Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com
Yesterday we went through a large yet rather unimpressive group of unrestricted free agents whom the Buffalo Sabres will need to make decisions on. The nature of the beast at this stage of the rebuild showed a list of UFA's who were amongst the lower-ranked roster players, borderline NHL'ers, AHL'ers with a chance and career AHL'ers.
Today's list gets much more interesting as we go through the restricted free agents GM Tim Murray and AGM Mark Jakubowski will be negotiating with. These are "the youngins," with some regarded as foundational pieces, some organizational pieces with upside and some considered long-term projects.
Here's the list of Buffalo's restricted free agent roster players from the end of last season, their current cap-hit, an opinion as to whether or not Buffalo should re-sign said player and a gander as to how much they might be re-signed for if all sides put ink to paper.
RHD, Rasmus Ristolainen ($925K)--Yes
Although I refrained from an extremely emphatic 'yes,' the Sabres should be pretty excited at the prospects of having a 21 yr. old, No. 1 d-man in the fold for years to come. The only question with Ristolainen coming off of his entry-level deal is whether they'll lock him up long-term or go bridge-contract.
There really shouldn't be any question. When defenseman Tyler Myers came off of his entry-level deal the team signed him to a long-term extension and they should do the same with Ristolainen. And they should do so without worrying about him getting lazy because of his new-found riches (not to imply Myers was lazy.) He doesn't seem that type. With that said, an 8 yr. contract in the $45-50M range gets him a nice raise and long-term security while the Sabres get a No. 1 defensemen throughout his prime years.
C/LW, Zemgus Girgensons ($894K)--Yes
His worth has been discussed ad nauseam on this site and I'm sure there will be more of it after this writing. Fact is, Girgensons is a 22 yr. old forward with 202 NHL games under his belt. He was the only Sabres youngin with the intestinal fortitude to plummet into the abyss along with the team from 2013-2015 and come out the other side with his faculties intact.
Yes, he had a rough year and everyone from WGR 550's Paul Hamilton to "insiders" say that he either doesn't grasp the new system or won't play the new system and that's the rallying cry for him to be shipped out asap. Girgensons is in line for a bridge-deal from Buffalo and thanks to Garth Snow's ludicrous $3.35M contract for fourth-liner Casey Czikas, Girgensons will may end up in that $3M range on a two-way deal.
LW, Marcus Foligno ($1.875M)--Yes
Foligno is another one who struggled during his entry-level deal although his was more of rediscovering what type of player he is. He went all gangbusters in his initial 14-game stint with Buffalo and had visions of grandeur that side-tracked his career.
Last season he was one-third of a highly successful two-way third-line for the Sabres in the second half of the season. Foligno seems well grounded now in his bottom-six role now and the 25 yr. old is ripe for a two-year/bridge-contract. The same "Czikas-effect" that we see with Girgensons we'll probably see with Foligno so expect him in the $3M range as well.
LW, Nicolas Deslauriers ($637K)--Yes
Deslauriers was one of those heavies Murray was enamored with when he traded for him. When he's on his game he's a force on the forecheck and the crazed look on his face denotes a player ready for anything.
Last year was a pretty inconsistent one for Deslauriers and he didn't finish very strong nor did he psychotic look to good use, but keeping him in the fold as a fourth-line enforcer-type isn't a bad idea. This year will probably begin a long-term series of one-year contracts with a price tag of somewhere in the $725K range.
D, Jake McCabe ($925K)--Yes
McCabe has progressed nicely thus far in his pro career and there's no reason to believe he won't continue that progression. He was solid in a second-pairing, defensive role for Buffalo for most of last season and he has an outside chance of moving into that No. 2/3 area should he continue to grow as a d-man.
There's no hiding it here as I've been a big fan of his since he leveled Boston's Daniel Paille with a clean yet brutal hit standing him up at the blueline. Am also of the opinion that his excellent point play in the offensive zone has gone largely unnoticed because of all the glamor around him and that he'd be an excellent addition to the 2nd powerplay unit. For all that, a 4-yr. deal somewhere in the $12-14M range might look like a bargain by the end of it.
D, Casey Nelson--Yes
Highly regarded Minnesota State defenseman Casey Nelson had multiple offers on the table but chose the Sabres. He worked his way up from healthy scratch on the Mavericks as a freshman to a 200', No. 1 defenseman as a junior.
Nelson impressed in his seven-game sting with Buffalo and never looked out of place. He spent time at the point on the powerplay and always looked under control. That said, he'll need some adapting to the pro game, especially the length of the seasons as well as the physicality. Nelson is waivers-exempt and should he continue to look and play the part of NHL defenseman, one could easily him starting to yo-yo later next season and into the 2017-18 season. A two-way contract NHL/AHL contract paying him around $700K/$80K per season over three years is where it might end up.
Special thanks to CapFriendly, General Fanager, with some help from Hockeybuzz's Cap Central, for information regarding contract status and player salaries contained in this piece.
RIP "Mr. Hockey," Gordie Howe