Botterill Keeps Piecing Together the Sabres’ Puzzle

Buffalo Sabres general manager Jason Botterill has been a busy guy this summer, signing players to contracts that create win-win scenarios with his restricted free agents. His business savvy-salary cap mindset has led to more depth for the organization and a much stronger defensive group.

Marco Scandella
Marco Scandella (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The blue line has been bolstered by trading for Nathan Beaulieu and Marco Scandella, plus he’s signed Russian free agent Viktor Antipin. Botterill also re-signed goalie Robin Lehner to a one-year, $4-million deal, re-signed forward Johan Larsson to a two-year deal at a $1.48-million average annual value, and re-signed goalie Linus Ullmark for two years at $750,000 annually.

And now, you can add two more signings in the past week.

Beaulieu on the Blue Line

Beaulieu signed a two-year contract worth $2.4 million per season. The 24-year-old, former 2011 first-round pick of the Montreal Canadiens (17th overall) was a restricted free agent and was days away from his scheduled arbitration hearing.

(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The bridge deal appears to be very fair for both sides. It’s a hefty raise from the $1 million he made in each of the last two seasons, but isn’t enough that it’ll dog the Sabres if he doesn’t fit in. Newly hired coach Phil Housley has another project in the making with the young asset who is expected to play a top-four role on the blue line. The 6’2″ and 205 lbs. legitimate puck-moving defenseman adds much-needed size to the Sabres’ back end.

As seen in the chart below, Beaulieu’s deal carries the fifth-largest cap hit of Sabres defenseman.

The Buffalo Sabres defense and contract amounts for 2017-18. (Created by Jeff Seide)

Beaulieu came to the Sabres via a trade with the Montreal Canadiens on June 17 of this year. In return, the Habs got a third-round pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. It was a small price for the Sabres to pay given the statistical probability of third round picks panning out.

At the end of the contract, Beaulieu will be a restricted free agent, which will give the Sabres some leverage in their next contract negotiation.

E-Rod Re-Joins the Squad

Last week, the Sabres inked forward Evan Rodrigues to a two-year contract worth a total of $1.3 million with an average annual value of $650,000. It’s a two-way contract for the 2017-18 season and a one-way deal in 2018-19.

The deal is low risk and has a high reward potential. Giving him a one-year $650,000 deal would have meant having to qualify him at 110% of that salary next year ($715,000), so it was a smart move to structure his contract this way. It also give some flexibility to bounce between both Rochester and Buffalo. He’s projected to top out as a middle-six forward.

The 24-year-old forward, is listed as a left winger on the Sabres’ web site, but plays center as well. He plays a fast 200-foot game, has creativity with the puck, and works hard every shift. His giveaways in the defensive zone last year were costly and he knows that. He’ll need better puck management if he wants to stay in the bigs.

The undrafted free agent signed with the Sabres after Jack Eichel joined the team. The two were teammates at Boston University and tore up the scoresheets for a year as college hockey’s top two scorers in 2014-15. Eichel put up 71 points in 40 games; Rodrigues 61 points in 41 games.

Evan Rodrigues played at Boston University with Jack Eichel. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Since joining the organization, he’s seen limited action with the Sabres in the last two seasons. He played in 30 games last year, tallying four goals and two assists. He also put up nine goals and 21 assists in 48 games for the Rochester Americans. In 2015-16, Rodrigues played two games for the Sabres, with a goal and an assist, and 72 games in Rochester, putting up nine goals and 21 assists.

What’s Left for JBotts?

The only restricted free agent who remains unsigned is forward Zemgus Girgensons. The Latvia native earned $1.15M AAV last season.

The last of the Sabres’ restricted free agents, Zemgus Girgensons (Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports)

Of course, the other important item on Botterill’s to-do list is to get Jack Eichel locked up in a long-term deal. Both sides are interested in making a deal happen, but the dollar amount and term are in question.