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Questions galore as the Sabres ready for the opening of NHL free agency

October 9, 2020, 8:02 AM ET [4726 Comments]
Michael Pachla
Buffalo Sabres Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
For a large swath of fans in Sabreland, the hits just keep coming as new Buffalo Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams continues to fashion his team to his liking. It began Tuesday night with the selection of scoring winger Jack Quinn 8th-overall in the 2020 NHL Draft, which in and of itself isn't a bad pick by any means although the methodology as to how they came to that pick at that spot is somewhat quizzical.

As things calmed down near the end of Rounds 2-7 on Wednesday evening it was revealed that Dominik Kahun was not tendered a qualifying offer which allowed him to become an unrestricted free agent today. The 25 yr. old undrafted forward finished up the season with the Sabres after a trade from the Pittsburgh Penguins. Kahun scored two goals and added two assists in six games for Buffalo tallying 68 points (25+42) in 138 total NHL games for three different teams. The reasoning behind the decision on Kahun centered around a possible arbitration award that might not be to Buffalo's liking with Adams calling it a "calculated" move as he tries to give himself roster flexibility heading into free agency. Most looked at this as a gamble at best as it allowed for the possibility that a top-nine scoring forward, which happens to be an area of need, could walk away.

If that wasn't enough, the team announced yesterday that forward Zemgus Girgensons signed a 3yr./$6.6 million contract extension with the club. At seven years Girgensons is the longest tenured Buffalo Sabre but unfortunately that tenure has been marked by on-ice ineptitude that has reached historic levels for this franchise. It's not that he's a bad player as he scored 12 goals in a checking role last season under new head coach Ralph Kruger. What it really amounts to is that the highly likeable Girgensons is associated with seven years of futility and when Sabreland was promised change under Adams, most didn't think that change and him were compatible.

The Sabres head into the start of free agency, which begins at noon today, with an abundance of holes in their roster and, according to CapFriendly, about $30 million in projected cap space. They have 29 players signed to pro contracts, which is 21 under the upper limit and have six restricted free agents under their control--forwards Sam Reinhart, Victor Olofsson and Casey Mittelstadt, defensemen Brandon Montour and Lawrence Pilut plus goalie Linus Ullmark.

Tendering Montour was a somewhat curious move. Many thought they'd let him walk (or he'd be traded) as they have an abundance of right-shot defensemen and he was coming off a less than stellar season under Krueger where he played both sides of the ice. The hole they have is on the left side and Pilut may have filled that spot if he was still with the team. Buffalo signed the highly sought after free agent defenseman in 2018 but he had a difficult 2019-20 season that began with recovery from surgery before splitting time between the big club and the AHL, something he wasn't particularly thrilled with. Although we're not sure whether Pilut has an out-clause in his contract, head scout Jeremiah Crowe said they're still tracking his development in Russia and the qualifying offer shows that the Sabres are still interested in him.

All-in-all those six players could total as much as $20 million towards the cap leaving the team less than $10 million to spend when you account for last year's performance bonus overages.

Accounting for all six of those players signing, Buffalo heads into today with four spots amongst the forward group that need to be addressed. One of those spots will probably be taken up by Dylan Cozens who just finished an outstanding season in Canadian Junior with 85 points (38+47) in 51 games and had an equally impressive World Junior tournament for Team Canada. There's no in-between for the 19 yr. old center as it's either going back to junior, which he's too good for, or Buffalo. Rasmus Asplund is waivers exempt this season and could be in for a roster spot as well. The 22 yr. old is coming off of two solid pro seasons which included splitting time last year between the Sabres and the Rochester Americans.

Mittelstadt is a bit of a wild card and could be in the mix for Buffalo. The 2017 seventh-overall pick left college after his freshman season and was put in a top-nine role for the Sabres. It was a case of too much too soon and he was sent to Rochester last year after struggling mightily. He is also waivers exempt.

With the AHL season still in question because of the pandemic, it's possible that all three of those forwards could be with the big club.

In addition to the forwards, Buffalo still has an abundance or right-handed defensemen, a hole on the left side and a young player in Will Borgen who's expected to make a strong push for a roster spot. They also have question marks in goal. Although Ullmark will be re-signed, the future of Carter Hutton is in question. Many are looking for an upgrade in net, and there's a plethora of free agent goalies on the market, as Hutton has had two lackluster seasons in Buffalo.

How it all fits together is still up in the air and we may have an answer or two sometime this evening as the "free agent frenzy" settles down. The big names usually go off the board early in the day while lesser names filter through as the day goes on. No one expects Buffalo to be in the mix for an Alex Pietrangelo or Taylor Hall but Adams has something on his mind while Sabreland simply has questions galore as to what this roster will look like come January 1st.
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