GM for a Day: Filling the Gaps
This is a FanPost written by BuffaloBuckeye.
Intro & The Draft
First off, thanks to Melissa, Calvin, and the staff for keeping not just DBTB, but fanposts alive after all the shenanigans (to put it very mildly) by Vox. I’ve been lurking for almost 10 years and commenting for about 6, and I owe pretty much all my hockey knowledge to the writers and posters here. The Sabres were painfully close to the playoffs last season, overperforming just about everyone’s expectations. While there is a lot to like about the team, particularly at the top of the lineup, there are absolutely a couple glaring needs, namely an actually competent penalty kill and 3rd defense pairing, as well as re-stocking the pipeline, particularly on the back end and in goal. And speaking of re-stocking the pipeline, let’s get to the draft.
Round 1, Pick 13: Oliver Moore, C, USNTDP
Moore is the fastest player in this draft, and he’d be a great fit for how the Sabres play. He combines his ridiculous (some would say ludicrous) speed with very good hands and vision, plus a pretty nice shot. There’s a reason he’s averaged a point per game over the last couple seasons with the national team. He’s also played both center and wing; it’s unclear where he’ll end up in the NHL, but for the Sabres he’s more likely a winger. There are some downsides to his game. First, much like another Sabres forward from Minnesota, despite having a decent shot he doesn’t shoot the puck nearly as much as he should (though to Mitts’ credit, that did improve this season). Also, Moore’s skating ability masks some of the coverage mistakes he makes in the defensive zone, something which he won’t be able to get away with as much in the NHL. Some of you know I’m considerably lower on J.J. Peterka than most everyone else on here. While I think he’s a solid young player, I’m not banking on him to be a major contributor in the future, and Moore is some insurance in case I’m right. My hope is that two of Moore, Kulich, and Peterka end up being top-six forwards in the long term. Young players are never a guarantee, but I like the odds of that happening.
Round 2, Pick 7: Aram Minnetian, RHD, USNTDP/Boston College
For me, the most important skill a defenseman can have is getting the puck out of the zone cleanly, whether that’s through skating past, passing around,or, like Rasmus Dahlin does so well, stickhandling around them. Minnetian can do a little bit of all three, and as a converted forward, he’s notably better at the last one than most defensemen. His background as a forward also shows up with his shot. As good as those skills are, his greatest asset is his skating, in terms of both raw speed and change-of-direction. He’s more than capable of not just leading a rush, but scoring off it. His defensive awareness is way better than you’d expected from a converted forward. The major development points for him will be turning his skills into more consistent point production, and adding strength to his 6’0”, 175 lb frame. His playing style is also a good complement to another young RHD to be acquired later in this post. Ideally he replaces Joker after working on the aforementioned things in Boston College, plus a season in Rochester.
Round 2, Pick 13: LHD Theo Lindstein, Byrnas (Sweden)
Lindstein is similar to Minnetian as a slightly undersized (also 6’0”) defenseman with very good skating and passing ability; especially as a skater. Defensively, he knows where to be and is fast enough to get there, and those skills are why he got playing time in the SHL as both a seventeen and eighteen-year-old. His biggest concern defensively is adding weight to his 178 lb frame. Offensively, Lindstein has a lot of skill and is very good at carrying the puck in transition, but sometimes gets caught carrying the puck a touch or two too long. That’s something he’ll have to fix if he wants to get a bigger role in the SHL, let alone make it to the NHL. Still, there’s no reason to believe he can’t do it. In the long term, I don’t see Lindstein as anything more than a 3LHD given Samuelsson and Power, but I do expect him to compete for that spot with a defenseman acquired later in this post. He’ll probably need a year or two in Sweden, then at least one season in Rochester before getting his NHL shot. His best value may end up as a trade chip for when the Sabres are really going for it in future seasons, but very likely not 2023-24. Ideal player composition: 1 C, 1 LW, 1 RW, 2 LHD, 2 RHD, 1G
RFAs, Entry-Level Deals, and Extensions
LW/RW Linus Weissbach, 1 year/$850k AAV
Weissbach has shown that he’s a useful AHL player with more than enough speed and skill to produce at that level. He should help the Amerks make the playoffs again.
LHD Kale Clague, 2 years/$900k AAV
Clague will hopefully bring some stability to the Rochester blue line, while possibly playing spot duty in Buffalo. While he was fine this past season and doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses, as a jack-of-all-trades 7th or 8th defenseman I’d still much rather see him in Rochester.
RW/LW Lukas Rousek, 2 years/$950k AAV
Rousek looked promising in his brief cameos with the Sabres and will absolutely have the chance to make the team out of camp. He’s shown he can produce at the AHL level, and has shown some flashes of doing the same in the NHL, though I’d be surprised if he becomes anything more than a 3rd liner. That said, $950k is an exceptional price tag for a third liner.
C/LW Tyson Jost, 2 years, $2 million AAV
Jost was a very pleasant surprise in Buffalo after flaming out in Colorado and never really getting a chance in Minnesota. His skating ability and tenacity make him an excellent fit at 4C/LW, plus while he’s not much of a goal-scorer, he is a better playmaker than most in his role.
LHD Nikita Novikov, $3 years, 850k AAV (Entry-Level)
I believe Novikov is currently out of contract after playing 62 games in the KHL as a 19-year-old defenseman, which is no small feat for a league that’s (in)famous for barely playing young players at all, even on the wing. He’s the sort of steady, puck-moving presence the Sabres could use on their back end. Will he become that? Who knows, but he’s at the very least earned the chance to prove himself in Rochester.
C/LW Casey Mittelstadt, 4 years/$4.5 million AAV
In my view, this is the least likely of the 3 extensions. After a couple seasons of injury and Kreuger-induced malaise, Mitts broke out this past season, scoring over 50 points and adding some noticeably improved athleticism and two-way play to the high-end skill and vision he’s always had. This deal is obviously a bit of a risk given that he only had one season of high-end production, but it’s a risk Adams has been willing to take in the past since it decreases the contract’s AAV.
LHD Owen Power, 3 years/$7 million AAV
I based this contract off the Dahlin bridge contract, adding a little extra because of cap increases. While there’s no doubt that Power has earned a long-term deal, playing and producing with a veteran’s workload as a rookie, I’d rather sign him to that when his RFA years are almost gone. Not to mention it’ll be much more palatable with further cap increases on the way, as the players should have the escrow paid off by this time next year.
LHD Rasmus Dahlin, 7 years/$9.1 million AAV
Dahlin should be a Norris finalist for this season and many more to come. Even when injured, he was so often the best player on the ice, even against elite competition like Carolina. While Dahlin's worth more than $9.1 million per year, he seems like the sort of player who like Tage, will take a discount in order to help the team. The extra $.1 million is so he makes more than his draft mate (and likely perennial Norris rival) Cale Makar.
I'm starting the UFAs with players who will be Amerks only, at least for the next season, then moving up to the NHL.
C Jackson Cates, 2 years/900k AAV
The younger brother of Noah Cates, who broke out in a massive way this season on an otherwise poor (to say the least) Flyers team. While I don't think he’ll ever become the player his brother is, he’ll still contribute in Rochester and may even become a 4C one day. He's also played fewer than 250 pro games, so he fits under the AHL’s veteran rule.
C Dylan McLaughlin, 1 year, $800k AAV
I may be a tad biased here since Dylan was my high school classmate (though my high school had so many people I didn't know him particularly well at all), but I still think he's a good fit in Rochester. He's put up second-line numbers over his last 2 years in the AHL, and like Cates, falls under the 250 game maximum for the AHL’s veteran rule.
RHD Joseph Cecconi, 1 year/$775k AAV
Pretty straightforward deal here as Rochester needs more defensemen, even with Novikov coming in. Could actually see him as Novikov’s partner.
G Michael Houser, 2 years/800k AAV
Houser’s a good AHL goalie(and frankly a decent emergency NHL option) who's worth keeping around at least until Leinonen comes over, probably when this contract ends.
G Malcolm Subban, 2 years/900k AAV
The same thing I said about Houser, except Subban is just a touch or two better, particularly at the AHL level. Will keep whichever of the two performs better to mentor Leinonen when their contracts end.
RW Kyle Okposo, 1 year/$2 million AAV
I have my worries about Okposo being able to keep up with the pace of the game, but he's also earned the right to go at least one more season. He hasn’t earned it with just his intangibles either, but with his two-way play and still-decent scoring ability given his minutes and assignments. I want him riding off into the sunset at the end of the season having accomplished his mission of getting back to the playoffs.
C Tomas Nosek, 3 years/$2.5 million AAV
Is this an overpay, a year too much term, or both? Yes; welcome to the UFA market. That said, Nosek is an excellent penalty killer, something the Sabres desperately need. I wouldn't expect more than 25 points a season, but if he can help get the Sabres PK to even an average level, something I think he's more than capable of doing, it'll be worth it.
LW/RW Gustav Nyquist, 1 year/$3 million AAV
Nyquist has been a solid middle six player throughout his career, and should be available cheap given his injury issues this past season. When he is healthy, which he appears to be now, he combines putting up roughly .6 ppg with good possession numbers and defensive play, particularly on the penalty kill. He should be available fairly cheap given his age and relative lack of production this season, though he's really turned it on since he returned from injury for the Wild. He keeps Savoie’s spot warm for the season.
RHD Scott Mayfield, 3 years/$2.5 million AAV
Last is in my view the most important move the team has to make: finding a partner for Owen Power, at least for the short and medium term. Mayfield is in my view the best realistic fit for Power, as not only is he a physical defenseman at 6’5”, 220, but he's also a competent puck mover who set a career high in points last year. I'm guessing he'd also relish the chance to go from the team with the most boring, miserable style of hockey to one of the league's most exciting teams. The glut of defensemen on the market this year keeps his cost relatively low.
To BUF: 2025 4th To LAK: LHD Jacob Bryson
The Kings need LHD desperately, and the Sabres have a glut of them. Frankly I'd be fine giving Bryson away for free, but I'm guessing someone will pay a little for a defenseman who’s played a couple hundred games and can skate.
To BUF: RHD Jack Matier To NSH: LHD Mats Lindgren
Jack Matier is a victim of the huge glut of young RHD Nashville has with Fabbro, Foote, Carrier, and Livingstone. While Matier is 6’5”, he can also play the puck, as evidenced by him going almost 1 ppg in the OHL this season. That said, he's likely to be more of a shutdown player in the NHL like he was at the World Juniors for Canada. He’ll get a year or two in Rochester before having a real shot to make the Sabres. Ideally, he’s ready to replace Mayfield in 3 seasons when his deal is up. While the Sabres’ LHD pipeline isn’t nearly as stocked as Nashville’s is on the other side, Lindgren’s path to the NHL would be a very tough one with 2 of 3 LHD locked down in the long term with Samuelsson and Power, with Stillman and Harley behind them. Nashville’s got some decent LHD prospects too, but they’re all 4-5 years older than Lindgren; he’d be a useful reset since the Preds can’t re-sign them all. I’d be willing to throw in a late-round pick as a sweetener too if needed.
To BUF: LHD Nikita Zadorov To CAL: RW Victor Olofsson
With Nyquist signed and Savoie on the way, Olofsson becomes even more redundant for the Sabres, who in my view need a better 3rd pairing LHD than Riley Stillman, who's more of a 7D to me. Calgary on the other hand, has plenty of defensemen, especially with Kylington coming back from injury, but needs some scoring help. Enter Olofsson, who scored more goals than both Huberdeau and Kadri last year. With both players in the last year of their contract, a straight swap makes sense to me, possibly with a third team eating some of Olofsson’s salary for a late draft pick. Zadorov returns to Buffalo having fully grown into his 6’6” frame, and while he's no offensive dynamo Dahlin, will still contribute substantially more offense than Bryson or Stillman. That said, Zadorov was mainly acquired for the penalty kill and play in his own zone, especially his physicality. He also wouldn't be a bad partner for Dahlin or Power in case of injury.
To BUF: LHD Thomas Harley, 2024 2nd To DAL: C Peyton Krebs, 2024 4th
This move will probably be pretty controversial in the comments section, but I just don't see Krebs as a long-term piece with the Sabres. Thompson, Cozens, and (in my view) Mittelstadt are going to be the top 3 centers for a long time, and while Krebs works incredibly hard and can really pass the puck, he just gives the puck away too much and isn't good enough on the PK to be a 4C, which is why I went for Nosek in free agency. Krebs has also shown he's a much better center than winger, so moving him to wing wouldn't help much either. Therefore, I think it's best to move him now where the return should still be decent given his potential. Thomas Harley is a good player in his own right. He's a 6’3” defenseman who can move the puck, with improving offensive production every year, even scoring double digit goals in the AHL this season. He’ll spend a year in Rochester, then fill Zadorov’s spot when his contract expires at the end of the season. We can only hope he ends up half as good as the other Syracuse native on the roster. As for Dallas, they have their LHD set with Heiskanen, Lindell, and Suter, but they have just 8 forwards signed for next season, plus one RFA. While Krebs hasn't been overly productive in Buffalo, a change of scenery, and more importantly a change in role, should do him some good.
To BUF: RW Brock Boeser, RW Danila Klimovich To VAN: G Eric Comrie, $5 million in cap relief
The Canucks are going to be in cap hell next year (as in they’ll have negative cap space once their LTIR players return and before signing any RFA’s) and don't have a backup goalie signed, so this trade helps them on both fronts. Klimovich is an interesting wing prospect whose production has increased year over year, getting close to 20 goals as a 20-year-old in the AHL this season. Not sure he’ll ever turn into anything, but he's worth a shot, especially since he's coming for basically free thanks to Vancouver’s dire cap situation. As for the main piece of the trade, Brock Boeser has been very consistently productive in his career, putting up 45-56 points every season he's played. This past season saw him rack up a career-high 37 assists, albeit with just eighteen goals, the second-lowest total of his career, on a hideously dysfunctional Canucks team. Being on a team that has an excellent culture (wow it feels weird to type that) should only help him make the most of his skills. And speaking of those skills, Boeser is a very well-rounded player. While he's known as a sniper and power play specialist, he’s also good in his own end, and his possession numbers show he's able to drive play at even strength. His only real weakness is speed, which does initially appear as a concern given how the Sabres play. However, Kyle Okposo scored 20 goals in the 2021-22 season, and Boeser is definitely faster than him, not to mention that he’ll have better linemates. Finally, while Boeser is overpaid at a $6.6 million cap hit, his contract only runs for two more years, conveniently ending right when Jack Quinn and J.J. Peterka are due raises.
Opening Night Lineups
Defense and Goalies
Scratches: LW/RW Filip Cederqvist
With this roster, I'd expect Rochester to make the playoffs again. This is a dangerous forward group, especially the first three lines. I want to see if Kulich can play center, even if I expect him to be a wing in the NHL, plus it should improve his defensive game. Rochester’s defense was by far the worst part of the team last year, but should be much improved by Harley coming down, as well as a full season of Clague. Hopefully Matier has a good first season, but even if he doesn’t, the defense should be a whole lot better anyway. The goaltending should be above-average again, if a bit unspectacular.
Defense and Goalies
Scratches: C/LW Tyson Jost, RHD Ilya Lyubushkin, LHD Riley Stillman
Cap Hit: $77.2/$83.5 million
Looking at the forwards, the top nine are all pretty interchangeable. I do think pairing Peterka with Boeser would be a good idea to make up for Boeser’s lack of pace, but there are so many options there. The fourth line is also going to take a ton of tough assignments like this year’s version, but should be more effective at it.
Defensively, the top 3 players speak for themselves, and Power should be even better with Mayfield next to him. The 3rd pairing takes a huge leap, with two consistently competent defensemen on it, though I would draw in Lyubushkin to play against Tampa.
Do I have some concerns in goal? Yes, but I want to give both Levi and UPL, particularly UPL, a chance with a much-improved defense and penalty kill. If more experienced goalie help is needed, there is enough cap room to go get one. As for the cap, not only is there a comfortable amount of space for a goalie move if needed, but it’s set up well for the extensions kicking in next year, with $11 million being added from those extensions, but $11.5 million coming off the books in expiring contracts, plus a likely substantial cap increase with the escrow being paid off.
All in all, I think this is a playoff team. As nasty as the Eastern Conference is, this Sabres team should be noticeably better, and I don’t think many other East teams will be getting better in the offseason, with the vast majority of the good teams either aging, in cap hell, or both. While nothing is guaranteed, I feel a lot better about the Sabres’ playoff chances with this lineup than I have since I was in high school, hell, maybe middle school. I hope you all enjoyed this, and to whomever had to edit this to put it on the site, I hope you didn't have to spend too much time doing so. Looking forward to discussing this with everyone in the comments.
Want to submit your own FanPost? Try our new submission form! You must be logged in & use the same email address & username tied to your Die By The Blade account.
Die By The Blade is a community, allowing members to post their own thoughts and opinions on the Buffalo Sabres and hockey in general. These views and thoughts may not be shared by the editors or staff of Die By The Blade.