Published by hockeybuzz.com, 5-15-2017
New Buffalo Sabres general manager Jason Botterill has said that he'll be focusing upon his amateur scouting department this week as he huddles with his scouts to compare notes for the upcoming NHL Entry Draft in June. In addition, Botterill will also be prepping for the upcoming NHL Scouting Combine later this month which will once again be hosted by Buffalo.
After the combine ends on June 3, the next big event facing Botterill will be preparing for the Expansion Draft which begins with teams submitting their list of protected players by 5 p.m. on June 17.
Botterill is familiar with the Sabres roster as he was in charge of keeping tabs on all NHL teams, their players and salary cap situation as an assistant/associate GM with Pittsburgh over the last eight years. Add in the proximity between Buffalo and Pittsburgh plus any games between their AHL affiliates and Botterill has a general idea as to what the Sabres have in the organization.
The Sabres right now are close to the salary cap with a number of contracts that are rather unsightly and one would think that a capologist like him might look at the expansion draft as a way of moving one of them. It might take some extra incentive if the form of a draft pick for the Las Vegas Golden Knights to sign-on to a proposition like that, but deals like that happen more often than we think.
The cool part about Botterill taking over right now for deposed GM Tim Murray is that he's totally unencumbered by the former GM's decisions. Players like Matt Moulson, Zach Bogosian, Josh Gorges and Robin Lehner, all players acquired by Murray, are now fair game and for players like that any idea of a comfort zone has evaporated with the new GM.
It's something to keep in mind.
The Expansion Draft has a ton of rules but the best way to wade through them and pick your protected list is to go to CapFriendly.com's Expansion Draft page. Players who must be protected are already checked and all you need to do is start clicking.
Here's what I came up with while protecting seven forwards, three defensemen and on goalie as I went down CapFriendly's list of Buffalo Sabres players:
Kyle Okposo--this was an easy one as he was already checked because of his no-movement clause. Even if Okposo didn't have that clause, it's still an easy one as he's their top right-winger.
Ryan O'Reilly--another easy one. O'Reilly is the Sabres best two-way center and their premier all-situations forward. Despite lacking numbers that some would suggest don't justify his cap-hit, Botterill has already singled him out as one of two centers teams "crave."
Evander Kane--over the course of the last 11 months many thought he would be a perfect candidate for exposure as his $5.25 million cap-hit, average production and off-ice issues seemingly had him out the door in one way or another. However, a 28-goal season changes the conversation completely.
Marcus Foligno--he's a big body that can hit, fight, play defense and score. He was placed well above his talent-level last season while getting an inordinate amount of time in the top-six, but he did manage a career-high 13 goals and there's no reason to think that he can't continually produce double-digit goals in a bottom-six role.
Zemgus Girgensons--the former first-round pick was the first player in former coach Dan Bylsma's doghouse but with Bylsma gone things could be different. Girgensons doesn't seem to have the offensive acumen for a scoring role and at 23 yrs. old he could be settling into the player he is. But he works the forecheck hard, defends well and, unlike former Sabre Mike Grier who had very similar traits, can score on a breakaway. As of right now he's a very solid bottom-six player that every team could use.
Johan Larsson--he and Girgensons have basically come up through the ranks in Buffalo toghether. Larsson is known for his pesky play and defensive acumen, but he can score as well. Before his injury he was Buffalo's third-line center and didn't look out of place. It was a pretty gruesome injury, however, and we've not heard anything as to his recovery time or prognosis, but based upon his play, he's another strong bottom-six player.
William Carrier--although he had a rather pedestrian rookie campaign in Buffalo that was also cut short by injury, Carrier's got the wheel's Botterill seems to like. At 6'2" 212 lbs. he's got heft as well but it doesn't detract from his skating one bit. Carrier climbed through the ranks in Rochester and upped his production in year-two for the Amerks. There's no reason to think that he can't continue to develop in Buffalo and may end up being at least a top-nine player for the Sabres.
Rasmus Ristolainen--another no-brainer. Enough said.
Jake McCabe--a new GM usually talks in generalities at his introductory presser, especially when it comes to the roster. Players like Jack Eichel, Ryan O'Reilly and Ristolainen are well-known commodities and referencing them by name is not unusual. But Botterill also mentioned McCabe by name as well while also mentioning that he thought McCabe had some untapped offensive, puck-moving potential. McCabe is already known for is solid defensive work and also laying out big hits so adding in some offense would really round out his two-way game.
Taylor Fedun--this was a tough one. Fedun basically got robbed of playing time in Buffalo last season because he was waiver-exempt and the Sabres had seven defensemen on the roster. However, he made an impact with the team when he did play as he showcased his puck-moving ability and offensive instincts during his stint in Buffalo. He also did some nice work against Pittsburgh back in November with a primary assist on Carrier's first NHL goal. Fedun seems to be the type of defenseman that Botterill would be interest in. Then again, he may have soured on Buffalo and, as an unrestricted free agent, may be taking headed elsewhere.
Linus Ullmark--there are a lot of angles for this choice beginning with Botterill having no ties to Lehner who surely would have been protected over Ullmark under Murray. Lehner played well for Buffalo last season, as his numbers would indicate, but there's a sense that many are not convinced he's the answer going forward and a lot of it has to do with him looking very shaky in odd-man rush situations and breakaway situations, the shootout in particular. And with the market being somewhat set by Ben Bishop's $4.9 million cap-hit in Dallas, the Sabres may be looking at a $4-4.5 million Lehner contract extension that Botterill might not be thrilled with. The Sabres could be placing themselves in treacherous waters if Lehner were to be snatched up by Las Vegas, but I don't think the Knights would do it and even if they did, Ullmark, with a strong veteran presence as a back-up, looks like he'd be able to handle the heat. By protecting Ullmark, odds are that they could go into the season with a Lehner/Ullmark tandem if Lehner went unprotected.
Probably the toughest decision may have come with the forward ranks, specifically with Tyler Ennis.
Ennis has struggled lately due to injuries, most notably concussion issues, which caused him to miss 90 games over the past two seasons. Perhaps that's why he had a pretty dismal 2016-17 campaign with only 13 points (5+8) in 51 games. Then again it could be his East/West, jitterbug style of play that kept him from moving his production close to pre-injury levels.
Regardless of the reasoning behind his scoring woes last season, Ennis is carrying a $4.6 million cap-hit over the next two seasons. For Buffalo, it's a burdensome hit for his production when placed in a group that includes Moulson ($5 million,) Bogosian ($5.1m,) and Gorges ($3.9m.)
Ennis may provide the bridge that can help both Las Vegas and Buffalo. The Golden Knights can get themselves a former three-time 20-goal scorer who has the skill to be in their top-six while the Sabres can continue to move on from the tank years as well as jettison a rather large cap hit. And with Ennis now a part of two former regimes, it might not be that far-fetched of an idea.