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Sport Free agent focus: Who stays, who goes for the Sabres?

02:20  20 september  2020
02:20  20 september  2020 Source:   prohockeyrumors.com

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With free agency now less than a month away, many teams are already looking ahead to when it opens up. There will be several prominent players set to hit the open market while many teams have key restricted free agents to re-sign. New Buffalo GM Kevyn Adams will certainly have his work cut out for him as more than half of the Sabres players are in need of new contracts in the coming weeks.

a group of people racing each other on a snow covered slope: Buffalo Sabres goaltender Linus Ullmark (35) is set to become a restricted free agent. © Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports Buffalo Sabres goaltender Linus Ullmark (35) is set to become a restricted free agent.

Key restricted free agents

a hockey player on the field: Buffalo Sabres center Sam Reinhart (23) © Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports Buffalo Sabres center Sam Reinhart (23)

F Sam Reinhart – Two years ago, the Sabres elected for a bridge contract to see if Reinhart had another gear in him. While he hasn’t quite reached a point-per-game level, he has emerged as a capable and consistent top-liner. He has reached at least 50 points in three straight seasons and had an outside shot at 60 had it not been for the pandemic, which will help his arbitration case as will his increase in usage to over 20 minutes a night. He’s two years away from unrestricted free agency so this is the time when a long-term pact should be the focus for both sides. There aren’t a lot of core forwards in Buffalo right now beyond Jack Eichel and Jeff Skinner, but Reinhart is certainly one of them.

Free-agent focus: Who stays, who goes for Blackhawks?

  Free-agent focus: Who stays, who goes for Blackhawks? Chicago has several notable young players in need of new deals as well as a long-term veteran who is hoping to stick around a little longer. © Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports Can the Blackhawks find their way to a deal to keep Corey Crawford around or will he leave after 17 years with the organization? Key Restricted Free AgentsF Dominik Kubalik – No one really knew what to expect from the 25-year-old entering his first season but even the most optimistic of guesses likely wouldn’t have had Kubalik getting 30 goals or finishing third in Calder Trophy voting.

F Victor Olofsson – It was a breakout season for the 25-year-old, who went from being predominantly a minor leaguer to one of the top rookie scorers in the league with 22 goals and 20 assists in just 54 games. His lack of NHL track record makes it difficult to find possible comparables, which could make his arbitration case a little more interesting. Normally, a bridge deal for a player in this situation coming off his entry-level deal would make sense, but because he’s an older rookie, a two-year pact would walk him right to unrestricted free agency. There’s no doubt that Olofsson will get a substantial raise on his salary from this season, which was less than $800K, but Adams is going to have to decide if he’s ready to commit to a long-term deal or if a one-year contract is the better way to go.

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G Linus Ullmark – Ullmark has been Buffalo’s possible goalie of the future for a while, but it has yet to materialize into a goalie of the present situation. Even with Carter Hutton struggling mightily, head coach Ralph Krueger saw fit to platoon the two so Ullmark only played in 34 games. While he has played in five separate NHL seasons, he still doesn’t have 100 games under his belt. At 27, he’s a year away from UFA eligibility so another one-year contract that kicks the can down the road isn’t an option anymore. The Sabres may not be ready to commit a long-term deal, but a two- or three-year pact that buys a bit of team control and has a price tag around the $3M mark might be palatable for both sides; it’d more than double his salary from this season without pricing themselves out of bidding for a starter down the road.

D Brandon Montour – It wasn’t that long ago that Montour appeared to be a part of the team's long-term plans to the point where Buffalo gave up a first-rounder for him. However, he struggled a bit under Krueger, and his ice time fell as a result. Add that to the flattened salary cap and there are questions about whether or not the Sabres should tender him his $3.525M qualifying offer. He’s also a year away from UFA eligibility, but it’s at least possible that he hits the open market earlier than originally planned. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him in trade discussions in the coming weeks as a result.

Predators' Craig Smith to test free agency, seeking three-year deal

  Predators' Craig Smith to test free agency, seeking three-year deal Craig Smith has spent the past nine seasons in Nashville, but it appears as if he’ll be changing teams next month.   His agent Kevin Magnuson told Adam Vingan of The Athletic that the winger will be testing free agency when the market opens up on October 9 and that Smith is seeking a three-year deal. © Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports Craig Smith's future in Nashville is up in the air. The 31-year-old has been a part of the Predators organization since they selected him in the fourth round (98th overall) back in 2009.  They’ve certainly had an excellent return on their investment.

Other RFAs: F Remi Elie, D Brandon Hickey, G Jonas Johansson, F Dominik Kahun, F Curtis Lazar, F Andrew Oglevie, D Matthew Spencer, F Tage Thompson

10.2(c) Players: F Casey Mittelstadt (ineligible for arbitration or an offer sheet)

Key unrestricted free agents

Wayne Simmonds wearing a football uniform: Buffalo Sabres right wing Wayne Simmonds. © Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports Buffalo Sabres right wing Wayne Simmonds.

F Wayne Simmonds – The decision to take a one-year deal came with mixed results for Simmonds. While he landed more than he would have on a multi-year contract, he didn’t rebound like he or New Jersey hoped for and didn’t improve upon being moved to Buffalo. While he’s only 32, he has shown signs of slowing down considerably the last couple of years and should now be looked at as more of a depth player than the top-six option he has been for most of his career. He should still have no difficulty landing a contract this offseason, but it will be much cheaper than the $5M he made this season.

F Jimmy Vesey – Last summer’s trade to the Sabres didn’t kick-start his offense. Instead, his production took a nosedive as his nine goals and 20 points were both career lows; even had the pandemic not hit, that still likely would have been the case. Instead of entering the market as a possible second liner, he’s going to have to seek out an opportunity where he can play on an offensive-minded third line and hope to play his way up the lineup. At 27, there should be a fair bit of interest, but the flattened cap may limit his chances of beating his $2.35M salary from this season.

Free-agent focus: Who stays, who goes for San Jose Sharks?

  Free-agent focus: Who stays, who goes for San Jose Sharks? The Sharks have to make decisions on several key free agents this offseason, including Kevin Labanc, Antti Suomela, Joe Thornton, Melker Karlsson and Aaron Dell.F Kevin Labanc – The only significant restricted free agent the team needs to sign is Labanc, who surprised quite a few people when he signed a one-year, $1M bargain contract last offseason with many expecting he took a low deal with the assumption he would be rewarded with a long-term deal the following year. We’ll see if that’s the case, but Labanc’s production didn’t jump off the charts like many had hoped.

F Zemgus Girgensons/F Johan Larsson – I’ve lumped these two together as they’ve followed somewhat similar trajectories thus far aside from Girgensons’ voted in All-Star Game appearance. They even are coming off of near-identical contracts, $1.6M for Girgensons and $1.55M for Larsson. Both have spent seven years in Buffalo and have done well at times defensively, but their offensive games haven’t progressed much along the way. There is a spot on the fourth line either with Buffalo or elsewhere, but it may be hard to justify Adams bringing both of them back at similar price tags — but one of them re-signing could certainly happen.

Other UFAs: F Michael Frolik, D John Gilmour, G Andrew Hammond, D Matt Hunwick, F Taylor Leier, D Casey Nelson, F Vladimir Sobotka, F Scott Wilson

Projected cap space

With so many players needing new deals, there isn’t much on the books right now; the Sabres have about $47M tied up in 10 players, per CapFriendly. That gives them plenty of flexibility to work with if ownership is willing to spend to the $81.5M Upper Limit. After the Sabres re-sign their restricted free agents, they’ll have enough left to be players in free agency in the coming weeks.

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