity. He should be a top 4 player for the Amerks and a competent emergency option for the Sabres, though hopefully not for more than a couple games a season.
RHD Oskari Laaksonen, 1 year/$925k
Laaksonen gets another season since he's shown to be a good offensive d-man in the AHL. Maybe he shows more, but I can't count on that.
LW Linus Weissbach, 1 year/$925k
This is pretty much Weissbach's qualifying offer. He's shown to be a solid contributor at the AHL level, and I want the Amerks to be good.
RW Lukas Rousek, 1 years/$925k
Rousek is less proven than Weissbach, but if he can continue his playoff performance into next season, he will have earned this deal.
RHD Casey Fitzgerald, 2 years/$1.2 million
Fitz earns himself a raise. He's a great depth defenseman who can be trusted to play 20-30 games a year with minimal fuss.
G Ukko Pekka Lukkonen, 2 years, $1.5 million
UPL gets a bit of a raise, but more importantly a permanent NHL roster spot. By the end of this contract, I'd hope to know whether he, Comrie, or Levi is the long term #1 for the Sabres.
LW/C Rasmus Asplund, 6 years/$3 million
I know this is a very long extension, but I based this off two deals: Colton Sissons, 7 year/$20 million deal, and Mathieu Joseph's 4 year/$11.9 million year contract. I think Asplund is a comparable player (at least to Sissons when he signed his contract). While he gets longer term at the same pay as Joseph, that's because Joseph was only one year from becoming a UFA, so he had considerably more leverage. While $3 million is a lot to pay for a "4th liner," Asplund's shot suppression numbers were excellent, he's an excellent PK'er, plus this deal ends when he's 31, so he should still be worth full value, if not more in the final years of his deal.
LHD Mattias Samuelsson, 3 years/$3 million
I really like Samuelsson's game. I'm just concerned about giving him too long of a contract given his playing style. But in the short and medium term, this is a very solid deal, and he's still just an RFA after it expires.
RW Jesse Puljujarvi, 4 years/$4 million
Puljujarvi gets a bit of a pay raise, and the Sabres buy a couple of his UFA seasons, but he's willing to go along with it since he'll be 29 when this contract is up. I expect him to be exactly who he is, with maybe a tick or two more production in that time, probably topping out at 50 points/season, which is great for a third-liner who does everything else well.
C Dylan Cozens, 6 years/$5.75 million
I based this deal off another contract: Phillip Danault's, who signed for the Kings on a 6-year/$5.5 million deal last offseason, when the cap was still basically flat. While Danault has a better track record than Cozens, Cozens' age and the cap going up soon give him a bit of a raise over that.
C Tage Thompson, 8 years/$8 million
Obviously this deal is contingent on Tage performing like he did last season, but I think he has it in him. His shooting percentage was high, but only around 40th in the league, which if anything is a bit low for Tage given how nasty his shot is. He's also shown that he can playmake and is a beast in transition. I expect him to put up something like 35-35-70 this season, and wouldn't be shocked if he got to 40 goals and 1 PPG, in which case he'd earn an extra million or so.
To BUF: 2025 2nd, 2024 5th
To WSH: RHD Ilya Lyubushkin (50% retained)
The Caps only have two defensemen (Carlson & Fehervary) under team control next year, and seem to place some value in pure shutdown types. I based this deal off the Girgensons one, because while I think Zemgus is a better player, getting Lyubushkin for a full season rather than 1/3 of one, plus the Caps' aforementioned D-man situation leads to equal compensation.
Lyubushkin is expendable to this version of the Sabres, for reasons that you'll see below. This keeps the pipeline stocked for the future, as well as providing possible TDL ammo in the following years. The Sabres get an extra 5th for salary retention, since Washington is probably going to be up against the cap for as long as the Ovechkin window is open.
To BUF: RHD Alexandre Carrier
TO NSH: C Casey Mittelstadt
I like Casey Mittelstadt, and I wouldn't be shocked if he had a very solid season in 2022-23. So why am I trading him? Two reasons. First, the Sabres' center depth is excellent. Thompson, Cozens, and Krebs are all immediate competition, but combined with Savoie, Kulich, and Ostlund, I just don't see room for him in the near future. Also, he doesn't really fit the Sabres' style of attack. He certainly has the skill Granato wants, but he's not a great skater or forechecker. Nashville needs a 3C, as Colton Sissons just is not that, and they also have a glut of defensemen with Josi, McDonagh, Ekholm, and Fabbro, plus that contract they just gave Lauzon.
I've always loved Alex Carrier, with him being in several of my GMFAD's going back for years. He's an all-around solid defenseman who can skate, pass, shoot, and defend, though he's a bit undersized. He put up 30 points last year despite starting in his defensive zone 64% of the time. He'll immediately battle with Jokiharju to be Power's partner, and if he doesn't win that competition, he's still a substantial upgrade over Lyubushkin on the 3rd pair. He gets a 3 year/$2.5 million AAV contract since he's an RFA.
Opening Night Lineups
Tons of playmaking skill on the first line, and hopefully by this point Rosen and Kulich are close to 1 PPG. The second line is balanced, and gives Kisakov to chance to prove himself. The third line is fun because Letunov is almost a full foot taller than Weissbach. The fourth line has one vet flanked by two promising youngsters.
The defensive pairings are all pretty balanced, and I'm really intrigued by the RHD battle, because I think all three of them could play on any pairing. Novikov may also have a chance to become the top pairing LHD by the end of the season.
I can't wait to see Levi playing professionally. Subban should be consistent as usual, at least at the AHL level.
Extras: Simek, Fitzgerald
Cap Hit: $71.4/$83.5 million
The first line speaks for itself. Cozens will allow the wingers on the second line to run wild, while the third line has a good mix of playmaking and shutdown ability, with all three players having very high motors. I do think Savoie is NHL-ready, but I think he should be sheltered, to start, especially if he plays C. He'll get 4th line minutes to start, along with some time on the power play, but I wouldn't be shocked if he was 3C or 3LW by the end of the season.
The first pairing should be excellent again. Carrier and Joker could both win the second pairing spot next to Power, who should really be emerging in his second full season. The third pairing should be able to play tough minutes without too much fuss.
As for in goal, Comrie gets to show whether or not he deserves another contract, and UPL gets his full-time shot after some promising flashes.
The Sabres are also set up with plenty of cap room to pay Dahlin, Power, and Krebs in the 2023-24 offseason.