Does a Buyout Make Sense for the Sabres?

Now that the 2015-16 season has come to an end with the Pittsburgh Penguins winning the Stanley Cup, the offseason is in full swing. No rest for the weary, as a big offseason date is already upon us with the first NHL Buyout window set to open and end on June 30th. The real possibility of a flat cap may have General Manager’s around the league pulling the trigger quicker than normal to create space.

In Buffalo, the Sabres have two candidates that could be in line for a potential buyout. By no means is it a certainty for either of these players. In fact, one of the players I’m going to mention is very unlikely to be bought out barring an unforeseen situation. However, in the off-chance it does happen it’s best to prepared with the cap ramifications of such a move.

Cody Franson

I’ll start with Sabres defenseman Cody Franson. The 28-year-old has one year remaining on his contract at 3.3 Million cap hit. Franson was signed late last summer to a two-year deal for 6.65 Million. The Sabres brought him on to help on the power play and provide some offense from the blueline. In 59 games Franson recorded four goals and 17 points. He missed a good portion of the end of the season due a concussion. We’ll get back to that injury shortly. Of course the Sabres could first explore the trade market for Franson, if Tim Murray hasn’t done so already. Based on his limited suitors last summer the market may not be there.

A buy out for Franson makes sense for the Sabres on a few different levels. First, the current log jam on the roster. If you include unsigned restricted-free-agents Jake McCabe, Rasmus Ristolainen and Casey Nelson; the Sabres have seven defenders on the roster with desires of adding another. Also, if you believe 2015 second round pick Brendan Guhle will challenge for a roster spot, as I do, now you’re up to eight.

Franson has his deficiencies defensively and in particular with his skating. Looking down the roster he currently sits seventh or even eighth on the depth chart. He was on the verge being a healthy scratch last season prior to his injury. Paying that player 3.3 million seems like a bad use of your cap space.

The second reason a buyout makes sense is to create more cap room. According to Cap Friendly the Sabres sit at a little over 22 million in space entering the offseason. Yes, that’s a lot, but if the Sabres have the vision of bringing in a big time free agent *cough Steven Stamkos cough* they’ll need all the room they can get. Buying out Franson would save Buffalo 1.3 million next season and cost 667 thousand on the 2017-18 salary cap. That money can be used to bring a backup goaltender or resign a restricted-free-agent.

Before I move on, where this can get gray with Franson is the injury he suffered last season. A player who is still recovering from an injury suffered during the prior season cannot be bought out. He’d have to be cleared of the concussion, but that likely wouldn’t be an issue as Murray indicated at the end of the season Franson was feeling better.

Matt Moulson

Matt Moulson is the obvious candidate for a buyout, but at the same time is very unlikely to be bought out. Saying Moulson struggled last season would an understatement. The 32-year-old only scored eight goals in 81 games. He looked slow at times and even had his workout regimen called out by Murray during the season.

Moulson has three years remaining on his contract at a $5 Million cap hit.  Buying out the winger this summer just would be too costly for the Sabres. It would save them $2.1 Million this upcoming season and next. Then a savings of $1.1 Million in the final year of his deal in 2018-19. However, after the 2018-19 season the Sabres would still have a cap hit of $888 Thousand for another two years.

I’m sure Murray will look for a way to unload the contract, but I would peg that as a long shot unless a team is desperate to reach the cap floor near the end of the summer. Murray himself indicated that Moulson would not be bought out and he anticipates him competing for a roster spot in training camp. The Sabres would be best served to have Moulson stick around another season and see if they can unload the contract in the looming expansion draft next summer.

The buyout is unlikely a tool that General Manager Tim Murray will pull out of his bag this summer. He’ll likely try to use his magic to move the bad contracts in a trade this summer and use the buyout as a last resort.