Less than 24 hours ago, many folks in NHL circles were wondering how the Sabres would reach the salary cap floor. Sabres General Manager Tim Murray assured his critics and supporters alike that he would get to the floor. However, there were many who were concerned with how the new GM would bridge the gap between the money invested in the Sabres’ current roster and the league spending minimum.
Some thought the $20 million that the Sabres needed to spend to reach the floor would be a difficult task. The Sabres had a historically bad 2013-2014 season and are in the midst of a rebuild. The assumption was that convincing free agents to come to Buffalo to break through the salary cap floor would be difficult.
Murray on #Sabres reaching cap floor: "I've said it before. It's easy to spend money."
— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) July 1, 2014
Fast-forward to today and a lot has changed. Despite yesterday’s school of thought, Murray had been preparing for months for the opening of free agency on July 1st. Murray acted fast on his carefully thought out plan for the Sabres’ roster and he quickly busted through the salary cap floor. Some thought it would take him until October to break through a seemingly rock-solid salary cap floor but he pushed through it in a few short hours like it was made out of paper.
As the clock struck noon on Canada Day Murray meticulously worked to augment his roster. Within just a few short hours, the club made six roster moves to add some new faces as well as some familiar ones to the organization. One of these moves was signing current forward Marcus Foligno to a contract extension while the others added players into the mix.
The reactions to these signings have been a mix of skepticism, cautious-optimism, and even awe. While nobody can really make heads or tails of how the Sabres will perform next year, the fact is that the Sabres underwent a dramatic roster shift. Sabres fans working in offices could barely hit the refresh button fast enough to keep up with the flurry of activity. Here is a run down of Buffalo’s new arrivals and how each of these players will help the club next season.
Sabres Acquire Defenseman Josh Gorges
The first move made by Tim Murray was to make a trade with the Montreal Canadiens. Josh Gorges was dealt to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for a 2016 second round pick.
Gorges had been the subject of trade rumors out of Montreal in recent days. The Canadiens thought they had a deal in place to move the veteran to the Toronto Maple Leafs but Gorges rejected this deal.
After this deal fell through, Gorges reportedly added the Buffalo Sabres to his list of teams where he would accept a trade. Some speculated that he did this because of the progress of negotiations between the Sabres and Canadiens’ forward Brian Gionta – we’ll get to this later.
The deal for defenseman Josh Gorges was the first of the day for the Sabres. Murray’s mission for his club’s offseason was to find players who wanted to be a Buffalo Sabre and possessed strong character. His first acquisition of the day fits this to a tee.
Gorges is a very well-respected player who is passionate about playing hockey. The six foot one defenseman is a staunch competitor, rarely takes a shift off, and has made a name for himself as a strong leader. Gorges is currently under contract through the 2017-2018 season so he will be a strong voice in the locker room for years to come.
Sabres sign forward Brian Gionta
Perhaps the biggest acquisition of the day was signing former Montreal Canadiens’ captain Brian Gionta to a three year deal that will pay the veteran $4.25 million per season. Gionta is just five foot seven and one hundred seventy-six pounds but he plays on a much larger scale. He is a natural born leader and has made a name for himself in the NHL due to his hard work, professionalism, and preparation for games.
Gionta won the Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils during the 2002-2003 season and he played for the Devils through the 2008-2009 season. He signed with the Montreal Canadiens in the summer of 2009 and spent five seasons with the club. He was named captain of the Montreal Canadiens in September of 2010. This accolade is very significant because Gionta is only the second American-born captain in Canadiens’ history – the first American-born captain was defenseman Chris Chelios.
More #Sabres GM Tim Murray on Brian Gionta being captain of the Montreal Canadiens and not a token title: "That's legendary stuff."
— Kevin Oklobzija (@kevinoROC1) July 1, 2014
A native of nearby Rochester, NY, Gionta scored eighteen goals and twenty-two assists and appeared in eighty-one games for the Canadiens last season. Gionta’s natural leadership abilities were coveted by Tim Murray and the Sabres. The veteran will be an excellent leader for the youngsters in Buffalo’s system including forward Zemgus Girgensons, defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen, and the recent 2014 1st round pick Sam Reinhart. Gionta finished last season as the captain of the Canadiens and perhaps he will have a similar role next year in Buffalo.
Moulson & McCormick: Familiar Faces Return to Buffalo
Shortly following the news about Brian Gionta, the Buffalo Sabres announced that the club had come to terms with two former Sabres. Buffalo reached a deal with forwards Matt Moulson and Cody McCormick. Matt Moulson signed a five year deal with Buffalo that will pay the goal-scorer $5 million per season. Meanwhile, McCormick inked a three year deal that will pay him $1.5 million per season.
Murray: Moulson is thrilled to come back. Enjoyed his time here. This is a place he wanted to be. #Sabres
— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) July 1, 2014
Matt Moulson’s first stint in Buffalo started back in October of 2013. Moulson along with what became the Islanders’ 2015 1st round draft pick were traded to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for forward Thomas Vanek. In forty-four games with the Sabres, Moulson scored eleven goals along with eighteen assists.
The winger was dealt at the trade deadline along with Cody McCormick to the Minnesota Wild in exchange for forward Torrey Mitchell, a 2014 second round pick and a 2016 second round pick. Ironically, both forwards would make their return to the Sabres on the same afternoon.
On the season, Moulson tallied a total of twenty-three goals and twenty-eight assists for the New York Islanders, Buffalo Sabres and Minnesota Wild. Moulson also notched three points for the Wild in ten playoff games. The winger was eager to sign with Buffalo as free agency began and was happy to get a deal inked with the Sabres.
McCormick’s first stint in Buffalo began in August of 2009 after spending parts of five seasons with the Colorado Avalanche. McCormick spent time in Buffalo’s system playing for the Portland Pirates and Rochester Americans in addition to the time he spent with the Sabres.
Last season, the rugged winger scored one goal and notched four assists in twenty-nine games. McCormick has won over Sabres’ fans with his physical game and will look to continue his NHL career in his second stint in Buffalo.
Sabres Sign Defenseman Andrej Meszaros
As the flurry of signings seemed to be winding down, the Buffalo Sabres inked another free agent to the roster. The Sabres signed defenseman Andrej Meszaros to a one year deal that will pay the veteran $4.125 million next season. The ten year veteran has spent time with the Ottawa Senators, Tampa Bay Lightning, Philadelphia Flyers and the Boston Bruins.
A former first round draft pick, Meszaros had some decent offensive production in the early phases of his career. The defenseman tallied more than thirty points in his first three NHL seasons. His production has fell off in recent years. The veteran scored seven goals and fifteen assists in fifty-two games last season with the Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins.
Despite his downward trend in points, Tim Murray took a flyer out on the veteran by signing him to a one year deal. If Meszaros can re-establish his game in Buffalo he could find himself negotiating an extension next season or perhaps being dealt to a contender at the deadline. Veteran defensemen are in high demand at the deadline so this could work out for both Meszaros and Buffalo. Meszaros will find plenty of opportunity with the Sabres next season. His veteran presence will be valuable in helping the Sabres’ young defensemen grow into full time roles in the NHL.
The Bottom Line
Tim Murray made a $20 million gap between his club’s current roster and the salary cap floor vanish in a few short hours. According to Capgeek.com, the Sabres have more than the $51 million needed to reach the cap floor invested into its roster next season. Day one of the NHL free agency period was a busy one in Buffalo and the organization has a long way to go until the start of the season so more moves might be forthcoming.
Sabres fans met the recent flurry of activity with mixed emotions. Some were excited by the moves while others were skeptical. While the moves will provide leadership to a young squad and have made the roster better today than yesterday, the Sabres still have a long way to go. Tim Murray has set the goal for his club to improve upon last season which shouldn’t be too difficult to achieve. After a historically bad season, even a small-scale improvement shouldn’t be too daunting of a mission to accomplish.
Buff does a great job in landing quality guys that's contracts are right on term bc in 4 yrs will be very good. Learn how to be a pro
— Matthew Barnaby (@MattBarnaby3636) July 1, 2014
It is no secret that the Sabres are undergoing a rebuild and the club will look to the 2015 NHL Draft to acquire more top-level talent. There is no telling how today’s activity will impact how next year’s draft will play out.
Until then, it is important for Sabres fans to live in the moment with this team and to simply enjoy the ride. Remember, in July of 2011 there was a lot of hype surrounding Buffalo’s free agent acquisitions: forward Ville Leino and defenseman Christian Ehrhoff. The thought was that these players would lead the Sabres to the promised land but both were bought out in June of 2014.
The mission is a proper rebuild and so far the future looks very bright for the Sabres. If the club can manage to secure high picks next year it could add forwards Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel to the mix.
Today’s roster moves have provided some clarity on Murray’s vision for the franchise. The veterans will help in the development of the organization’s future talent as the Sabres rebuild. The first day of free agency in Buffalo was busy and it will be interesting to see what other changes take place for the blue and gold prior to the 2014-2015 season.
Tim joined The Hockey Writers in July 2013. He began his tenure with THW by covering the Minnesota Wild and he now writes on the Buffalo Sabres. Tim completed his undergraduate and graduate work at the University at Buffalo. In addition, he is a published historian and a Baltimore Orioles Contributing Writer for LegendsOnDeck.com. Tim’s work for THW has been featured on sites such as Yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @TOHockeyTHW