Arizona Coyotes GM and analytics guru John Chayka has made some pretty bold moves this summer as he continues to add to the stockpile of prospects he inherited when he was promoted at the end of last season. Chayka took the reigns from the released Don Maloney with a young roster, deep pool of prospects and a boat-load of cap-space, a combination that allowed him add even more to his already burgeoning prospect pool.
On the first day of the 2016 NHL Draft Chayka made a trade with the Detroit Red Wings to take on Pavel Datsyuk's $7.5M cap-hit. No actual salary was involved in the deal but the Wings were still on the hook for the hit after Datsyuk decided to head back to Mother Russia. Chayka was able to move up from the 20th overall pick to the 16th overall pick to select defenseman Jakob Chychrun by simply having enough cap-space to absorb the hit. Of note, Arizona also gave up a second-rounder in the deal.
Yesterday Chayka was at it again as he agreed to take on an injured Dave Bolland and the remaining three years of his bloated contract. The Florida Panthers were saddled with a $16.5M cap-hit over the next three years and have a number of youngins coming off of their entry-level contracts during that time. They finally found a taker in the 'Yotes, but it came at a hefty price. In the trade the 'Cats added in 2015 11th-overall pick Lawson Crouse in to make it work. In return Florida received a 2017 third round pick and a conditional 2018 second-rounder.
Chayka was on Sportsnet.ca yesterday talking about the trade. A Sportsnet host stated that "teams are understanding that if you want to move a contract, you're gonna pay a price." That is if you have a team like the Coyotes with the room to take on a salary-dump.
"Cap-space is an asset for us," said Chayka in response to the statement, "we're not just going to sit here and hold it and enjoy it. We're going to use it."
Upon hearing of the trade the voices in Sabreland immediately turned their attention to hefty contracts of players on the club who aren't living up to them. As of right now they're not an albatross, unless Buffalo Sabres GM Tim Murray has a bead on a player like the NY Rangers Rick Nash and his $7M cap-hit (which I doubt,) but in the future they may impact what the team wants to do. And the name Matt Moulson immediately came to the fore.
Moulson was signed by the Sabres in 2014 after the team finished dead last in the league. Murray was in the process of finishing what his predecessor had done by shipping out every asset available for futures and heading into that off season the Sabres were looking as if they might have a little trouble making it to the cap-floor. So Murray did some work. He signed veterans Brian Gionta and Moulson while also trading for defenseman Josh Gorges. Of the three contracts Moulson's was the largest in both dollars and term.
As mentioned, this year Moulson and his $5M cap-hit is not detrimental to the roster, but next year might be a different story and year-five will definitely complicate things as Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart will be coming off of their entry-level deals.
Thing is, Murray does not need to panic at this point in time, maybe even next year as well, and send a top prospect along with Moulson to another team in order to unload his contract. The Sabres have an opportunity to see if last season was an aberration for Moulson and if it turns out to be a trend they'll still have two options--let it ride one more season or buy him out which will cost a lot less then than it would right now.
Point two, even if the pressure was on to trade Moulson and a top asset to move his contract, discretion is the better part of moving him right now anyway.
Sabres fans know that Murray is not afraid to pull the trigger on a trade, but in the process of acquiring young-vets to his liking he traded away a large stockpile of picks and prospects to land them. The jury's out on what he traded away but regardless he depleted the prospect pool. And having a deep prospect pool is why the Florida Panthers were able to send away Crouse to rid themselves of the Bolland contract.
It's best to remember that Florida is beginning to see the fruits of it's rebuild. It started six years ago with the selection of defenseman Eric Gudbranson (2010, 3rd-overall) and includes three other top-three picks--Jonathan Huberdeau (2011, 3rd,) Alexsander Barkov (2013, 2nd) and Aaron Ekblad (2014, 1st.) In addition to those cornerstones (minus Gudbranson who was traded,) the 'Cats stockpiled picks and prospects to the point where they were just barely behind the Coyotes in prospect skill and depth. In 2010 and 2011 alone Florida selected 23 players with more than a few on their active roster who are just entering their prime.
Despite Buffalo's depletion of prospects for immediate help from young-vets, as well as players like Eichel, Reinhart, Rasmus Ristolainen and Jake McCabe graduating to the big club, the Sabres still have a decent prospect pool. But a lesson learned in the Florida move is that they need to keep that pool stocked.
And that's where Murray's scouting acumen will come into play.
Lest we drive ourselves crazy damning him for moving the likes of Brendan Lemieux, Joel Armia, JT Compher, Nikita Zadorov, and multiple first, second and third-round picks, we should keep in mind that Murray's been able to restock most of the pool with quantity and quality.
Buffalo has 21 forwards and 10 d-men aged 22 and younger in the system right now. Of those players, at least six--forwards Alexander Nylander (18,) Rasmus Asplund (18,) Justin Bailey (21,) Hudson Fasching (21) and defensemen Brendan Guhle (19) and Will Borgen (19)--have at least top-nine forward/top-four d-man projections.
There are others who might enter into the equation, or at least fill reserve roles, but those six added to he likes of Eichel, Reinhart, Ristolainen and McCabe will keep the talent flowing for the near future and allow Murray to slowly introduce one or two youngins a year into the lineup. And should the need arise in the future for the need to move one, hopefully by then they'll have a pool like Florida's which will enable them to do so.
This is an intriguing time for the Buffalo Sabres. They made great strides last season and heading into camp next month they're projected to be a playoff-bubble team. The roster still has holes and with questions regarding Robin Lehner and the health of his ankle coming to the fore today, they'll have plenty of potholes to navigate throughout the season. However, despite uncertainties, and much to the dismay of some, there's really no reason to jump off of the Peace Bridge if they fail to make the playoffs and one can use the Florida Panthers as an example of a methodical rebuild that took time to come to fruition.
The 'Cats have a young team on the rise with a deep prospect pool behind them and although last season they were bounced in the first round, many expect them to continue their upward climb as they're just beginning to reach a possible Stanley Cup window.
Although the Sabres aren't quite there yet, they're getting there.