If I were Sabres General Manager Tim Murray I would approach this offseason with no expectations that my team would make the playoffs in the coming season. By accepting that now it would free me to make moves purely for the long-term health of the franchise and would change the type of players I pursued and the types of contracts I offered.
Players to Keep:
Currently the Sabres have nine NHL forwards signed for 2014-2015 for a total of $21.519 million. Three other Sabres forwards are RFA and I’d retain all 12 of those guys. They know the system, head coach Ted Nolan knows them and having 12 forwards signed for about $27 million is affordable.
On defense they have five guys currently signed for a total of $13.016. Two other Sabres defenseman are RFA’s and once again, I’d retain all seven of them. No need to make any moves if you are trying to win in the future rather than the present.
In net they have two guys already signed – Michal Neuvirth and Jhonas Enroth. Combined they will only cost $3.75 million so I’d keep them both, but that’s a spot I’d look to upgrade.
Players to Get Rid Of:
I would let all the UFA players walk. Zenon Konopka, John Scott, Matt D’Agostini, Henrik Tallinder and Alexander Sulzer…thanks for everything and good luck in the future. None of those guys would be a part of my long-term plan so there’s no need to bring them back.
I’d be aggressive in free agency, believe it or not. The Sabres have money to spend and need to open up the pocket books just to reach the salary cap floor (projected to be around $52 million). Right now they have a payroll of about $36 million but have five RFA players to re-sign. Let’s say those five guys cost an average of $2 million a year (some will cost more, some less but none are going to break the bank) that leaves them at $46 million with a pretty full roster. So let’s assume the Sabres need to spend at least $6 million in free agency just to reach the cap floor. Here’s my plan if I’m Tim Murray.
- I’d ask Ryan Miller if he wanted to come back. If he did I’d be happy to sign him but I’d be clear – we’re not looking to win in the coming season. We will, however, be looking to win beginning in 2015-2016 (more on that later). If he’s cool with that, welcome back and thanks to the Blues for all the nice prospects and picks to rent Miller for two months.
- If Miller does not want to return, no hard feelings. I’d go after Jonas Hiller and would offer him up to $5 million a year. I’d make it clear that he’d be the #1 goalie here, period. If he was interested, great! If not, no worries. On to plan B.
- I’d be aggressive in going after Dave Bolland and Matt Niskanen. Both guys are young enough to still be a part of the Sabres long-term plan and both would bring the experience of winning to the locker room. Changing the culture in Buffalo is going to be important and guys like Bolland and Niskanen would be a part of that. I’d be willing to overpay to get both, or either, guy because I have the cap space and need to pay more than market value to get them to come to the worst team in the league.
That should get us to the cap floor. Once there, I’d be done in free agency. Trades would be tricky because I’d be reluctant to give up any of my young players that are under contract and I certainly wouldn’t give up any draft picks.
This is where I’d make my mark. With the 2nd overall pick, the 31st overall pick and the 39th overall pick I’d expect to get three good prospects to help stock the farm system. I’d also have the 49th and 61st overall pick giving me five of the first 61 picks in the draft. It’s a good thing, too, because after that I don’t have any picks until the 121st, 151st and 181st picks. I wouldn’t worry about position at all but would simply take the best player available according to my scouts.
I have three 1st round picks and one 2nd round pick in the 2015 draft and the hope would be to use one of those to get Connor McDavid. McDavid is compared to Sidney Crosby and if I can get a generational talent like that the rebuild will be kickstarted into high gear.
Ultimately I’d be sacrificing this season in the hopes that it helps the future of the franchise. I’d be honest with my fans, players and coaches and while I would be thrilled if the team did make the playoffs I’d also be fine with them missing the playoffs because it would improve our chances to get McDavid. There’s a lot of work to be done in Buffalo and it’s more than I could accomplish in one offseason. The Sabres should take a long-term approach and use 2014-2015 to get their young players some ice time, some experience and to further implement Ted Nolan’s system. Buffalo will return to the playoffs someday but it won’t be in 2015 so accept that now and start working on the 2015-2016 roster and season.