It was the summer of 2007 and Buffalo was coming off of a President's Trophy-winning season that ended a little too soon for their liking. The Sabres lost their second consecutive Eastern Conference championship game that year and were headed into the off season with some big questions looming.
The NHL was finishing up their second season with the new salary cap structure and the first year was a big success with three smaller market teams in their respective conference championships. When the league came out of the '04-'05 lockout the salary-cap ceiling was $39 million and for the Sabres it was a very manageable figure. The following season it went to $44.9 million (a 15% jump) which would still afford Buffalo the opportunity to compete with the larger market teams while still "breaking even," which was the organizational mantra under owner B. Thomas Golisano.
However, one could sense that salaries for individual stars were due for a sharp increase as evidenced by the arbitration award to Sabres center Daniel Briere of $5 million in the summer of '06. Briere had an exceptional season with 25 goals and 33 assists in 48 games during an injury shortened '05-'06 season. Regardless of those impressive numbers which placed him 11th in the league at 1.21 pts/game, the award was still a stunner for the team and it would set them up for an imminent fail the following off-season.
Briere's one-year extension meant that he and co-captain Chris Drury would be unrestricted free agents at the end of the '06-'07 season. In addition, budding superstar Thomas Vanek would be a restricted free agent as well. Throughout the season there was that sinking feeling in Sabreland as the mantra of "just break even" couldn't possibly allow for both Briere and Drury, along with Vanek, to be re-signed. As we would come to find out, team president Larry Quinn had decided to focus upon re-signing Drury and letting Briere walk. Unfortunately for them, Drury signed a lucrative long-term deal with his boyhood idol NY Rangers while Briere, after being shunned by Buffalo, signed a lucrative, long-term deal with the Philadelphia Flyers. And to make matters worse, Vanek signed a seven-year offer-sheet with an average annual value of over $7 million.
It was a decision that would haunt them for over a decade.
Times have changed as has ownership of the Sabres. Terry Pegula took the helm in 2011 and was ready to throw his wealth behind the club. Unfortunately for him and the team, there weren't a lot of top-end, Briere-like players on the market and/or those players didn't want to play for Buffalo. But things are different this year as it looks like the Sabres will have an opportunity to re-sign that type of player in Jeff Skinner and finally purge themselves of the past.
Skinner was acquired over the summer to score goals, especially 5v5, and he's done just that to the tune of 25 goals in 35 games. Although he doesn't seem to have the set-up acumen of Briere, the way Skinner plays the game, highlighted by his finish, is very similar to Brier's and luckily for Buffalo, things are totally different this time round. Skinner is a pending UFA but there's a mutual interest on a contract extension, according to TSN's Darren Dreger (with a nod to a couple of our own posters in this thread who were on that well before Dreger.) What the dollar amount and term end up being is to be determined but one wouldn't be off to say that it probably won't be less than $8 million or more than $10 million (what captain Jack Eichel makes) per season with the AAV possibly being tied to term.
It's been a very dark era for Sabres hockey since 2007 and things have been going well with the organization this season. Re-signing Skinner would make it even better.
Pegula cut loose the chains that limited what the Sabres could do financially, but he still needs his team to stay under the NHL's cap-ceiling and this year they were barely doing so, until...
Patrik Berglund went AWOL, was suspended by the team and is now on waivers for the purpose of terminating his contract.
It was a situation that really came out of nowhere for those of us on the outside. When the Sabres traded Ryan O'Reilly, one of the pieces St. Louis gave them in return was Berglund, a veteran forward who was said to be a professional. The 30 yr. old seemed to garner a lot of respect in the Blues locker room and when he came to Buffalo it seemed as if he was a total team player. Back in October Eichel even went as far calling him "The Godfather" as Berglund's Swedish countrymen they always seemed to follow him around.
Yet this season wasn't kind to Berglund in that he kept falling down the depth chart as his stats remained that of a bottom-line/reserve player. The last thing we heard before this incident exploded was that Berglund hadn't played in two games because of illness. Then this past Friday morning the team announced that he was suspended "for failure to report to the team" prior to their trip to Washington DC. And yesterday it was announced by the team that Berglund was on unconditional waivers and will terminate his contract.
Although there is some speculation as to why Berglund would not report, what we do know is that he'll be leaving a big chunk of change on the table with this incident. According to CapFriendly, Berglund had three years still remaining on his contract and another 108 days left on this season and he'll be walking away from $12,579,032 with this breach.
For the Sabres, it was a God-send as none of his money will count against the cap. Prior to the Berglund incident, the Sabres were butting right up against the cap (about $300K under) but with Berglund's hit off the books the Sabres are now about $4.2 million under the cap which offers loads of freedom this year and beyond.
Skinner came to Buffalo with a $5.725 million cap-hit and Berglund's was $3.875M, add the two together and you have a figure of $9.575M which is more than enough to get Skinner re-signed even at the higher end of the projections.
There were some interesting line combos at practice today as coach Phil Housley is trying to get his mid-six going. According to the team, the lines were:
Jason Pominville is out of the line up with what could be a concussion and with Berglund now gone, a spot in the lineup opened up for Remi Elie. We pretty much knew he'd be on the fourth line and assumed Thompson would get bumped up. Housley threw a bit of a curve as he moved Girgensons up a line.
Rodrigues moves from Mittelstadt's left to make room for Sheary while Girgensons takes over Sheary's spot next to Sobotka.
There looks to be good news on defense as Jake McCabe might be ready to come back from injury. He was on the third pairing with Marco Scandella. More good news seems to be on the horizon as Lawrence Pilut, who'd also been injured, is back on the ice and could be next to Rasmus Ristolainen on the second pair again. The top pairing remains Rasmus Dahlin-Zach Bogosian.
Also of not, forward Scott Wilson, who had yet to play this season because of injury, was worked in on a d-pairing with Nathan Beaulieu, yet another Sabres d-man who was out with an injury.