There’ll be fireworks exploding in the distance till there are no stars anymore. Tragically for Sabres fans, that’s just not hip in Buffalo this summer.
The NHL free agency period transitions from conversing to signing at noon today. Teams, agents and players spent the past two days talking to each other to gauge fit, and pens can meet paper at lunchtime.
The Sabres are expected to brown-bag it. They’re going with a youth-driven rebuild, and General Manager Darcy Regier said he’ll search for pieces to complement the roster. Buffalo likely will leave the big-time wining and dining to others.
The Sabres have plenty of money to spend if they change their mind. They are about $13 million under the salary cap of $64.3 million. That includes 18 NHL players under contract, incoming prospect Joel Armia and the money retained from Jason Pominville’s deal when the Sabres sent him to Minnesota.
Buffalo still needs to re-sign restricted free agents Cody Hodgson and Brian Flynn. Flynn’s qualifying offer is $874,125 and Hodgson’s offer is $826,875, according to CapGeek.com.
Hodgson’s agent, Ritch Winter, had no comment Thursday on the status of negotiations.
The Sabres don’t have positional needs heading into the shopping spree as far as roster numbers go. But as can be expected for a team that’s missed the playoffs two straight seasons, they certainly can upgrade the talent level across the board.
Forwards such as Colby Armstrong, Jack Skille, Chad LaRose, Brenden Morrow and Danny Cleary could pique the Sabres’ interest as mid-tier players with the experience to help youngsters.
The big names sure to draw suitors include Jaromir Jagr, Jarome Iginla, Daniel Alfredsson, Nathan Horton and David Clarkson. Former Sabres co-captain Daniel Briere came off the market Thursday when he signed a two-year, $8 million deal with Montreal.
The Sabres learned during the previous two summers that owner Terry Pegula’s checkbook opens doors to contract talks with well-known players. They haven’t been able to close the deals, though.
“We can get in the conversations, and we do get in the conversations with free agents,” Regier said. “Sometimes it’s not just about money. Sometimes it’s about opportunity. Sometimes it’s about being close to home. More of these players are having the opportunity to make these decisions at a younger age. It’s what we have to deal with.”
Teams that don’t get what they want through free agency might call the Sabres. Goaltender Ryan Miller and leading scorer Thomas Vanek remain up for trade, and they’re surely not alone.
The trade market began in earnest Sunday at the draft when Vancouver sent goalie Cory Schneider to New Jersey. Boston and Dallas made a big splash Thursday. The Bruins shipped center Tyler Seguin, the second overall pick in the 2010 draft, to the Lindy Ruff-coached Stars for Loui Eriksson, a perennial 25-plus goal-scorer, in a seven-player deal.
“We’re a little bit like an airline as a league that appears to have overbooked, meaning that there’s players teams want to move,” Regier said. “Their ability to move them will affect their activity in the unrestricted free agent market, which success there or lack of success will drive a little more of the secondary trade market after that.
“There’s just a lot of balls in the air for teams to deal with there. It’s a different playing surface than in the past.”
The teams with the most room to add players, according to CapGeek, are the New York Islanders ($32.8 million under the salary cap), Toronto ($24.5 million), Winnipeg ($23.3 million) and Ottawa ($22 million). The Sabres entered today ninth from the bottom in payroll.
The Sabres got more room by completing their buyout of left wing Nathan Gerbe. It was not a compliance buyout. It was a normal buyout, which means they still have two compliance buyouts – buyouts that pay the player while erasing him from the salary cap – to use next summer.
Because of his age (25), the Sabres bought out Gerbe’s contract for one-third the cost of his salary. He was set to make $1.85 million this year and will get $616,605.
CapGeek.com reports the Sabres will receive a cap credit of $91,667 this season, while Gerbe will count $308,333 against the Sabres’ cap in 2014-15.
Gerbe is free to sign with any team, as are Buffalo defensemen Adam Pardy and Alexander Sulzer. The Sabres did not make a contract offer to either unrestricted free agent.