Zemgus Girgensons

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Sabres’ salary cap outlook with Jack Eichel’s massive extension

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PHT already discussed whether Jack Eichel is really worth $80 million over eight years for the Buffalo Sabres. Although the short answer is “Yes,” there’s room for debate, so click here for more.

Fair or not, many hockey fans will judge Eichel based upon how the Sabres fare as a team; if they remain also-rans, big numbers might not save Eichel from taking the heat for his $10M cap hit.

Really, though, Eichel will need some help. Let’s take a look at the structure of this Sabres team to see where the strengths lie, the big decisions ahead, and the red flags waving in front of our faces.

This is part of a running series at PHT, so click here for more salary cap breakdowns.

Long-term commitments

Eichel’s contract extension won’t kick in until 2018-19, so the Sabres get one more year of rookie-deal savings before they pay up. His extension expires after 2025-26; the Sabres own Eichel’s prime years, so it will be fascinating to watch the ups and downs.

Eichel joins a few other lengthy commitments. Ryan O'Reilly, 26, isn’t cheap with a $7.5M cap hit. He’s a borderline Selke-worthy two-way forward who’s still in his prime, and it’s unlikely that he’ll regress sharply during this current deal, which runs for six more seasons.

At worst, “ROR” is a “$5 shake.”

Kyle Okposo, 29, carries a $6M cap hit through 2022-23. It’s tough to beat up too much on the winger considering how comforting it is that Okposo is OK after his health scares. Okposo’s a solid guy right now, assuming he’s healthy, but that could be a problem deal.

Rasmus Ristolainen ($5.4M for five more seasons) is a fascinating case. On one hand, he scored 45 points at the ripe age of 22. On the other hand, he’s framed as a disaster in his own end; TSN’s Travis Yost listed him as a “dud” from an analytics standpoint. You might not find a better case of perception … unless “eye test” types aren’t impressed, either?

The Sabres boast two other mid-range guys with expensive, three-year deals: Zach Bogosian and Marco Scandella. That’s almost $10M in debatable defensemen (though they both could help, even if one or both might be overpriced).

Off the books soon

Jason Pominville ($5.6M) and Matt Moulson ($5M) are two aging wingers whose contracts expire after two more seasons. Pominville has more to offer going forward, but you’d think that management is keen on transferring many of those dollars to younger players.

Josh Gorges only has one year remaining on his $3.9M, so as much as Eichel adds to the bottom line, Buffalo is ridding itself of some problems soon.

You almost wonder if Buffalo might accept a bad expiring deal or two if this season goes wrong, just to gain riches soon enough?

Big choices

Robin Lehner can be a scary dude. The 26-year-old has also shown flashes of serious brilliance as a goalie. He’s in a contract year, so the Sabres must decide if the intimidating netminder is a part of the future or not.

Chad Johnson backs him up with a one-year deal of his own.

Evander Kane, 26, faces quite the crossroads in his career, as his $5.25M cap hit will expire after 2016-17. Kane is on the short list of players who future value is difficult to determine; seriously, what kind of contract do you expect for the power forward? Years and term both stand as tough to determine.

Growth areas

The Sabres have some interesting guys on two-year deals: Zemgus Girgensons, Jake McCabe, Nathan Beaulieu, and others could be key fixtures or short-term guys.

Naturally, the Sabres also have some other young players, with Alex Nylander and Sam Reinhart being make-or-break types. Buffalo’s been enjoying some strong draft picks while adding some potential foundational pieces; the crucial thing, then, is to actually develop some of them into difference-makers.

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Cap Friendly places Buffalo’s 2018-19 cap spending at $56.56M with Eichel’s deal in mind. That provides some serious room to maneuver, even if the ceiling remains flat at $75M.

Despite this huge investment, the Sabres’ new management has room to operate. They have some nice pieces and a worry or two. Some crucial decisions and serious progress (or failed developments) may determine if Buffalo can really contend.

Sabres sign Zemgus Girgensons: two years, $3.2M

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The Buffalo Sabres basically wrapped up their mandatory summer moves by signing RFA Zemgus Girgensons to a two-year, $3.2 million contract on Thursday.

That translates to a cap hit of $1.6M per year; the team confirmed those terms.

The 23-year-old was selected 14th overall in the 2012 NHL Draft by the Sabres. He went two picks after the Sabres selected Mikhail Grigorenko, whose claim to fame is being part of the package that helped them nab Ryan O'Reilly. (Feel free to cringe at who went next, though hindsight seems especially convenient considering how long it takes to get to some of the whoppers.)

In Girgensons’ case, it’s still been a work in progress. His best years actually came early, particularly a sophomore season where he posted career-highs in goals (15) and points (30) despite being limited to 61 games. He enjoyed significantly higher ice time (19:05 per game) during that 2014-15, then came right back down.

If nothing else, Girgensons already has ample NHL experience, as he’s already played in 277 regular-season games.

Buffalo has about $7 million in cap space left, according to Cap Friendly, so there’s theoretically room to make more moves. Girgensons was their last remaining loose end of note, however.

Sabres avoid arbitration with Beaulieu: Two years, $4.8M

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Nathan Beaulieu doesn’t figure to be the most important member of the Buffalo Sabres’ defense. Even so, Beaulieu feels somewhat symbolic of the transition to an attacking, mobile group – at least ideally – under new head coach Phil Housley.

MORE on Housley’s vision for the Sabres here.

The Sabres needed to agree to a contract for the RFA first, though, and they did that on Monday, signing Beaulieu to a two-year, $4.8 million deal. That’s worth $2.4 million per season.

In the process, they avoid a salary arbitration hearing that was scheduled for Aug. 4.

The Sabres acquired Beaulieu, 24, from the Montreal Canadiens for a third-round pick. Beaulieu himself was the 17th selection of the 2011 NHL Draft, but perhaps he took too long to show his potential to Habs brass.

That said, Beaulieu generated career-highs across the board in 2016-17 including in games played (74), points (28), and average ice time (19:29, two minutes more than his previous peak). There have been ups and downs for Beaulieu along the way; even so, at the moment he stands as another polarizing personnel decision by Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin.

Meanwhile, Beaulieu gets a clean slate with the Sabres, who also have revamped their defense by adding Marco Scandella and Matt Tennyson to the mix (while letting Dmitry Kulikov and Cody Franson leave via free agency).

Beaulieu stood as the final lingering arbitration hearing for Buffalo, but they still need to deal with RFA Zemgus Girgensons.

Sabres re-sign Eichel’s buddy Rodrigues for two years

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The Buffalo Sabres might have signed Evan Rodrigues back in 2015 in part because he enjoyed so much success as a college linemate with Jack Eichel at Boston University, but the undrafted forward seems like he’s making a case that he’ll be a part of their future in his own right.

The Sabres handed Rodrigues a two-year deal that is two-way in 2017-18 and one-way in 2018-19. Whenever he’s at the NHL level, it’s worth $650K per season.

Rodrigues debuted in 2015-16, scoring a goal and an assist in two games. He managed to play in 30 regular-season contests for the Sabres last season, collecting six points.

He’s shown quite a bit of improvement at the AHL level, in particular. After collecting 30 points in 72 games for the Rochester Americans in 2015-16, he scored 30 again in 2016-17, although he only needed 48 contests to do so. Rodrigues isn’t quite Matt Moulson to Eichel’s John Tavares just yet, but it’s possible that he might at least develop into a regular NHL player.

Buffalo’s work isn’t done for the summer just yet, as RFAs Zemgus Girgensons and Nathan Beaulieu still need deals.

Sabres re-sign Robin Lehner to one-year, $4 million deal

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The Buffalo Sabres avoided salary arbitration with goalie Robin Lehner, as they inked him to a one-year, $4 million contract on Tuesday morning.

Lehner and the Sabres were scheduled to have their hearing on July 27, but that obviously won’t be necessary anymore.

The 26-year-old played a career-high 59 games in 2016-17. He finished the year with a 23-26-8 record, a 2.68 goals-against-average and a .920 save percentage.

There’s no doubt that he’s a talented netminder, but he’s had his share of struggles when it comes to staying healthy and being consistent. Of course, the team in front of him hasn’t been very good either.

Both of Buffalo’s goalies (Lehner and Chad Johnson) will have something to prove this season because they’re both on one-year contracts. When their deals expire next summer, Lehner will be a restricted free agent again, while Johnson will be free to test the market on July 1st.

The Sabres now have just over $10.9 million in cap space with RFAs Zemgus Girgensons, Nathan Beaulieu and Evan Rodrigues still needing new contracts.

A huge extension for Jack Eichel is also on the horizon, but his new salary won’t count on the cap until 2018-19.