This is going to be a crucial offseason, as another year passes by with no playoffs for the Buffalo Sabres.
Management should know by now that the 2020-21 season is going to be a make-or-break year for so many personnel. Here I’ll dive into the Sabres’ restricted and unrestricted free agents that management should sign.
The Sabres are estimated to have just under $39 million in cap space, and the team is going to need to re-sign several pieces. They may not be in a cap crunch, but they will have to be smart about where they spend their money. They will also need to add help via the free-agent market.
Restricted Free Agents
Let’s start with the RFAs: Sam Reinhart, Dominik Kahun, Victor Olofsson, Curtis Lazar, Lawrence Pilut, Brandon Montour, Linus Ullmark, Tage Thompson, Casey Mittelstadt, Brandon Hickey, Andrew Oglevie, Jonas Johansson, Matt Spencer, Remi Elie, Taylor Leier.
Management is going to re-sign Reinhart first, and he’s going to want a long-term deal. He scored 22 goals (three off his best mark) in a shortened 69 games. He proved in 2019-20 to be worth a big ticket coming off a bridge deal.
Olofsson, Kahun, Montour, Ullmark, Thompson and Mittlesadt are all no-brainer RFAs that the Sabres should want to bring back. Thompson and Mittlesadt played their way out of a big deal, so the Sabres should be able to get them at a bargain. There’s no need to give up on them already. Ullmark may not be “your guy” in the future, but he started in 34 of 69 games and finished with a record over .500.
Pilut is an interesting case because he has reportedly signed a contract in the KHL. If there’s any chance that he might come back to the NHL, they should sign him, without a doubt. He’s a raw and young talent that the Sabres want in their system. In 46 games, he hasn’t broken out as an NHL talent, but he’s also only 24.
The rest of the bunch should get qualifying offers, but I don’t see the Sabres needing to overpay any other RFAs.
Unrestricted Free Agents
The notable UFAs: Wayne Simmonds, Michael Frolik, Jimmy Vesey, Zemgus Girgensons, Johan Larsson, Vladimir Sobotka, Matt Hunwick, Casey Nelson, Scott Wilson, Dalton Smith, Curtis Lazar, John Gilmour, Andrew Hammond.
This is where it gets a little tricky. They want to save some cap space for any big-ticket free agents that might come available, but they also don’t want to let any key pieces walk.
Off the top, Vesey, Girgensons, Larsson and Simmonds deserve a spot on the team. Vesey had a very cold start, but he found his stride as the season went along. He finished with a career-low 20 points in 64 games. I can’t see him asking for too much of a raise from the $2.275 million AAV he’s earning now. Treat him like Sam Reinhart from two years ago. He should be getting a bridge deal because there’s so much he needs to prove in his game right now.
Girgensons and Larsson have proved to be key pieces to that bottom-six forward bunch. They won’t ask for much money or term to re-sign, so they should be kept without a question.
Simmonds, on the other hand, was put in a tough spot after the pandemic put an end to the regular season. He was traded to Buffalo at the deadline and only played in seven games with the Sabres. That’s not enough time to evaluate his fit on the roster. With his veteran presence and tough style of play, he should be brought back on a short-term deal.
Again, the rest of the UFAs should be considered for very small deals if they are interested in staying with the organization, but they won’t be worth overpaying for in free agency.
It’s only June, in a season that is going to extend into the summer, so there is still so much that can happen. For the Sabres to right the ship and continue in the right direction, re-signing their free agents is a start. But it’s just one small piece of the puzzle.