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How The Sabres Should Spend Their Cap This Year

July 8, 2020, 12:28 PM ET [1483 Comments]
Michael Ghofrani
Buffalo Sabres Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
As we continue to gain more clarity on the NHL’s new collective bargaining agreement, we also get a better picture on how the Sabres can build their squad moving forward under the new salary cap conditions.

As reported by Elliot Friedman, the cap for next season will be 81.5 million, the same upper limit as this season. There’s no one size fits all method in a hard cap era, but in general most competitive teams are split between being cap heavy in a particular area (like the top/forward heavy Toronto Maple Leafs) or they opt for a more balanced approach, trying to spread the talent as much as possible (like the Las Vegas Golden Knights).

While the Sabres have many contracts, especially at the forward position, coming off the books this off-season, they don’t have much of a choice when it comes to their build, if they want to start competing next season that is.

Assuming restricted free agent Sam Reinhart inks a long-term deal with the Sabres, they’ll have four contracts with three or more years left on them, and all are forwards. For better or worse Reinhart along with Jack Eichel, Jeff Skinner, and Kyle Okposo will taking up a huge chunk of cap next season. As a result, the Sabres will need to find a way to build the rest of the roster like it were a top-heavy team, because at least for now that’s their best shot at remaining competitive.

View post on imgur.com

Using the Leafs as the example again, we see with them that the top four forwards make a combined 40.45 million on the cap, nearly half the teams cap hit. Assuming a deal for Reinhart comes in at an AAV of around 7 million, the Sabres would be hovering around 32 million for their top 4. If we use the 40.45 million as our absolute maximum, there are a couple of options here. The Sabres could use the extra room to spread the talent around as much as possible. This can give them an advantage in depth, but isn’t really the optimal solution because a) Kyle Okposo probably shouldn’t be part of anyone’s top 4 forwards and b) there’s still the issue of solidifying the 2nd line centre position. The Sabres could gamble on Dylan Cozens there from opening night, but with so much on the line next year it probably isn’t the best move for a rookie to have to deal with that kind of pressure.

With all that in mind, I’ve opted for this type of build at the forward position.

View post on imgur.com

View post on imgur.com

Here are the highlights:

At 54 million, I’ve exceeded the Leafs build by a bit, although I am carrying 14 forwards in this scenario. The number is mostly inflated because of Okposo’s contract. Ordinarily, this would be a contract that is similar to the replacement level player I have marked at 2.9 million (more on that later).

Our placeholder for second line centre and winger come in at 5 and 4.5 mil respectively but these numbers can be easily changed, the important number is to keep the 2nd line at or under 15 million. Any more than that and you run the risk of spending way too much at the forward position (we are already at 54 million after all) and that can hurt the team even in the short term.

Ideally, you would actually want to invest a little more cap in the centre, since they are the most important position among the forwards (maybe even the whole team). This can be challenging however, as we aren’t sure who will be available this off season and most of the centres who are worth anywhere near a cap hit of say 6-7 million are typically not available for trade barring a massive overpayment.

Also worth noting, I’ve kept Marcus Johansson in this build at 4.5 million. The Sabres would do well to upgrade but assuming they are able to build a functioning second line they‘re likely to see better value from him, or better than whatever the cost to replace him might be.

I have the replacement level player at 2.9 million, which if you’ve read any of my other work on the subject is way high. According to this article done by Dom Luszczyszyn (yes, I copy and pasted the last name) last summer for the Athletic, the cost of a replacement level forward in free agency was estimated to be around 1.1 million, while a “1 win added” player came in at 4.4 million. This should in theory hold true for this coming off-season, with the cap staying flat.

Unfortunately, just because it averages out that way, it doesn’t mean the Sabres will actually get replacement level production for whichever player they choose to sign for 1.1 million. We know that for every good value deal, there are tons of bad ones. So, rather than cast a wide net, the Sabres should look to zero in on one or two targets who’s on-ice impacts are strong enough that even if there were a dip in production, they’d still get replacement level or better value.

Now a look at what happens with the blue line in our top/forward heavy build.

View post on imgur.com

View post on imgur.com

As it turns out, the cap set up here is actually already pretty solid. If you’re going to load up at the forward position there’s less of a need to have money dedicated to elite talent on the blue line. I’ve swapped out Rasmus Ristolainen for a top four defender, which the Sabres should be looking to do, but the cap number is fairly ideal regardless.

I had originally planned to spend more, as buying wins one the blue line in free agency can be quite pricey, but the total price tag so far is deceptively low. Both Henri Jokiharju and Ramsus Dahin are going to get fairly substantial raises within the next calendar year. As it stands, we probably wouldn’t retain a player like Brandon Montour in this build as the cost for what he brings is met already by Collin Miller. There would almost certainly have to be more reshuffling after the 2020-21 season, but for now this set up should bring enough value to the team to keep it competitive.

I’ve set the upper limit on a replacement level defender at 2 million, while the estimated cost in free agency would be 1.7. Again, we’re slightly overpaying here but we want stability on the blue line. Additionally, this is one area where the league is all over the place in terms of value. Year after year there always seems to be a couple of defenders who go for near or below market value either through free agency or trade. It shouldn’t be difficult for the Sabres to find someone to fill that role, even if it’s only in the short term.

View post on imgur.com

View post on imgur.com

With a flat cap, the extra money we’ve allocated to the forwards has to come out of somewhere. The ideal version of a forward heavy build will usually have more money invested in the goaltending. Run and gun teams need a netminder who can bail them out from time to time when they’re caught too far up the ice looking for the next goal.

Retaining Linus Ullmark at 2.5 million brings the Sabres cap total to 76.5, before calculating expected penalties from bonus overages. We like spending to the cap but we also want to have some flexibility leading up to and at the trade deadline.

As much as I’d prefer to upgrade both the starting and backup goaltenders, the cost of replacing either with someone who can bring the stability I just mentioned would be very high in either dollars or trade assets. It’s an issue that can be revisited during the season, but assuming the 54 million invested in forwards isn’t a complete swing and a miss, this should be enough to keep the Sabres in a playoff spot, barring health and other unforeseen circumstances.

Credit to Capfriendly for the awesome armchair GM tool

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