Published by hockeybuzz.com, 7-1-2018
The John Tavares 7-year deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs was the bombshell dropped earlier this afternoon in an otherwise lame "Free Agent Frenzy."
It certainly was a Happy Canada Day at the "Center of the Hockey Universe" as hometown boy Tavares shunned new management and a new coach on Long Island and went home to roost with the Leafs. He signed a relatively reasonable free agent deal that will pay him $11 million per season for the next seven years.
Most in Sabreland knew the Buffalo was never seriously in the running for Tavares so his signing somewhere else was barely a blip, save for the fact that one of the best and most respected centers in the league is head to a rival. There's a giddiness in Toronto, as there should be. For years any top free agent, especially with ties to the city and the surrounding area, was somehow destined for the Leafs no matter how far-fetched the idea may have been. But this time it came true.
Good for Tavares on his big money, long term deal and...ummm...you did good, Leaf Nation.
In Buffalo big fireworks were expected to emanate from a pending Ryan O'Reilly deal to any of a small number of teams. That never happened as the St. Louis Blues signed free agent center Tyler Bozak (TOR) to a three-year, $15 million deal and Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin is said to be content waiting on 2018 third-overall pick Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Ryan Poehling, their 2017 first round pick (27th overall) to develop into the top-six centers they're projected to be. Both St. Louis and Montreal were said to be desperate for a top-six center, like O'Reilly, but apparently the price is a little steep.
Buffalo GM Jason Botterill is said to be fine with keeping O'Reilly and it may be a good thing, at least for this season that they do. Although the Sabres can't match the Leafs firepower on the wing, down the middle they can throw Jack Eichel, O'Reilly and Casey Mittelstadt against Toronto's top-three of Auston Matthews, Tavares and Nazem Kadri.
As for any hope that Buffalo would land some desperately needed help at left wing, about the only player they may have been interested in a very, very thin market would have been Michael Grabner (NYR) who ended up signing a three year deal with Arizona for a $3.35 million AAV, which is roughly twice what he made in NY.
Buffalo did sign a left winger as they brought back Scott Wilson. Botterill traded a fifth-round pick to Detroit last season and did not tender him an offer making Wilson a free agent. The club and the player agreed to a two-year contract with a $1.05 million cap hit.
Where Botterill really got to work was in goal, an area that desperately needed attention. With the team not tendering arbitration-eligible starter Robin Lehner and letting backup Chad Johnson walk, the Sabres only had one goalie for Buffalo--Linus Ullmark.
In the worst kept secret in the NHL, Carter Hutton (STL) signed a three year deal with the Sabres. The big question with him what the price would be as some rumors had him in the $4 million/season area. That was not the case, however, as Botterill got his 1A/1B goalie for $2.75 AAV for three seasons.
Hutton had connections to the Sabres as he played three seasons in Nashville as a backup when Buffalo coach Phil Housley was an assistant with the Predators and he also played two years in Rockford (AHL) when present Sabres goalie coach Andrew Allen was there. Hutton is said to be a high-character locker-room guy, something that the Sabres are focused upon.
The 33 yr. old is thrilled to be in Buffalo. He said via conference call that he was excited about Rasmus Dahlin being drafted first overall by the Sabres and looks forward to the future with him. He's a heck of a player and the excitement in Buffalo is just huge," Hutton said to the media on the call. "I'm so excited to go to this market. The last few years, they've just been dying for a team to win some games here. I'm excited to come and be a part of that. I think this young kid is going to be a big difference maker, and it's going to be nice having him in front of me."
The Sabres also signed goalie Scott Wedgewood to a one-year, two-way deal. He's expected to be the starter in Rochester this season.
For those who expected fireworks from the Sabres today, there weren't any, except the ones we could see from across the lake. However, what they were able to do today with goaltending, was a pretty big step for this coming year and hopefully beyond.