Monday, September 5, 2016

Buffalo has enough cap-room for Ristolainen and a d-man TBD

Buffalo Sabres GM Tim Murray and AGM Mark Jakubowski did some yeoman's work this off-season in shoring up the upper half of the lineup while also keeping the support group in-house with very reasonable contracts.

At the June draft in Buffalo, Murray was able to land defenseman Dmitry Kulikov in a trade with the Florida Panthers. The edgy Russian who's being looked at as a possible top-pairing defenseman comes to Buffalo on the final year of his contract with a $4.3M cap-hit. A few days later the Sabres signed 28 yr. old RW Kyle Okposo to a long-term deal. The Sabres have Okposo for the next seven seasons with a cap-hit of $6M.

Murray and Co. started the off season well by re-signing center Johan Larsson to a very reasonable $950k contract in April and when the summer commenced they slowly chipped away at their remaining restricted free agent list. They began by re-signing defenseman Casey Nelson to a two-year extension after the college free agent performed very well in his NHL debut. Nelson is waiver exempt and has a cap-hit of $650K. Odds are that he'll play the majority of the season in Rochester.

The very next day, in what could be a very underrated deal, the team re-signed defenseman Jake McCabe to a three-year/$4.8M contract extension. McCabe played all of last season on the second pairing, mostly with Zach Bogosian, and had himself a very solid rookie campaign. Even if he merely remains a solid, second-pairing d-man his $1.6M cap-hit will help create crucial cap-space over the course of the next three years.

Marcus Foligno was next up and re-signed for $2.25M, his NHL salary from the prior season. Foligno is a solid bottom-six forward who has shown a penchant to produce at that level. A strong finish by the 25 yr. old had many thinking he'd be in for a bump but it was not to be.

Dependent upon how one filled out the roster the Sabres were looking at about $10-11M worth of cap-space to work with after the Foligno signing and they used $1.15M of it to re-sign forward Zemgus Girgensons to a one-year extension. Like Foligno's one-year deal, the contract is perceived as a "show me" contract after the 22 yr. old struggled under the new system. Girgensons now resides in tweener-land between top-six and top-nine, yet even if he's used exclusively in a two-way, top-nine support role, that cap-hit is very team friendly.

With that said, the Sabres have their forward ranks filled to the tune of about $42M. They have their two goalies locked up for $3.25M and they have five of their top-six defensemen signed for a total cap-hit of about $18.3M. Add it all up and they have just under $10M in cap-space this season, a chunk of which will be going to cornerstone defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen.

Ristolainen had a strong season in 2015-16, his first as the team's No. 1 workhorse. Although he won't command the $7.5M former first-overall pick Aaron Ekblad received from the Panthers, at the very least Risto should end up being in the $6-6.5M range.

If and when they close the deal the Sabres will still need to round out a defense-corps that was eight-deep last season, and will probably remain as such this year, with roughly $3.5M to spend. The Sabres signed 27 yr. old journeyman defenseman Justin Falk in the off-season for depth but they'll also be looking to add another with just under $3M in cap-space remaining.

As summer turns to fall and the hockey season draws nearer the chances of them being able to land a quality depth defenseman at less than that $3M price-tag gets better. Among the unrestricted d-men still on the market are, Kyle Quincey, Niklas Grossmann and Dennis Seidenberg, all of whom Murray and Jakubowski might be able to sign for less quite a bit less than they made last year.

It should be noted that the Sabres can butt up against the cap to begin the season as forward Cody McCormick will be placed on long-term injured reserve once the season starts. With that move, the Sabres will be able to go over the cap-ceiling by his $1.5M cap-hit.

Note:  All numbers were from CapFreindly.

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