Sabres could be in line for ros­ter re­make

Dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions await Bot­ter­ill dur­ing off­sea­son

The Buffalo News - - SPORTS - By Lance Lysowski

When the Buf­falo Sabres re­con­vene in­side KeyBank Cen­ter for locker cleanout Mon­day, they will be asked by re­porters to re­flect on all that went wrong this sea­son and how each player plans to help the fran­chise snap its NHL-worst eight-sea­son play­off drought.

For some, the fi­nal step be­fore the off­sea­son can be emo­tional. Last April, Ryan O’Reilly said he “lost the love of the game” mul­ti­ple times dur­ing a 25-win sea­son, and the cen­ter was traded less than three months later.

The re­al­ity is some Sabres could be clean­ing out their locker for good. Gen­eral Man­ager Ja­son Bot­ter­ill surely will con­duct an­other ros­ter over­haul af­ter a his­toric col­lapse led to the team fin­ish­ing 27th in the NHL. Though there are only two pend­ing un­re­stricted free agents on the ros­ter, Bot­ter­ill will have four re­stricted free agents and dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions to make.

His third off­sea­son could be his most im­por­tant one, and he has al­ready iden­ti­fied the Sabres’ needs.

”I think it’s im­per­a­tive for us mov­ing for­ward that we con­tinue to de­velop skill, to add skill to our for­ward group,” Bot­ter­ill said dur­ing a news con­fer­ence Sun­day in KeyBank Cen­ter. “It was great to see this year the suc­cess of Jack Eichel, Sam Rein­hart hav­ing a ca­reer year. Af­ter a tough month, it was nice to see Jeff Skin­ner get that 40th goal. But we re­lied on them too much. We have to con­tinue to de­velop our young play­ers in our or­ga­ni­za­tion, both in Rochester and Buf­falo here. We also have to con­tinue to look to find depth scor­ing.”

Ja­son Pom­inville’s re­ac­tion Thurs­day morn­ing in­di­cated the 36-year-old likely has played his fi­nal game in a Sabres uni­form. When asked if that night’s game could be his last in­side KeyBank Cen­ter, the pend­ing un­re­stricted free agent fought back tears and his voice quiv­ered as he spoke pas­sion­ately about his time in Buf­falo.

Pom­inville’s legacy was cel­e­brated hours later when he scored a third-pe­riod goal to take sole pos­ses­sion of 10th in fran­chise his­tory. He fin­ished fourth on the team with 16 goals and added 15 as­sists in 73 games. If he is to con­tinue his play­ing ca­reer, the writ­ing is on the wall that he will have to do so else­where. Pom

inville was a healthy scratch three times dur­ing a two-win month of March and av­er­aged a ca­reer-low 12 min­utes, 28 sec­onds per game.

His con­tract counted $5.6 mil­lion against the Sabres’ salary cap and a will­ing­ness to play for much less on a short-term deal may not be enough for him to re­turn.

In ad­di­tion to chang­ing the ros­ter’s dy­namic, the Sabres will be get­ting younger with Vic­tor Olof­s­son and Alexan­der Ny­lan­der likely to carve out full-time roles next sea­son.

Skin­ner will de­ter­mine the di­rec­tion of the Sabres’ off­sea­son. The 26-year-old is a pend­ing un­re­stricted free agent af­ter scor­ing a ca­reer-high 40 goals dur­ing his first sea­son in Buf­falo. He has ex­pressed a de­sire to re­turn, how­ever, his agent, Don Mee­han, has yet to come to terms with Bot­ter­ill on a long-term ex­ten­sion.

Skin­ner will com­mand a higher an­nual salary than the $5.725 mil­lion he counted against the cap this sea­son. If some­how Skin­ner de­parts, the Sabres will have a sig­nif­i­cant void to fill through trade or free agency. Re-sign­ing Skin­ner will be Bot­ter­ill’s first or­der of busi­ness since that deal will de­ter­mine how much cap space the Sabres will have for trades or free-agent sign­ings.

The Sabres have roughly $23 mil­lion in cap space en­ter­ing the off­sea­son, but Bot­ter­ill won’t over­spend since he must pre­pare for other pos­si­ble long-term ex­ten­sions, in­clud­ing one for Rein­hart, who will be a re­stricted free agent next off­sea­son.

Ad­di­tion­ally, the Sabres must de­cide if they will bring back their NHL re­stricted free agents: Zem­gus Gir­gen­sons, Jo­han Lars­son, Evan Ro­drigues, Jake McCabe and Li­nus Ull­mark. The lat­ter three are sure to re­ceive qual­i­fy­ing of­fers from the Sabres and will re­ceive raises.

Ro­drigues had nine goals among 29 points with a mi­nus-7 rat­ing in 74 games, while Ull­mark had a .905 save per­cent­age in 37 ap­pear­ances dur­ing his first full NHL sea­son. McCabe, a 25-year-old de­fense­man, was on pace for a ca­reer year be­fore in­juries lim­ited him to 59 games. He is among the Sabres’ best penalty-killers and his de­fen­sive im­pact was il­lus­trated when he re­turned for the fi­nal week of the sea­son. That will earn him a raise from the $1.6 mil­lion he made this sea­son.

Gir­gen­sons and Lars­son, on the other hand, are can­di­dates to go else­where. While both ex­celled on the penalty kill, nei­ther contributed much of­fen­sively and their ef­forts were in­con­sis­tent dur­ing the Sabres’ slide. More trou­bling, they strug­gled dur­ing 5-on-5 play, one part of the team’s game Bot­ter­ill will work to im­prove this off­sea­son.

Bot­ter­ill also faces de­ci­sions re­gard­ing sev­eral play­ers cur­rently un­der con­tract. Vladimir Sobotka, 31, will be an un­re­stricted free agent next sum­mer and counts $3.5 mil­lion against the cap, which could make him a can­di­date for a buy­out or trade. He scored five goals with eight as­sists in 69 games, and his play­ing time de­creased af­ter he pub­licly ex­pressed dis­ap­point­ment about his role.

The Sabres also will have to sort out the log­jam on their blue line. De­fense­men Ras­mus Dahlin, Ras­mus Ris­to­lainen, Bran­don Mon­tour, Zach Bo­gosian, Marco Scan­della, Matt Hun­wick, Lawrence Pi­lut and Casey Nel­son are un­der con­tract next sea­son. Ad­di­tion­ally, Will Bor­gen could be ready for a full-time role.

Bo­gosian, Scan­della, Nel­son and Hun­wick will be pend­ing un­re­stricted free agents while Mon­tour and Pi­lut will be re­stricted in 2020. This is where a trade is most likely since there is strength in num­bers, though con­sis­tency was an is­sue for most of the group.

”The other el­e­ment is I still think we have a lot to im­prove on de­fen­sively,” Bot­ter­ill added. “That’s why we went out to get a Bran­don Mon­tour. There are things we need to work on from a struc­tural stand­point, de­fen­sively, but I still think we need to move pucks out of our D zone quicker and spend less time in our D zone.”

Bot­ter­ill pre­vi­ously stated that he would like to add to the group by ac­quir­ing a young player un­der con­tract, much like he did with Mon­tour on the eve of this sea­son’s trade dead­line. Deal­ing from a po­si­tion of strength, a promis­ing pool of prospects and draft cap­i­tal could ad­dress the Sabres’ need for a top­six for­ward.

“There are things we need to work on from a struc­tural stand­point, de­fen­sively.”

Robert Kirkham/Buf­falo News

Gen­eral Man­ager Ja­son Bot­ter­ill will have sev­eral dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions to make re­gard­ing the Sabres’ ros­ter dur­ing the off­sea­son.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.