The derby for Steven Stamkos ended yesterday before it really ever got started. Stamkos signed a 8-year $68 Million contract extension with the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Buffalo Sabres now have to shift their focus to other options in order to improve their team.
The Next Tier
Sabres General Manager Tim Murray said that Buffalo would chase the big fish this offseason. Now the biggest fish in the free agent pond in Stamkos is gone, they may be done fishing. The second tier of free agency consists of some big names like Kyle Okposo, David Backes and Loui Eriksson. However, none of those players seem to really tickle the fancy of the Sabres.
Okposo is now the number one player on the market and the Sabres will surely make contact with the camp of the former New York Islander if they haven’t already. Murray isn’t as willing to get into a bidding war and overpay in the case of Okposo. Eriksson is an intriguing option, but Buffalo may not be willing to meet the winger’s demand in regards to term of the contract. Stamkos made sense on a long-term deal because he’s only 26-years-old and it fit in with the rest of the young Sabres roster. Eriksson on the other hand is 30-years-old and seeking a deal in the neighborhood of six years.
The new priority in free agency for the Sabres may be taking care of their own. The market seems to be set for restricted-free-agent Rasmus Ristolainen. Seth Jones signed a six-year $32.4 Million contract on Wednesday with the Columbus Blue Jackets. That deal is a very friendly comparable contract that Buffalo can use in their negotiations to lock up their number one defender long-term.
Jimmy Vesey also became a higher priority with the news of Stamkos remaining in Tampa Bay. The two sides have had some discussions, but the pressure is now turned up on Murray to get a deal done before August 15th. Vesey can be touted as the Sabres big free agent acquisition this summer if the two sides can come to an agreement. The Harvard graduate would step into a top six role on the roster and fulfill the ultimate need the Sabres had going into the offseason.
Murray may now shift his focus back to the trade market with Stamkos out of the picture. He has around $20 Million in cap space and no longer needs to worry about spending $12 Million of it on a forward. The new cap freedom allows the Sabres General Manager to get back into the discussions of a player like Cam Fowler or Kevin Shattenkirk if he so desires. Bringing in another top four defenseman would solidify the blue line and bring the club closer to being strong at both ends of the ice.
After the fallout of free agency over the next week, other players could become available as well. Other teams may miss out on targets and make players available to acquire an asset in a different position. If the free agent market gets too out of control for, Murray, it may be wise for him to lay low and take advantage of the secondary trade market. The Sabres GM has a reputation of being a “dealer” so this offseason could fall right into his wheelhouse.
Stamkos staying in Tampa Bay certainly took the air out of the free agent frenzy that lies ahead starting Friday. However, the Sabres are by no means giving up on the offseason. Patience may be required as the big flashy move no longer appears to be in plain sight. Murray is a very organized and prepared General Manager. He prepares for almost any scenario that could come his way. Now that the big fish is gone, he’ll move onto the next plan that he has in place to get his team back into the postseason.