Buffalo avoids arbitration, signs Andrej Sekera to four-year, $11 million; Salary cap crunch awaits

Sabres owner Terry Pegula continued his spending spree today by avoiding going to arbitration with defenseman Andrej Sekera. Instead of going to court to settle their differences, the two sides settled on a long term deal. Inside NHL sources tell PHT that the deal is for four years and $11 million with a $4.75 million signing bonus included in that amount.

With Sekera’s deal coming in with a $2.75 million cap hit, CapGeek has the Sabres over the salary cap by just over $2.3 million and they’ve still got to get a deal done with restricted free agents defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani and backup goalie Jhonas Enroth. With spots on defense being locked up for most everyone and Gragnani figuring to be back in the mix for playing time, someone is going to find themselves on the outside looking in.

The leading candidate for that role is Shaone Morrisonn who has one year left on his contract worth $2.075 million against the cap. With guys like Sekera and Mike Weber capable of doing the same job Morrisonn does, he’s left to be a redundant player on a team looking to get under the cap.

The other player that sticks out as a potential cap victim is recently re-acquired winger Ales Kotalik. Kotalik is on the final year of a deal that pays him $3 million against the cap. Last season, Kotalik spent most of the year in the AHL to help the Calgary Flames stay under the cap. His production isn’t what it used to be when he was with the Sabres the first time around and with his cost being so high, the Sabres might be better off dumping him in the AHL as well. At least their salary cap would benefit from that if Kotalik can’t crack their lineup.

Sabres GM Darcy Regier hasn’t had to face these sorts of issues in the past and while this is a new role for the team to play, Regier is smart enough to make the right moves to get his team in cap compliance. While Regier will take heat for the deals given to Christian Ehrhoff and Ville Leino, the Sabres making bold moves like that have people looking at the team differently. Regier’s next trick will be to make sure he doesn’t cut loose a player that could help them go deep into May and June next season.

Also: The Sabres also signed Matt Ellis to a multi-year deal as well. Contract details for Ellis were not available.

Okposo to fans: ‘Thinking about your support brings a tear to my eye’

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In a lengthy and heartfelt letter, Kyle Okposo thanked the hockey community – especially but not only Buffalo Sabres fans and teammates – for their support after his hospitalization.

Okposo also shared some personal details about how a seemingly innocent hit affected his sleep and caused alarming weight loss, dropping him below 200 lbs. for the first time since he was 17. He said he checked into a hospital expecting to get help sleeping, only to go to ICU after a negative reaction to medication.

As scary as that experience was, it helped him put his career and life in perspective. Okposo also realized just how much fans, teammates, and people associated with the sport can help each other in times of need.

It’s a really great letter and worth reading in full (especially considering his praise for new Sabres management), but here’s one of the more inspiring excerpts:

When I turned my phone on, I had 500 messages waiting for me. Current players, former players, former coaches – everyone reached out. Even now, fans see me in Minnesota or Buffalo and say, ‘I’m just really glad you’re doing OK.’ It’s overwhelming, and it makes me proud to be a part of the hockey community. We’re a tight-knit group and we stick together. Thinking about your support brings a tear to my eye.

The messages from my Sabres teammates meant a lot in particular. I’ve only played with those guys for one year, with Matt Moulson being the exception, and we didn’t have the type of season that we wanted. The fact that all of them were so supportive through this shows that the bond between teammates really does transcend what happens on the ice.

Okposo noted that he appreciated playing in “Da Beauty League” last week, even though his team got “whacked.”

Read more about him being involved in that here, and how happy Zach Parise and others were to see him play in this article. Okposo also reaffirms the belief that he’ll be ready to go for Sabres training camp in that letter.

No surgery for Dumoulin, who broke hand during Penguins’ Cup run

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If you’re feeling jealous of Brian Dumoulin for signing a robust (if fair) contract extension with the Pittsburgh Penguins, take heart: at least he earned it. He even checked the “Hockey players are insanely tough” box during the Penguins’ latest Stanley Cup run.

MORE: Dumoulin signs for six years, with a $4.1 million cap hit.

The 25-year-old revealed that a David Savard slapper broke (or “damaged?) his right hand in Game 5 of that first-round matchup. After that, his hand would heal up, only “I’d do a cross-check then it would break again,” as he told Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Dumoulin seemed to deal with that as the postseason went along, but the good news – at least as he claims – is that it’s all healed and he won’t require surgery.

“It was tough to play with it, but obviously everybody had injuries,” Dumoulin said, via Mackey. “It’s all healed up now. They were deciding on surgery or not at the end of the season, but doctors saw a little bit of healing. We gave it about three weeks, and I kind of have been testing it out the last week. I’ve skated, and there have been no problems. I’m happy about it.”

With any “no surgery needed” story, there are us hand-wringers who wonder if that will merely increase the odds of future re-breaks.

That, not to mention years of taxing schooling, is why doctors are doctors, though, so this seems like a mostly positive bit of information regarding another Penguins player who fought through injuries during the playoffs.

Considering how many Penguins players were sidelined, especially on defense, it makes Dumoulin’s toughness that much easier to appreciate. For all we know, losing him might have been the last straw for that thinned out group.

Instead, the Penguins are repeat champions, and Dumoulin enjoys long-term security.

If his play on the ice didn’t already convince you that he earned that extension, perhaps this detail did.

Islanders’ D getting crowded with four-year deal for Adam Pelech

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If nothing else, quantity probably won’t be much of an issue for the New York Islanders’ defense in 2017-18.

GM Garth Snow locked down another blueliner on Monday, as he signed Adam Pelech to a four-year contract. The deal is worth $1.6 million per season ($6.4M overall), according to Newsday’s Arthur Staple.

Pelech, 22, played 44 games at the NHL level in 2016-17, collecting 10 points and struggling from an analytics standpoint. He also appeared in nine games with the Islanders in 2015-16.

Staple notes that this could make for a logjam – or, to put a positive spin on it, make for a lot of competition – particularly if the Isles can strike a deal with Calvin de Haan soon. If that pans out, they’d have eight defensemen who would need to go through waivers.

On the bright side, the Islanders’ defense looks respectable on paper, and that’s assuming that Pelech doesn’t take a step forward. If he does, this could be another respectable, under-the-radar move by Snow.

At the moment, it mainly seems like adding depth and flexibility, which isn’t the worst thing, either.

Plenty of opportunity on revamped Blackhawks defense

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For almost a decade, Niklas Hjalmarsson was a mainstay on the Blackhawks’ back end, quietly providing some of the most effective defense in the league.

But with Hjalmarsson in Arizona now, traded to the Coyotes for the younger-though-less-proven Connor Murphy, it remains to be seen how Chicago’s blue line will roll out next season.

In addition to Hjalmarsson, the ‘Hawks also bid adieu to Brian Campbell, Johnny Oduya, and Trevor van Riemsdyk this offseason.

Add up all the good-byes, and that’s a lot of minutes to replace.

“We’re going to see when we’re putting the pairs together, whether we’re going to reunite [Duncan Keith] and [Brent Seabrook] or look for some balance,” head coach Joel Quenneville said, per CSN Chicago. “There are a lot of options. We’ll look forward to that and sorting it out.”

The way it looks right now, the top four will be comprised of Keith, Seabrook, Murphy, and Michal Kempny. That’s two left shots — Keith and Kempny — and two righties — Seabrook and Murphy.

Read more: After major changes, Bowman thinks Blackhawks are in ‘good spot’

The bottom pairing, though, is anyone’s guess. Newly signed Czech defenseman Jan Rutta is in the mix. But so too are Jordan Oesterle, Gustav Forsling, Ville Pokka, Erik Gustafsson, Viktor Svedberg, and possibly even Luc Snuggerud.

Once training camp starts, it’ll be up to those young players to prove themselves.

“Just the amount of opportunity that is in front of me just drives me even more,” said Oesterle, whom the ‘Hawks signed July 1. “I want to be here and force their hand to keep me here.”

Veteran Michal Rozsival is also under contract for next season. However, he turns 39 in September, and with all that youth champing at the bit, the Blackhawks will be hoping they won’t need him much, if at all.

Chicago’s defense in 2016-17, ranked by total time on ice