Buffalo Sabres Prepping for NHL Free Agency

A quick look at which players are set to be RFAs, UFAs

When the NHL opens its free agency period this Wednesday, July 28, it’s expected that a handful of notable players across the league will become free agents. Some teams have already announced the extension of qualifying offers to their impending restricted free agents, while others will likely come out in the next day or two.

Ahead of free agency opening at noon this Wednesday, here’s a quick look at some of the Buffalo Sabres players who could become free agents later this week:

Tobias Rieder (UFA): The 28-year-old right winger is coming off a one-year deal worth $700k. He recorded seven points (5-2) in 44 games with the Sabres this past season and appeared in 10 games with Team Germany at Worlds. Past contracts include his entry-level deal with an AAV of $925k (signed in 2013), one-year deals signed with Arizona and Edmonton with AAVs of $2.225 million and $2 million. Each of his last two contracts were worth $700k.

Riley Sheahan (UFA): The 29-year-old forward (LW/C) has seen a similar salary progression over his career as Rieder, who’s bounced around a bit over the years. He earned $2.1 million in the 2018-19 season with Pittsburgh, then $900k with Edmonton in 2019-20. Sheahan comes into this offseason on the heels of a $700k one-year deal with the Sabres. During his first season in Buffalo - his eighth in the NHL - he put up 13 points (4-9) in 53 games.

Rasmus Asplund (RFA): Asplund, 23, is wrapping up his three-year, entry-level contract signed in May 2018. Over the past few years, the forward had an AAV of $925k with a cap hit of $845k, with a few performance bonuses and signing bonuses built in. Asplund put up 11 points (7-4) in 28 games with the Sabres this past season; he a=lso appeared in three AHL games and played 14 games overseas.

Drake Caggiula (UFA): Caggiula split this past season between Arizona and Buffalo on a one-year contract worth $700k. In 27 games with the Coyotes, the 27-year-old forward put up seven points; he added three points (2-1) in 11 games with the Sabres. Over the course of his career, Caggiula has appeared in 260 regular-season NHL games and put up 86 points. Before this season, his prior contract was a two-year deal with an AAV of $1.5 million.

Casey Mittelstadt (RFA): Mittelstadt, 22, is a center whose value declined after a meager nine-point performance in the 2019-20 season. As a result of that, he earned just $874,125 this past season with the Sabres, a significant downgrade from his entry-level contract with an AAV of $1,491,667. This season, he bounced back nicely for 22 points on a struggling Buffalo team, appearing in 41 games.

Matt Irwin (UFA): Irwin, a 33-year-old flexible defenseman who can work on either side, has had a slew of short contracts over his ten-year NHL career. He signed a one-year deal with the Sabres in October 2020 worth $700k and as the saying goes - you get what you pay for. Buffalo is Irwin’s fifth NHL team since 2012; he put up two points in 24 games this past season, and I’d be surprised if Buffalo brought him back. Meh.

Rasmus Dahlin (RFA): The 21-year-old defenseman is finishing up his entry-level contract, signed in 2018. Dahlin’s previous deal was loaded with both performance and signing bonuses. His base salary was just $832,500, but included a performance bonus of $2.85 million and a signing bonus of $92,500. Overall, the AAV for his contract was $3.775 million. Dahlin appeared in 56 games, scoring five goals and adding 18 assists. He’s just three games shy of 200 in his young NHL career.

Henri Jokiharju (RFA): Jokiharju, 22, is seeking a new contract after the expiration of his entry-level deal, originally signed with Chicago in 2018. His three-year contract had an AAV of $1,279,166 and a cap hit of $925,000. This past season included a $637,500 performance bonus and a $92,500 signing bonus. In his second season with the Sabres, Jokiharju appeared in 46 games and put up eight points.

Jake McCabe (UFA): McCabe is expected to test the waters at free agency, following the second of his two-year contract with an AAV of $2.85 million. This was just the second contract of McCabe’s young NHL career; his entry-level had an AAV of $1.6 million. Having served as an alternate captain, the 27-year-old defenseman has worked his way up the Sabres organization over the years, but it seems as though that will be coming to an end.

Carter Hutton (UFA): Hutton, 35, is unlikely to return to Buffalo. He’s coming off a three-year contract signed with the Sabres in 2018, with an AAV of $2.75 million. This was the most profitable contract of Hutton’s NHL career to date, but his performance has worsened over the years. In this past season, he appeared in 13 games and had a 3.47 GAA and .886 save percentage.

Linus Ullmark (UFA): The 27-year-old goaltender could easily be the Sabres’ top man in next season, and it’s been reported that Kevyn Adams and his team are working to re-sign Ullmark. His sixth season in the NHL saw Ullmark appear in 20 games, accruing a 2.63 GAA and .917 save percentage. He earned $2.6 million this past season, nearly doubling his previous contract.

Stefanos Lekkas (10.2(c)): The 25-year-old netminder signed a quick one-year deal in early May with the Sabres, which earned him $700k. The netminder found himself in a unique situation, as he played 11 games with the ECHL’s Fort Wayne Komets and seven games with the AHL’s Rochester Americans. When the Sabres found themselves short on goalies, Lekkas was the man to call. He a 10.2(c) player, is waivers-exempt and ineligible for an offer sheet.

The Sabres organization also has a few prospects who could hit free agency: forwards Jean-Sébastien Dea, Steven Fogarty, C.J. Smith and Dawson DiPietro; defensemen Brandon Davidson and Casey Fitzgerald; and goaltender Michael Houser. Each of these players earned $700,000 this past season, with the exception of DiPietro ($750k) and Fitzgerald ($925k).