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This past weekend concluded the first major portion of the offseason, the NHL Entry Draft. By now, it’s no surprise that the Buffalo Sabres selected talented Swedish defenceman Rasmus Dahlin first overall. While no one here will disagree that that was Buffalo’s easiest decision to make this summer, now the real hard work starts.
Next up this offseason is qualifiying the restricted free agents, which occurred today. The Sabres qualified every RFA except for Robin Lehner, Victor Antipin, and Scott Wilson. While not many Sabres fans will be shocked at not offering Antipin a deal, it’s a shame he was poorly utilized during his one year tenure with Buffalo. Equally as shocking to some, but not to others (including myself), Robin Lehner was also not offered a deal. GM Jason Botterill decided to move on from the 26-year old netminder, after 2.5 years of average play. I wish both Antipin and Lehner the best in their future endeavors. Scott Wilson is also a surprising omission from a qualifying offer, however Botterill announced his willingness to sign Wilson to a deal once free agency opens July 1st.
This coming Sunday marks the opening of Free Agency for both restricted and unrestricted free agents. The Sabres enter free agency with roughly $23 million in cap space, but still have to come to terms with the likes of Sam Reinhart, Justin Bailey and Nic Baptiste, among others. While some fans may not like Botterill’s approach to adding players, it’s a proven, methodical method that has paid dividends in Pittsburgh, and hopefully will soon in Buffalo. Botterill tends to shy away from big ticket free agents and long, expensive contracts in lieu for younger role players and team friendly deals, in order to keep the team core intact. So, don’t expect many of the bigger fish to be calling Western New York home in the near future. That being said, Botterill could target potential free agents such as:
- Carter Hutton
- Blake Comeau
- Michael Grabner
- Thomas Vanek
- Riley Nash
While the options in free agency are limitless, Botterill will probably fill most of the holes on the Sabres roster with players from Rochester. It was a tactic proven in Pittsburgh, when the likes of Connor Sheary, Tom Kuhnhackl, and Jake Guentzel to name a few were called up and filled holes that were left vacant by departing free agents. Similar role players in Buffalo could mean that forwards such as Justin Bailey, Nic Baptiste and C.J. Smith could see massive roles this upcoming season.
While only time will tell what moves Jason Botterill makes to improve the Sabres in the coming months, it’s going to be an interesting summer, to say the least.