BUFFALO, N.Y. — You probably will find it weird that the Buffalo Sabres missed the playoffs by 25 points, yet they will have very few new players on their roster next year.
One of the reasons is in the 28 games after March 2, Buffalo was 13th in the NHL with a .625 points percentage and would be in the playoffs in the No. 1 Wild Card position, ahead of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins.
Now don’t get carried away, I realize 28 games is only 34% of the season, but it’s a large sample where Buffalo played very well and beat teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs three times, the Calgary Flames, the Carolina Hurricanes, the Minnesota Wild, the Vegas Golden Knights, the Vancouver Canucks, Pittsburgh and the Nashville Predators.
When I look at the roster, I think nothing much chances. The lines finished up:
- Skinner – Thompson – Olofsson
- Asplund – Cozens- Okposo
- Mittelstadt – Krebs – Tuch
- Bjork – Girgensons – Hinostroza
- Samuelsson – Dahlin
- Power – Jokiharju
- Bryson – Fitzgerald
The biggest change will be in goal. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen will likely start the season as the Sabres No. 1 goalie. Kevyn Adams will need to find a partner not named Craig Anderson. Anderson did a great job this season having a points percentage of .581, but if Luukkonen doesn’t work out, I don’t think Anderson has it in him to take over and play 50 or 60 games.
I’d be looking for a goalie that’s willing to sign a two or three-year contract, and the money doesn’t matter, Buffalo needs to get to the cap floor.
I’d be just fine if Adams re-signed Malcolm Subban and Dustin Tokarski to make them the tandem in Rochester.
I would not have Anders Bjork up here in Buffalo. I know Don Granato likes him and Drake Caggiula, but I have no room for either player. I would waive Bjork and send him to the Amerks and not re-sign Caggiula.
I would bring back Vinnie Hinostroza. He had 13 goals in 62 games and is a good player to have in your lineup because he does many things well. That’s the kind of production I need out of a bottom-six forward.
Of course, Jack Quinn and JJ Peterka will both likely be here. For me, I’d slide Quinn in with Dylan Cozens and Rasmus Asplund and drop Kyle Okposo down with Zemgus Girgensons and Hinostroza.
Peterka is trickier. You could sit Hinostroza, but that’s not a role for the rookie. If Peterka is here, you must make room for him in the top-nine forwards. Maybe he does start in Rochester and if any of those nine gets hurt, he’s up here right away. Yes, Peterka would likely score more than Asplund, but I believe one of the reasons Cozens improved so much down the stretch was because he was playing with Asplund, who is a superb two-way forward.
The six defensemen should stay just the way they finished. I think those six youngsters played so well down the stretch. I think Adams should be looking for one veteran to compliment these guys and they also have room for two forwards to round out the 23-man roster. Gone would be Caggiula, Cody Eakin, Mark Pysyk, Will Butcher, Colin Miller and John Hayden.
Olofsson is going to be tricky. He made $3.05 million last season and is a restricted free agent with arbitration rights. Over 82 games, the soon to be 27-year-old averages 23 goals and 54 points.
Brock Boeser is younger and scored 23 goals for the Vancouver Canucks this year. He makes $5.875 million; Nick Schmaltz with the Arizona Coyotes netted 23 goals and he makes $5.850 million. Olofsson is a more dangerous goal scorer than Josh Anderson of the Montreal Canadiens and he makes $5.5 million.
I know Adams wants nothing to do with going to arbitration with Olofsson, so that gives you an idea where that contract could slot in.
Many of you still have this notion that unrestricted free agency is the way the Sabres should go because they have a lot of cap room. That has been proven time and time again to be fools gold and most of those over priced contracts are regretted within three years. Many teams are stuck with useless players for big money. UFA is for filling out your roster with guys that are role players.
One of the forwards they bring on board should be a guy like Nick Deslauriers. He only cost $1 million last season and Buffalo has missed his toughness and grit since he left. You’d be amazed how much room Rasmus Dahlin, Krebs and Quinn would see if teams knew they had Deslauries to deal with.
This is going to be an interesting off-season. I’m very curious to see how much change Adams wants to see before September rolls around.