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GM For A Day:  The Lindy Part Deux Edition, or The Summer Of Love

Dec 12, 2023; San Jose, California, USA; Winnipeg Jets left wing Alex Iafallo (9) skates during warmups before the game between the San Jose Sharks and the Winnipeg Jets at SAP Center at San Jose. Mandatory Credit: Robert Edwards-USA TODAY Sports

This is a FanPost written by T. McGee.

For better or worse, Kevyn Adams has pushed a lot of chips into the middle of the table for next season.  His end-of-year press conference coupled with his new hire of old boss Lindy Ruff has put the focus squarely on him as GM and leader of the franchise.  And being in that focus, he needs to produce.  He’s going to have to be active, make some bold moves, and break the Drought.  If he does so, he’ll be given considerably more leash.  Maybe another 2-3 years?  More?  So without further adieu, let’s get into it!  

First off, I’m putting in place my new coaching staff.  

HIRE:  Lindy Ruff as HC.  As Eminen once said, “Guess who’s back, back again…”.  For those of you who are of an older vintage, Peter Townshend once said “Meet the new boss…same as the old boss…”  I’m not especially enthusiastic about the hire, but that step has already been taken.  Ruff is a bit of a mixed bag, he’s had some success and some failures.  He’s been around the block – something Adams indicated he wanted – and has coached some young teams, including his most recent stop in Newark.  So there’s some potential synergy with past jobs and his new gig.  

HIRE:  Joel Ward, Marty Wilford, Ryan Mougenel, Dustin Brown as ACs.  I’m naming Joel Ward, currently an Assistant in Vegas, as my ‘Associate Coach.’  Essentially, that means he’s the HC-in-waiting.  He’s been successful at the AHL level and now has some time behind an NHL bench coaching the defending champions.  Next, I’m bringing Ryan Mougenel in to handle the forwards.  He’s the current HC for the Providence Bruins, has been very successful there with one of the best records in the entire AHL during his 3 year tenure as HC.  He’s stuck behind Jim Montgomery and hasn’t had an NHL job before…so he might jump at this.  The Sabres elected to keep Marty Wilford around, and that’s not a bad thing…he helped to coach a huge improvement in both the overall team defense and the PK.  He’ll be there to coach the D.   And last but not least, I would love to bring aboard Dustin Brown as the 4th AC, the ‘eye in the sky’ gig that Peca reportedly turned down when offered.  Sure, he’s a novice, but who better to instill in these guys what it takes.  Captained 2 Cup winners, played 1300 games, 100 playoff games, and I’ve heard conflicting reports that he moved either to BFLO or back home to Ithaca.  If the former, this gig can be right down the street!  This is a young, hungry group of guys to whom can pass on a lot of knowledge.  

Now we’ve got our coaches in place, we start looking at the roster.  And all of that leads up to the Draft.  

The night before the Draft, we make a small deal:  

TRADE:  BFLO 2024 4th, 2025 5th -> WIN Alex Iafallo.  At the Draft, BFLO adds another guy who ‘wants to be here.’  Iafallo grew up in the Southtowns and played for the Regals.  He’s got one more year at $4M on his deal.  He can play either wing, has some strength to his game, is a consummate hustler, and will get to come home to play for the coach he almost certainly watched growing up.  A solid bottom 6 addition.     

DRAFT: 

1#12:  Michael Brandsegg-Nygard, RW, SWE:  High-pace, aggressive, scoring PF.  

2#11:  Raoul Boilard, C, QMJHL:  Super-skilled, strong C with a ton of upside. 

3#11:  Tomas Lavoie, RHD, QMJHL:  Big, physical shut-down D with a great 1st pass.  

4#12 (PHI):  Caleb Heil, G, USHL:  Quick, athletic netminder with a long development arc.

6#11:  Ondrej Becher, C/W, WHL **:  Super-skilled, playmaking forward.  

7#11: David Green, LHD, OJHL:  Steady, smart do-it-all D man off to the NCAA.  

7#28 (FLA): Roman Shokhorin, LHD, RUS:  Towering 6’4 D Man with a lot of potential.  

Then we get to the start of the League Year and Free Agency.  Here comes the Boom.  

BUYOUT:  Jeff Skinner.  This is a staple of my GM FAD’s as long as he’s under contract.  First off, let me be clear:  I don’t hate Jeff Skinner.  He’s obviously had a wonderful career.  He’s a productive scorer, probably finishes his career with 400 goals.  That’s amazing.  A strong forechecker, a likeable guy, an agitator.  All good qualities.  But there’s just too much not good and the Sabres don’t have the team to insulate a player like Skinner enough to prevent him from hurting the team.  I keep hearing ‘he can learn to play defense.’  Can he?  He’s played 1000 games!  How much longer until the light goes on?  So, I’m prepared to take my medicine and move on.  Will such a move do horrible damage to the Salary Cap?  No.  Is it manageable?  Yes, with some judicious moves.  And honestly, Adams isn’t worried about 3 years from now.  He’s worried about tomorrow.  This just seems like a no-brainer to me.   

RE-SIGN:  Ukko Pekka Luukkonen -> 3 years @ $3.95M.  One of the foundational pieces.  If UPL can play at 75% of what he played at this season, he’s still a legitimate #1 goalie in the NHL.  If he can replicate last season…all the better.  But goalies are voodoo.  And it’s possible – no one wants to hear this – that he could regress sharply next season.  Or he could take another step and be the new Thatcher Demko.  No one really knows.  So rather than extend him for 5-6 years, I’m going to play it safe and go with 3 and see where things are when that deal expires.  It’s possible Levi passes him in that span of time, or that UPL locks himself into being a Top 5 goalie in the NHL.  Either way, it gives me time.  I can wait to let him figure it out, and I have insurance behind him.  

SIGN: Tyler Toffoli -> 2 years @ $5.75M.  The big one.  Now, Toffoli isn’t a first-line kind of player, and in some cases, not even a second line player.  But he’s got just about everything I want.  He’s a goal scorer to offset the departure of Skinner.  He’s won 2 Cups.  Dangerous on special teams.  Can play either wing, and on just about any line.  Not only that but had one of his most productive seasons playing for Lindy Ruff in Jersey, and played with Dustin Brown in LA when they won Cups together.  Knows Quinn and Power from playing on Team Canada at the World Championships together.  Would give the Sabres 3 legitimate scoring lines, something Lindy mentioned more than once during his introductory presser.       

RE-SIGN:  Henri Jokiharju -> 2 years @ $3.8M.   Now, to be clear, this is a stop-gap.  I want to avoid Arbitration, but I don’t want to set him up to walk into UFA.  Like many folks, I was impressed with Joker’s performance this past season.  He definitely looked the part.  But I’ve essentially got to decide between he and Byram.  So I’m going to keep him around for this year…and then see what the market looks like for him in the 2025 off-season.  Moving him will also eliminate the escalation in Skinner’s buyout Cap hit (next year, Skinner’s Cap Hit goes up by $3M, and moving Joker for RyJo would save about #3M).  He’s a very good player, but I’ve only got so many spots and so many dollars to hand out.   

SIGN:  Liam O’Brien -> 1 year @ $950K.  The Coyotes are moving North to Salt Lake, and likely shedding players and coaches along the way.  Here the Sabres add a physical madman who loves to fly around and hit everything.  Something they’ve been notably lacking in recent years.  Add him to a Ruff squad, and you could have yourself a fan favorite.  He’s probably only going to play 55-60 games, but that’s fine.  Another add to the bottom 6.  And, just to make Jedi and the Bobs happy, he had over 200 hits!     

SIGN:  Jani Hakanpaa -> 1 year @ $1.7M.  A 6’4 right-shot defender who’s been around the block and plays a heavy, physical game?  Why not?  He’s really a depth defender who won’t get to play much unless something goes wrong, but he gives RyJo and Novikov some cushion as they round their own games into shape.  And in a pinch, he would be a nice partner for Samuelsson as a shut-down pair or as a stay-at-home guy for Dahlin, Power or Byram.  A versatile depth piece.     

RE-SIGN:  Peyton Krebs -> 2 years @ $1.6M.  Some people won’t like this, and that’s OK.  I love what Krebs brings to the table.  He’s quick, he plays with pace, not afraid of anything and loves being in BFLO.  A relentless forechecker.  Super-creative.  But I also hate what Krebs brings to the table.  He’s careless with the puck, gets caught on the wrong side of the puck too often, is the Prince of the Blind Backhand pass, and makes one headscratching play per game.  Sometimes more.  He’s one player Ruff should really be good for.  Either he’ll figure out how to play and start living up to his pedigree, or Lindy will dump him without a second thought.  And we can find out the answer to that at only $1.6M.       

SIGN: Tyler Motte -> 1 year @ $1.2M.  Ruff loves his scrappy 13th forward types.  Adam Mair, Matty Ellis, Taylor Pyatt.  Here comes his latest guy.  Motte’s an established vet who has played 400 games, and 40 playoff games.  He’s fast, he’s gritty, and loves to hit.  A true depth piece, but Ruff always has one of those guys who efforts up in practice.  Motte can do that.  And maybe more.       

SIGN:  Max Domi -> 2 years @ $4.9M.  So, everyone wanted a veteran 3C, isn’t that right?  And people wanted more physicality?  AND, someone who’s going to make the returning players a little uncomfortable in the dressing room?  Well, here you go.  A 30-year old Max Domi who’s consistently, over several different teams, been at least a break-even Corsi player, can create, defend, and is solid in the dot who’s been averaging over 50P a season for the last couple…just like Mitts.    

EXTEND:  Jack Quinn -> 2 years @ $2.25M.  This is one of those Cap management moves you want to make ahead of time.  Quinn is coming off a season where he had 2 separate, major injuries.  He also had a hernia in his Draft +1 year.  Is he made of glass?  But when healthy, he’s been a solid contributor in his 1.5 seasons.  So I’m going to try to get him on a 2-year extension at a lower number.  Why?  One, it’s security if he gets hurt again.  We won’t have to pay him that much.  And two, it will take him past the worst year of the Skinner buyout.  The year after his contract expires, the Skinner Cap Hit drops from $6.4M to $2.45M.  At that point I will have more money to extend him…if it’s warranted.     

OPENING NIGHT:  

CAP Hit: $86.5M

JJP (.85) – Tage (7.15) – Greenway (3) 

Benson (.95) – Cozens (7.1) – Tuch (4.75) 

Toffoli (5.75) – Domi (4.9) – Quinn (.86) 

Iafallo (4) – Krebs (1.6) – O’Brien (1) 

Rousek (.775) – Motte (1.2) 

Power (8.35) – Dahlin (11) 

Byram (3.85) – Joker (4.1) 

Sammy (4.3) – Clifton (3.3) 

Hakanpaa (1.7) 

UPL (3.95) – Levi (.95)  

The forward lines are very versatile.  I can move Toffoli, Greenway, Quinn, and Iafallo up, down and around.  The 3rd line could be really dangerous, a high-scoring operation that can play with a little bit of snarl and defend.  A healthy Tage and a more ‘middle-of-the-ice’ focused Peterka could be a dynamite pairing with Greenway as their defensive conscience.  And the 2nd line could be a nice match-up line that would be their best forechecking trio.  The 4th line has some skill – Krebs and Iafallo – but also speed and physicality.  And Motte can swap in to add more speed and physicality, while Rousek brings speed and smarts.   

The back-end is pretty stable.  I’m counting on more familiarity with teammates and the system, Byram getting an off-season with the boys, and Sammy getting healthy.  I think Ruff will lean heavily on Dahlin for the early part of the season.  

In net, we’ve got 2 young but potentially #1 goalies.  These days, that’s pretty rare.  

ROCHESTER OPENING NIGHT: 

Kulich – Biro – Rosen

Mersch – Savoie – Neuchev 

Jobst – Ostlund – Wahlberg 

Kisakov – Kozak – Nadeau

Giroux – Warren 

RyJo – Metsa 

Novikov – Cecconi 

Stillman – Komarov 

Laaouan 

Tokarski – Houser 

The Amerks are positively loaded with talent.  The Top 6 has, IMO, 5 future NHLers.  And that means…depth.  If the Sabres get hit with injuries, you have players to bring up to stem the tide for a half-dozen games or so.  And you’ve got a couple who might just steal a job when given the chance.  Like I said, the Top 6 will score and do it early and often.  The 3rd line might be the best 3rd line in the AHL.  And the remaining forwards are all dangerous in their own way and interchangeable for Coach Appert.  

On the back-end, Ryan Johnson gets to be the undisputed #1.  He’ll get all the ice he can handle, because in 2025, he’ll likely be a full-time NHLer.  Novikov will get his minutes, and Komarov will break into the pros with a steady vet guiding him in Stillman.  They’ll have size and length on the back-end but will be a limited with how much offense they can produce (other than Metsa).  

For the first time in a while, the Amerks will go with veterans in the pipes.  

PROSPECTS:  

C: Ostlund/Savoie/Boilard/Wahlberg/Kozak/

LW: Kulich/Neuchev/Miedema/von Barnekow/Becher/Kisakov

RW:  Rosen/Brandsegg-Nygard/Nadeau/Poltapov/Richard/Ratkovic-Bengtsson/

LD: Ryan Johnson/Novikov/Panocha/Green/Keohane/Shokhorin

RD: Komarov/Strbak/McCarthy/Lavoie 

G:  Leinonen/Ratzlaff/Heil 

FORECAST:  This team, and this organization, remains loaded with talent.  And most of it is very young.  But if they went in the direction laid out in this GMFAD, I think this would be their most talented roster up-and-down since the Drury-Briere days.  Better than the Vanek-Roy-Miller teams, and better than the Eichel-Rino-ROR teams.  And, if they have even some semblance of health plus the goaltending holds up, they should break the drought.