The NHL offseason is officially in its “quiet” period as the month of August winds down, but the Buffalo Sabres are an exception to the norm, as there is still plenty to take care of on general manager (GM) Kevyn Adams‘ summer to-do list. Captain Jack Eichel is still a member of the Sabres and trade talks have seemingly died down for the time being, sparking concerns over his readiness for the upcoming 2021-22 season. The Sabres will also need to make some moves to reach the salary cap floor this season, will have a vacant captaincy once Eichel eventually leaves, and still have some key restricted free agents (RFAs) to lock up before the season starts. All that makes for some recent news & rumors surrounding the Sabres.
Eichel Will Miss Training Camp & Start of Regular Season
David Pagnotta of The Fourth Period reported earlier this week that according to multiple sources, Eichel has still not had any kind of surgery to repair the herniated disk in his neck. Whichever recovery option he chooses, whether it be his preferred surgery or the “rest and rehabilitation” method preferred by the Sabres, it is doubtful that he will get clearance from either the Sabres or the team that he ends up on this season, which indicates he will miss training camp and the start of the regular season.
Eichel is adamant on getting Artificial Disc Replacement surgery, which has never been performed on an NHL player, while the Sabres remain opposed to it. His frustrations are growing, seen in a blunt, angry statement made by his agents last month, and reiterated in a recent tweet using an unamused face emoji. The reality that Eichel won’t be ready for the start of the regular season doesn’t necessarily mean that the list of interested teams will shrink, but it almost certainly will affect the asking price that Adams has stuck to all summer.
Pagnotta suggested that the Anaheim Ducks, Vegas Golden Knights, New York Rangers, Columbus Blue Jackets and Calgary Flames are still in the Eichel trade conversation. It remains to be seen whether Adams will lower his asking price in a return package, but the hope is a deal can still get done without this cloud of distraction lingering into the regular season.
Sabres Need to Take Advantage of Salary Cap Space
The NHL salary cap will remain the same for the 2021-22 season as it has been for the past two seasons, at $81.5 million. The Sabres’ current cap hit is $52,897,763, leaving them with $28,602,237 of cap space to spend. Once they finally move Eichel and his $10 million cap hit, they’ll have even more money to spend. It’s inevitable, then, that Adams will need to sign some expensive players, probably to one-year contracts, to even reach the cap floor for this season.
Adams has taken a different approach to the salary cap thus far than other rebuilding teams like, say, the Arizona Coyotes, who have taken on multiple bad contracts from other teams, and have been able to stockpile seven draft picks in the first two rounds of next year’s draft. If your aim is to return to relevance as soon as possible through drafting and developing future NHL talent internally, then the Coyotes’ example is a good one to follow here.
The Sabres have dabbled in taking bad contracts other teams don’t want this offseason, picking up defenseman Will Butcher and a fifth-round pick from the New Jersey Devils in return for cap space, but his $3,733,33 cap hit won’t be enough to bring the Sabres to the floor – they’ll have to make some more moves to do that. Luckily, they’re at no shortage of trade partners in this scenario: eight teams are currently over the cap, and nine more are within $4.5 million of the ceiling, so the Sabres should have plenty of moves they can make to reach the floor.
It’s worth mentioning that the Sabres still have three unsigned RFAs – Rasmus Dahlin, Casey Mittelstadt, and Henri Jokiharju – who need to be signed before the start of the season. None of these players should demand too high of a cap hit for their new contracts, save maybe Dahlin, if of course he’s willing to sign a big, long-term contract with the team, and Adams is willing to pay him money comparable to what Cale Makar is being paid by the Colorado Avalanche. Signing these players will help the Sabres become compliant with the salary cap, but they’ll still have work to do outside of locking up their RFAs.
Captaincy Will Be Vacant Once Eichel Leaves
Eichel has been the Sabres captain since the 2018-19 season. Before that, the Sabres didn’t have a captain for one season, and before that, their last captain was Brian Gionta, who wore the “C” for just three seasons. To say that the Sabres haven’t had stable core leadership in recent years would be an understatement, but it’s also a chance to let your young players looking to make an impression shine this upcoming season.
I’m of the mind that the Sabres should not name a captain once Eichel leaves next season, and it should stay that way for at least another season after that, unless any one player proves themselves as bonafide captain material. No players beside the older ones, like Kyle Okposo, is ready to take on the burden of wearing the “C,” and the next player to wear the letter should be viewed as someone who could wear it for the next decade. Dylan Cozens won the hearts of Sabres fans in his rookie season, and does and says the things that a future captain should do and say, but giving a player his age the distinction isn’t necessary right now.
So what will the Sabres actually do when the captain eventually leaves? I’m guessing that Okposo would wear an “A” as an alternate captain, and Zemgus Girgensons, who missed last season due to injury, would also wear a letter. Both Okposo and Girgensons have experienced tough seasons with the Sabres, and might be better-suited for the roles since they can withstand the nightly beatings that the Sabres look destined to take this season. If a young player must wear an “A” as well, my vote would go to either Dahlin, or one of Mittelstadt or Cozens.
Other Sabres News & Updates
In other Sabres news, legendary play-by-play announcer Rick Jeanneret will be returning for his 51st and final season calling games for the Sabres, and will retire after the 2021-22 season. He will work 20 home games in the regular season, and will split broadcasting duties with Dan Dunleavy, who will cover the remaining 62 regular season games as he enters his ninth season with the team. Jeanneret has been the voice of the Sabres since 1971, for all but one season of the franchise’s existence.
The coming weeks should be anything but boring when it comes to the Sabres, and the weeks leading up to training camp and the start of the regular season will be hectic. Despite the low expectations for the Sabres next season, there are still some exciting storylines to keep an eye on, and Adams and the rest of the front office will certainly have their hands full in trying to set the Sabres in the right direction starting this season.
Brandon is a Buffalo Sabres Contributor for THW and Co-Host of THW’s ‘Sabres Scoop,’ who received his Master of Science in Sport Administration from Canisius College in Buffalo, NY, and founded his website, Seltytending, in 2017. He is an avid hockey writer and podcaster with prior work experience in the OJHL, NWHL, and NCAA. Twitter: @BSalts15