The Buffalo Sabres tendered qualifying offers for their restricted free agents on Monday. Included in the list are Robin Lehner, Marcus Foligno and Nathan Beaulieu.
Here we will break down their performances whilst on the bridge deals that have just expired, then compare those performances to players who signed deals at a similar age with similar points and games played. Using that information as a guideline, and the qualifying offers tendered by the Sabres, I’m going to try and predict the fairest salary for these RFAs.
Robin Lehner – $3.15 Million Tendered
Two years ago Tim Murray traded the 21st overall pick in the 2015 draft for Lehner from the Ottawa Senators. Fans are torn on whether he is a starting-calibre goalie like Brayden Holtby or Carey Price. To me, Lehner is a starting goalie. His 0.921 save percentage during the two-year bridge deal was the 6th highest in the NHL behind starters Price, Holtby, Matt Murray, Sergei Bobrovsky and John Gibson.
The likelihood is the 25-year-old will get re-signed with a starting goalie salary. The most comparable contract would be St.Louis’ Jake Allen who, at the same age, was re-signed for 4 years at $4.3 million AAV.
Jake Allen’s numbers weren’t as good as Lehner’s playing for a playoff team. In the 84 games prior to signing, Allen had a 0.917 save percentage on 2169 shots against with a contending team. Lehner’s 0.921 was better with 2544 shots against.
With stronger numbers and age on his side, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Lehner sign for more than Allen’s $4.3 million AAV. Though Jonathan Bernier’s contract with the Leafs could be a warning against rewarding goalies too early in their career.
Fair price: $4.5 million for three years.
Marcus Foligno – $2.25 million Tendered
Foligno was drafted 104th overall in Buffalo by the Sabres in 2009. Foligno was born in Buffalo and is the son of former Sabre Mike Foligno. The 25-year-old was a linemate of Jack Eichel for most of last season and has slowly improved his points total year to year.
The most comparable contract would be Matt Calvert who signed a three-year deal for $2.2 million AAV in 2015 with the Columbus Blue Jackets. The qualifying offer tendered for Foligno is already better than that at $2.25 million AAV. However, Foligno will probably want a lengthier contract.
Below are some of the comparable players and contracts and as you can see, physical wingers are judged on more than their scoring ability. With so many members of the Sabres roster currently earning large salaries for little point return, this contract could be a dangerous one if done wrong.
I’d expect Foligno to sign around his $2.25 million AAV qualifying offer for as much as three years. He would be hard-pressed to find more on the open market and the Sabres would probably avoid a bidding war if another team was interested.
Fair price: $2.25 million for three years.
Nathan Beaulieu – $1 Million Tendered
General Manager Jason Botterill’s first acquisition was for Nathan Beaulieu, trading a 3rd round pick in the 2017 Draft to the Montreal Canadiens for his rights.
Beaulieu has had an up and down career with the Habs since being drafted 17th overall by them in 2011. In 225 career games, he has 60 points, 28 of those coming in 2016-17. He hasn’t yet played a full 82 game NHL season and spent a lot of time bouncing between the NHL and AHL. That being said, his qualifying offer of $1 million seems too low to be signed.
Much like physical wingers, defenders are not solely judged on their points. But it does give us a good idea of their impact on the team in the two years prior to their contract extension.
Despite having similar career numbers until their 5th season, the three other defencemen mentioned in the above graph were not as productive as Beaulieu going into their contract extensions. This offensive potential is one of the main reasons Botterill went out to get the 25-year-old.
Beaulieu’s contract is the hardest to predict based on so many factors. I think it would be possible for the Sabres to get Beaulieu at a cut price of $1.75 million or lower for three years. If his offensive upside continues to trend upwards that could be a bargain price.
Based on his trajectory he could get as much as $2.5 million. His agent will have leverage given that he will likely be a target in free agency. The Sabres also traded for his rights and won’t want him to leave for free.
Fair price: $1.85 million for two years.
What do you think is a fair deal for these restricted free agents? Let us know in the comments below.