Thursday, July 3, 2014

Hitting the cap-floor may not be as difficult as many thought

Reprinted with permission from

With Sabres GM Tim Murray announcing that defenseman Christian Ehrhoff will be bought out, the team finds itself even farther away from the salary cap floor of roughly $51M than most expected.

Ehrhoff was the second compliance buyout used buy Buffalo this off season, the first was Ville Leino and his $4.5M cap hit.

According to, the Sabres have 14 players on the roster for next season with a total cap hit of roughly $31M.

That gap equals about $20M under the cap floor leaving some work to do for Murray and Co.

Of note:  F, Patrick Kaleta spent last season in Rochester. He has one more year remaining on his contract that pays $1.25M and, according to Murray, he'll be a Buffalo Sabre when training camp opens.

Free agency begins on Tuesday and money will be flowing once the bell rings at noon.

Buffalo probably won't be in on that first wave of signings although there might be an opportunity for them to bring back a former players like Matt Moulson or Steve Ott. Murray had stated that he spent seven hours talking with agents gauging their interest in Buffalo as a destination for their clients.

Moulson's agent was said to have been contacted by Buffalo and it wouldn't be surprising if Ott's agent was chatted with as well.

We'll get to them later.

Right now the Sabres will need to sign five forwards and three defensemen this summer to fill out their roster. And they'll need to spend around $19M to get to the NHL-mandated cap floor.

Although the numbers look daunting, it's a number they can easily hit with the options at hand.

First, they need to re-sign their own RFA's

Well. Most of them anyway.

First priority is re-signing top-six forward, Tyler Ennis.

Ennis is coming off of a two-year bridge contract at a $2.8M cap-hit.

The diminutive forward looks to have found a home at center and is beginning to come into his own. His numbers are pretty solid for a 24 yr. old. He hit the 20-goal mark in both of his full seasons while injuries and the lockout shortened two of his other seasons. Ennis' upside looks to be that of a 25-goal, 50-60 point player. Much like that of his contemporary, Cody Hodgson.

Last year Hodgson was signed to an six-year extension at a $4.25M cap hit.

Word on the street is that Ennis is looking for $5.5M annually. Methinks a 6 yr./$27M contract might do the trick.

Another player for the Sabres to re-sign is F, Marcus Foligno.

The rugged power forward is still only 22 yrs. old and most worthy of a bridge contract. Since he burst onto the scene in 2012 with six goals and 13 points in 14 games, expectations have come back down to earth in concert with his bottom-six production.

Two years at a total of $2.5M seems most logical for Foligno allowing plenty of time for the Sabres to get a handle on his potential.

With the subtraction of Ehrhoff comes the need for the Sabres to add a defenseman.

Chad Ruhwedel is coming off of a two-way entry level contract. He most likely will be re-signed to another two-way deal but will spend most of the year in Rochester as he continues to develop.

That would leave Jamie McBain as a candidate to re-sign.

McBain has been much maligned this past season and although he hasn't dazzled he put up six goals and 17 points in 69 games.

The 6'2" 200 lb. McBain is an offensive defenseman with a pinpoint shot and like almost all offensive d-men, his all-around game needs more time to develop.

There's absolutely no reason why he can't be that lower-pairing/7th d-man for a couple years while allowing both McBain and the deep pool of defensive prospects time to develop.

A 2yr./$5M bridge contract seems like the ticket.

Add it all up and the Sabres can add three of their own for an $8.25M cap-hit.

--Trade for a salary dump

June 30th will be a big day for cap-strapped teams as they try to free up salary for potential free agents. Although they will be able to elect either of the buyout routes (should they still have the compliance buyout option,) if they can trade an unwanted contract instead, it's a more responsible way to shed salary.

Murray has the cap room and the desire to trade for salary if he gets something useful in return.

For example.

Although the Montreal Canadians aren't anywhere near the cap-hell that teams like Philadelphia, Chicago and Boston are in, PK Subban will eat up a large chunk of their $17M in cap space. He's one of five players they'll need to sign to fill their roster.

Forward Daniel Briere has been in the doghouse through no fault of his own in Montreal. He has a $4M cap-hit and would welcome the opportunity to leave Montreal.

Would he waive his no-trade clause to come to Buffalo?

Why not?

He would surely be welcome here and there's always the possibility that Murray can ship him to a contender at the deadline.

--Snag a former player July 1st with a big contract.

As mentioned before there are two players who may be interested in coming back to Buffalo--Matt Moulson and Steve Ott.

As much as Ott loved Buffalo, his rugged game has him aging fast and one would assume that he's headed to a team that is a Cup-contender. A three or four year ramp-up by Buffalo to that status (if all goes as planned) might see him at or near the end of his career.

But Moulson, on the other hand, might find the timing just right.

Moulson is 30 years old and plays a style of game that doesn't put his body in precarious positions. He had a short stint in Buffalo after coming over from the NY Islanders in the Thomas Vanek trade and was shipped to Minnesota at the trade deadline.

In an odd deja vu, Moulson may end up leaving Minnesota only to have Vanek take his place as Vanek and Minnesota have been an item for quite some time.

Moulson was said to have enjoyed his short time in Buffalo as did his wife (always a consideration) and had said that he wasn't adverse to staying.

It's doubtful that any of the Cup-contenders will be able to throw $5.5-6M per year at Moulson like the Sabres could.

Perhaps a 6 yr./$37.5M contract would seal the deal for a player who seemingly would entertain playing hockey in Buffalo. At the right price, of course.

All totaled the Sabres could re-sign three of their own free agents for a $8.25M cap-hit, grab a cap-casualty in Briere for $4m and sign Moulson for a $6.25M cap hit for a grand total of $18.5m.

Add in Kaleta's $1.25M and they're knocking on that cap-floor door leaving plenty of room to sign a veteran player left on the scrap heap as well as re-sign Cory Conacher and John Scott. ; )

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