Late last month Sabres GM Jason Botterill qualified six Buffalo restricted free agents. According to the Buffalo News, these were the players, their salaries last season and their qualifying offers:
--F Justin Bailey $650,000/$715,000
--F Nick Baptiste $750,000/$787,500
--F Danny O’Regan $832,500/$874,125
--F Sam Reinhart $832,500/$874,125
--F C.J. Smith $832,500/$874,125
On Thursday the team announced that F, Sean Malone was signed to a one-year, two-way deal for $787,500 at the NHL level with a minor league salary, according to CapFreindly.com, of $70,000. That leaves Botterill with five RFA's to sign.
Today we look at F, C. J. Smith.
Former GM Tim Murray signed Smith out of UMass-Lowell to a two-year entry-level deal on March 30, 2017. The 5'11" 180 lb. left winger got in two games for the Sabres that season burning one year of his contract and spent the entire 2017-18 with the Rochester Americans recording 17 goals and adding 27 assists. Those 44 points placed him third on the Amerks and 10th amongst all AHL rookies in scoring.
Smith came to Buffalo after an impressive career with the River Hawks leaving college after his junior season with 125 points (56+69) in 120 games. The 2017 Hockey East Tournament MVP was a coveted free agent when he decided to leave UMass-Lowell, but according to Buffalo Hockey Beat's Bill Hoppe, Murray was a "heavy influence" to sign with Buffalo. Murray was fired a month later and Smith, despite being unsure where he stood with the new GM and coach, ended up having a stellar season in Rochester and could surprise coming out of camp this Fall.
Although top-six left wingers are a position of need right now for the Sabres, Smith may not see that type of action in Buffalo this season. At least to start. The shifty Smith has speed and skill and can finish, as shown in his rookie campaign, but may end up being the type of player slated for top-line minutes in the AHL and/or a top-nine slot with the big club on a recall basis.
Smith's NHL salary was $925,000 the last two seasons but his two-way deal paid him only $70,000 in the AHL. With the way he plays, the honest effort he gives and the upside that he still has, a two-year deal may be in the offing for him with a possible structure having the first year a two-way and the second a one-way. It wouldn't be surprising to see his AHL salary jump to six figures with his NHL salary being in the $700,000 range.