Sunday, October 29, 2017

Will the Sabres take a page out of the Bills playbook?

Published by, 10-28-2017

Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus and his bloated contract were traded to the Jacksonville Jaguars yesterday. Although the return for the former third-overall pick in 2011 was a conditional sixth-rounder that could end up being a fifth, expunging Dareus from the team should be good for both the team and the player himself.

When Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula brought in a new coach and GM after a disappointing season, a big reason behind the move was to change the culture of the team. Dareus was a two-time Pro Bowler with the size and skill to be a difference maker on the interior line but unfortunately he had a couple of suspensions and some off-field issues that drew the ire of those at One-Bills Drive.

In addition, he didn't buy into what the Bills were now doing and the new regime showed no hesitation in showing him the door when the opportunity arose. The biggest obstacle facing Bills GM Brandon Beane in the case of Dareus was the six-year, $96.6 million contract extension he signed in 2015. Reports had Dareus on the block all summer but finally the Jaguars came forward and the deal was done.

Buffalo will still be on the hook for $24 million in dead cap space through 2018, according to reports, but to them the cap-hit and low return was worth it just to move him.

The Buffalo Sabres are in a similar situation cap-wise to the Bills in that they have some high salaried players with low production whom they'd seemingly like to move. Although the NFL and NHL salary cap structure varies immensely, the bottom line is that there is only a limited amount of money for the roster. And, just like with the Bills, the Sabres have a new GM and head coach this season and are trying to change the culture at the foot of Washington St.

Sabres GM Jason Botterill inherited a number of contracts from the previous regime that will become thorny issues beginning next season. Although he still has flexibility this season while being a least $4 million under the NHL cap-ceiling, according to, next year Jack Eichel's $10 million cap-hit will be on the books and they'll need to do some financial finagling.

A lot of the near and long-term cap decisions this club needs to make have to do with the performance of the team and the individual players and this season the Sabres are off to a rough start. A 3-6-2 record isn't exactly ideal for a team that's headed towards the middle of the pack age-wise while having the 19th largest projected cap-hit amongst the 31 NHL teams.

Back in 2014, then GM Tim Murray brought three veterans on board to help stabilize and guide the team through impending troubled waters. Brian Gionta, Josh Gorges and Matt Moulson went into the 2014-15 season pretty hefty salaries but then it didn't matter too much as they fit easily into a team that filled with young players and journeymen players on low-paying contracts. But as Murray began building his team, he added higher priced players and things got tighter financially to the point where they were watching every penny last season.

Heading into this season, the Sabres have some bloated contracts that are beginning to weigh them down. Although Gionta and his $4.25 million cap-hit is off the books, the Sabres are paying Gorges $3.9 million in this the final year of his contract and are on the hook for $5 million to Moulson through the end of next season. That's $8.9 million for two players who've been healthy scratches for a combined 12 games in the Buffalo's short 11-game season thus far.

The Gorges contract will eventually take care of itself sometime between now and July 1 as he will either be traded before or at the NHL Trade Deadline or not re-signed come season's end. Moulson, on the other hand, is more of a problem.

No doubt the Sabres would move him in a heartbeat if someone would take on his contract and there is precedent for something like that happening. The Arizona Coyotes made three trades for bloated contracts over the course of the past two off seasons while on the other side of the equation,  Toronto Maple Leafs offloaded some pretty hefty contracts in 2015 and 2016 to help their rebuild.

Ideally Botterill could work something out with another team that has the cap-space for Moulson's contract without having to give up too much in return but if that doesn't happen, it's expected that the Sabres will buy him out and stretch out his buyout-hit over two seasons with a cap-hit of $3.67 million next season and $667K in 2019-20.

Those three contracts were expected to come off the books but the Sabres may also have unintended trouble on the horizon with a couple other contracts should things not turn around.

Defenseman Zach Bogosian was part of a blockbuster deal by Murray on February 11, 2015. The former third-overall pick (2008) came to Buffalo barely removed from signing a multi-year extension with his former team, the Winnipeg Jets. Bogosian has a cap-hit of $5.1 million through  2019-20 and was still part of the deal despite Murray knowing that injuries were becoming a part of the equation. The young vet as he had not played in over 70 games since the 2010-11 at the time the deal was made. In his first full season with Buffalo, Bogosian missed 18 game while last season he missed 26. He’s yet to play a game for Buffalo this season and is presently listed as week-to-week according to head coach Phil Housley.

Kyle Okposo was the best free agent on the market last season and Murray signed him to a 7-year/$42 million contract. Okposo had a good first season in Buffalo scoring 45 points (19+26) in 65 games, however it was cut short by a concussion. He had an adverse reaction to medication and was in the Intensive Care Unit before beginning his return to the ice in July.

Okposo is off to a rough start this season with only one assist in nine games thus far. Much of his slow start could be attributed to him trying to get up to game-speed, which may have taken a little longer than some anticipated, but uneasiness with his contract has begun to seep into the conversation.

Some may also look to defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen's $5.4 million cap-hit for the next five seasons and there will always be questions as to whether Ryan O'Reilly's can achieve and maintain a top-level, two-way consistency to justify his $7.5 million cap-hit. Right now neither seem to be serious cause for concern, but things may change if the team can't turn things around within the next year or two.

However, those are the contracts of the future for Botterill and the Sabres to worry about. It doesn't look as if they'll be going for broke on a Stanley Cup run this year so the need for immediate cap-relief doesn't seem to be of the utmost importance. But next season, if things go as planned and desired, it might be different.

As the Dareus situation, and many in the NHL over the past couple of years, proves, an unwanted contract can be moved if a team is willing to do so and is willing to pay a price to get it done.

Will the Sabres be interested in taking a page out of the Bills' playbook?


A quick note.

Today the Sabres are at home to take on the San Jose' Sharks. Game time is 1:00 pm.


Quick note Part 2:

Today is Jack Eichel's 21st Birthday.

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