Counting Down to the Silly Season

Once the Stanley Cup Champion is crowned, the best part of the year begins - the silly season.

The Stanley Cup Final will indeed come to an end on tonight, with the seventh game taking place at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.

While the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues duke it out for hockey’s highest honor, all eyes in the Western New York area will be ready to turn from their television sets to the Buffalo Sabres front office.

With the official announcement of Jeff Skinner’s long-term commitment to the Sabres organization days ago, many locally saw that as a kick start to the best time of the year – silly season.

Despite the hockey season still showing signs of life, CapFriendly turned their books over to the 2019-20 season. With this change comes a perfect opportunity to take a look at what potentially is ahead for the Buffalo Sabres.

Right now, Buffalo has 16 players under contract on the NHL roster.

Offensively, Zemgus Girgensons, Johan Larsson and Evan Rodrigues are all set to become restricted free agents. Buffalo retains their rights and an essential right of first refusal, if another team signs the specific player to an offer sheet.

Jason Pominville currently finds himself as the only unrestricted free agent forward on the big league roster.

Defensively, Jake McCabe is the only main roster player with a questionable contract status. McCabe is set to be a restricted free agent which, again, gives Buffalo the rights and right of first refusal.

In goal, Linus Ullmark becomes a restricted free agent as well. Rights and right of first refusal there as well.

These players not included, Buffalo currently sits with a projected cap space of $20,415,476.

Notable players in the system also find themselves up for new contracts – the likes of C.J. Smith, Sean Malone, Remi Elie, Eric Cornel, Jack Dougherty and Brycen Martin are all restricted free agents.

Some of those players will find themselves on the NHL roster next season but their respective salary cap hits should not make a dent.

Jason Botterill himself has said he plans on being busy when the time comes.

”We’ll certainly be active in talking to different players in free agency. Sometimes a more realistic option is through trades, like we did last year with Conor Sheary and Matt Hunwick.”

Looking back at last season’s moves, Botterill gave us an early look into how he might like to operate as a general manager.

The Sheary / Hunwick move was acquiring a better player and a salary cap anchor for a draft pick.

The O’Reilly move was an attempt at diversifying an asset into multiple assets.

The Skinner move was the equivalent of pushing your chips to the center of a table and going all-in during a game of Texas Hold ‘Em.

Of teams currently at the salary cap floor, Buffalo has the second-most available cap space – only behind the Minnesota Wild, who has over 21 million in available cap space.

While the Sabres lack the depth of prospects that other teams might find attractive, their salary cap availability makes them a perfect candidate for a Sheary / Hunwick move again.

Teams like the Tampa Bay Lightning or Vegas Golden Knights could come calling with salary cap relief in mind.

Although the O’Reilly move did not work out in year one, Botterill does not seem afraid to pull the trigger on the same type of deal.

We heard rumblings of a potential Rasmus Ristolainen deal around the most recent trade deadline but clearly, nothing ever came to fruition.

It seems likely that Botterill would want to try to make Ristolainen work, with his young age and team friendly cap hit for the next three seasons both benefitting the organization.

Our own Chad DeDominicis highlighted what Buffalo might be able to do with Ristolainen, should he stick around.

If Botterill does make a move, the aforementioned Tampa Bay Lighting could be a very attractive trading partner.

Tampa Bay has over eight million dollars in cap space to play with this offseason but presumably has a very big contract coming for Brayden Point and three NHL veteran defensemen coming off the books.

Botterill could essentially make a Sheary / Hunwick and O’Reilly deal all in one with acquiring someone like forward Ryan Callahan, who has one year left at 5.8 million, while acquiring a player like defenseman Erik Cernak (22 years old). All this happening while shipping Ristolainen back to Tampa Bay.

See how much fun the silly season truly is?

Lastly, we look at another Jeff Skinner sized deal.

Could Botterill push his chips to the center of the free agency table and go all-in on a center? Matt Duchene is the apple of many general manager eyes and would definitely fill a sizeable gap in the middle of the Sabres lineup.

Better yet, could Botterill give the Winnipeg Jets a call and make a sweetheart deal for defenseman Jacob Trouba? Certainly fits the mold of trying to improve the team through a trade.

Over the next three weeks, the National Hockey League will crown a new Stanley Cup Champion, welcome in a new class of rookies and open the floodgates to one of the more interesting free agent classes we have had in a while.

Just remember that this is called the “silly season” for a reason – if it seems too good to be true, you should probably double check your sources.