The Buffalo Sabres heading into a critical offseason have a couple of areas in need of shoring up if they hope to contend for an Eastern Conference playoff spot.
The Sabres have a lack of experience between the pipes going into next season. If they choose to go with promising rookie Devon Levi and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, they will have to not only see growth from existing blueliners Rasmus Dahlin, Owen Power, Mattias Samuelsson, and Henri Jokiharju, they will have to add one or two experienced defensemen to reduce the 300 goals against to a more manageable number.
GM Kevyn Adams first priority is to get Dahlin and Power extended. The 23-year-old Swede had a career year with 73 points (15 goals, 58 assists) in the second year of his three-year, $18 million deal. Dahlin is eligible to sign an extension on July 1 and could be in line to be one of the highest-paid defensemen in the NHL on his next deal, one year away from unrestricted free agency.
RASMUS DAHLIN, WE ARE NOT WORTHY 🥵 pic.twitter.com/ea3TePXaOj
— NHL (@NHL) April 8, 2023
Power had 35 points (4 goals, 31 assists) as a rookie and showed some growing pains in spite of garnering a Calder Trophy nod. Ideally, Adams would like to get the 20-year-old former first-overall pick signed long-term, but with only one full year under his belt, the Sabres may have to settle for a bridge deal similar to what Dahlin signed almost two years ago.
The Sabres found a good complement to Dahlin’s offensive skill in the defensively sound Samuelsson, but they struggled significantly when the big Swede was out injured. Jokiharju and veteran defenseman Ilya Lyubushkin are competent in depth roles, but the Sabres could not keep the puck out of their net when they were forced to play elevated minutes.
Unrestricted Free Agent Options Available
Adams will likely approach upgrades on defense the same way he wants to address the netminding. Big-time free agents like Matt Dumba, Dmitri Orlov, or John Klingberg make little sense because their salary expectation could be more than $5 million per season from anywhere from four-to-five years. Short-term options in the same salary range as Lyubushkin’s $2.75 million AAV make more sense
Here are some potential economical shorter-term possibilities:
The 32-year-old bearded Czech is not fast but makes up for it with physicality and character. Gudas has been a mainstay in the Florida Panthers postseason run and is in the final year of a three-year, $7.5 million contract.
David Kampf heads to the locker room after this hit from Radko Gudas. pic.twitter.com/xE2by0ShDv
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) May 11, 2023
The veteran Finn was dealt to the New York Rangers along with Vladimir Tarasenko at the trade deadline. Considered primarily a stay-at-home blueliner, Mikkola kills penalties and is effective at clearing the front of the net.
The hulking 30-year-old has vast playoff experience in two deep runs with the New York Islanders and had a career-high 24 points last season. After being underpaid on a five-year deal with the Isles ($1.45 million AAV), Mayfield will likely be seeking a salary at the higher end of defensive defensemen. That could be too rich for the Sabres blood.
Aleksander Barkov helped off the ice after getting kneed by Scott Mayfield pic.twitter.com/Zv8dAIaKV8
— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) November 17, 2021
A veteran of the Atlantic Division, the right-handed Holl has played up and down the lineup with the Toronto Maple Leafs and on their top penalty-killing defensive tandem. His $2 million salary would be in the range of what Buffalo would be looking for.
Looking For Bargains
A product of Quinnipiac University, Clifton made $1 million in 2022-23 and scored 23 points (5 goals, 18 assists), and was a +20 for the President’s Trophy-winning Bruins.
A two-time Cup winner with Tampa Bay, Schenn was the NHL’s leading hitter and provided a physical presence to Toronto after being acquired from Vancouver at the trade deadline. The 33-year-old played on the Leafs top pairing with Morgan Rielly and was a bargain at $850,000.