BUFFALO, N.Y. — As soon as he became the Buffalo Sabres general manager, Kevyn Adams explained his plan and he hasn’t deviated from it. For the record, I think his plan is solid and is starting to work, but by no means do we know if it will work.
Adams has said numerous times that he will not deviate from the plan, and he won’t try to accelerate things to help make the playoffs for one season, but set the team back in its long-term goals.
Let’s review what Adams is trying to accomplish. Everything he does is with the now and the future in mind. He is fully aware that the Sabres haven’t made the playoffs an NHL record 11 straight years, and if his plan works, that will never happen again. As some fans watched the Ottawa Senators and Detroit Red Wings make major moves in this offseason, those same fans called for Adams' head, saying he’s not keeping up. But is he?
Adams believes in drafting good players, developing them, and giving them a road to the NHL. He believes those are the players that should get paid, not 33-year-old superstars who are on the decline.
Adams told me he was not going to sign a goaltender to a long-term contract because Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, Devon Levi, Erik Portillo and newly drafted Topias Leinonen need paths to develop and get to the NHL. At this point in the team's development, Adams isn’t interested in trading for Patrick Kane or players like that because 1) that blocks the way for Jack Quinn, JJ Peterka, Isak Rosen and others; and 2) many young Sabres that are on or close to the roster are expected to develop into the types of players that will make quite a bit of money.
An example is Tage Thompson. He scored 38 goals last year and has one season left on his contract. If he does that again, he will likely get a new deal north of $7 million per year. Only one 40 goal-scorer this year made less than $6 million.
The consensus around NHL draft experts is the Sabres have the best young talent in the league. Part of that are the three first-round picks they made this year that many feel are all home runs. In the last two seasons, Buffalo has had five first-round picks, including Owen Power. If Power develops into what they think he will, he’ll eventually top $10 million per year.
Adams believes the Sabres will be better this year because Thompson, Power, Rasmus Dahlin, Dylan Cozens, Peyton Krebs along with Quinn and Peterka will all be better.
Let’s look at the Senators. They finished two points behind Buffalo and have added Alex DeBrincat, Claude Giroux and Cam Talbot. DeBrincat is only 24 years old, so he fits the younger group. Between 2018 and 2021, Ottawa had seven first-round picks and eight second-round picks.
Brady Tkachuk is the best of the bunch. He was selected fourth overall in 2018 and is now Ottawa’s captain. The third overall pick in 2020, Tim Stutzle is going to be a star, and the fifth overall pick, defenseman Jake Sanderson, is also projected to be an excellent player.
Nobody from their 2019 draft has played more than 17 games in the NHL and we don’t know about the last two drafts yet.
Ottawa re-signed Josh Norris to a long-term deal worth just under $8 million per season, and Thomas Chabot is also making $8 million, so I would argue that the only thing they did to hurry things up is sign Giroux, who is from the area.
Ottawa has problems in goal. Mads Sogaard played last year in the AHL with the Belleview Senators and is 21. Leevi Merilainen is 19 and still in junior with the Kingston Frontenacs.
Chabot, Sanderson and Erik Brannstrom give them a start on defense, but they need more. I really don’t think Ottawa moved that far ahead of Buffalo, if they did at all.
Steve Yzerman and the Detroit Red Wings decided that unrestricted free agency is the way to build their team. In July they got a nice two-way player in Andrew Copp, but severely overpaid him at $5.625 million. That runs until he’s 33 years old. Remember, a majority of the contracts signed each year in unrestricted free agency are regretted in two to three years.
David Perron signed for a reasonable $4.75 million, and he’s only signed for two seasons. Ville Husso came from the St. Louis Blues via trade and joins Alex Nedeljkovic in net. Husso is signed for three years at $4.75 million.
Dominik Kubalik wasn’t even tendered a qualifying offer from the Chicago Blackhawks for his uninspired play, but Yzerman thought he was worth a look on a two-year deal worth $5 million.
Defenseman Ben Chariot is 31 and signed for four years! Yzerman inked underachieving Olli Maatta for $2.250 million and also signed former Sabre Mark Pysyk, who is already injured.
So what does all these trades and signings do to their young players? In 2019, Detroit drafted Moritz Seider with the sixth overall pick and he won the Calder Trophy this year.
Their captain Dylan Larkin is solid at 26, but the reason Yzerman may have looked to accelerate things is their drafts so far haven’t been great. Larkin was the only player of substance to come out of the 2014 draft, If you combine the 2015 and 2016 drafts, Detroit only got second-round pick defenseman Filip Hronek. The 2017 draft is another bust with no good players coming out and the best you’re going to get out of 2018 is Filip Zadina.
In the last four drafts, only Seider and Lucas Raymond have played in the NHL. Raymond was the fourth overall pick in 2020 and in his rookie season last year, he had 23 goals and 34 assists for 57 points.
In July, Detroit took Marco Kasper in the first-round and he is projected to be an excellent player. So by using unrestricted free agency, did Detroit vault past the Sabres by all that much if at all? I don’t think so.
I still think Adams long-term plan is solid and quite frankly will likely produce another year of no playoffs, but I think the next year is when we’ll see a team capable of making that run.