The one thing to consider as the Sabres head into free agency — Jason Botterill isn’t going to overpay for a quick fix. That’s not how he helped build the Penguins into a Stanley Cup contender.
The Sabres did their best to address the blue line with the selection of Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin No. 1 overall, but there are still plenty of needs on the wings and in net that will have to be addressed if they not only want to climb out of the standings basement but:
A) Want to climb out of the scoring basement. They need secondary scoring options and they were the only team last season to fail to crack the 200 goal mark.
B) Find competent netminding (to go along with improved defense) so they’re not giving up 3.74 goals on average, which was the third worst mark in the league a year ago.
With that in mind, here are a few players the Sabres could pursue in free agency.
Derek Ryan (Hurricanes)
Ryan could provide a depth pivot role, especially with Casey Mittlestadt expected to begin his first full season this Fall.
The Sabres have let it be known they intend to have Mittlestadt play center, but maybe a move to wing on the third line with Ryan, who is a good skater, could also help develop and mold Mittelstadt, who by all accounts, is expected to be the Sabres No. 2 center behind Eichel in the future.
Or, if Ryan O’Reilly gets shipped out at some point this summer, he could slide into the No. 2 center role, and still provide somewhat of a developmental buffer to Mittlestadt as 3C.
Riley Nash (Bruins)
If the Sabres do jettison O’Reilly and slide Mittlestadt into the 2C role, Nash could provide some value as the third pivot.
Nash put together a solid 41-point effort with career highs in goals (15) and assists (26) this past season with the Bruins. His previous highs were 10 and 17 – and never during the same season.
David Perron (Golden Knights)
Left wing is the biggest position of need for the Sabres, especially after trading away one of the best natural goal scorers in the league at the deadline in Evander Kane.
Jack Eichel is need of a line mate on the left side as is O’Reilly. While he’s not the greatest skater, he’d fit a top six role alongside 90 and Kyle Okposo pretty seamlessly.
Perron, who tallied a career high 66 points in the inaugural and historic season with the Vegas Golden, Knights scored 16 goals and added 50 assists. He scored a career high 25 goals in 2013 with the Oilers. He reached 20 goals in 2011 but the last four years has seen him score 17 (’14), 12 (’15), 18 (’16) and 16.
Patrick Maroon (Oilers/Devils)
Maroon has reached the 20-goal plateau once in his career – topping out at 27 while skating alongside Connor McDavid in Edmonton two seasons ago.
He scored 17 in split time with the Oilers and Devils this past season but, maybe skating alongside Jack Eichel would see the return of a 20-goal scorer?
Something to consider: He’s tallied double digit goals just two other times in his career.
The winger is big, can help facilitate and he’s also not afraid to mix it up — which isn’t a bad thing for a team that has lacked toughness the last few years. Maroon ranked 17th in the league among forwards in penalty minutes which included five fighting majors.
Chris Kunitz (Lightning)
The addition of Kunitz wouldn’t be for a top six role. But, if there is still one area the Sabres need work, it’s their culture and establishing a winning one, at that.
At 38 he remains durable, playing in all 82 games this past season. He’s suited up in at least 71 or more games in each of the last five years.
The winger has four Stanley Cups to his name, three of which came with Jason Botterill on the Penguins staff, so there is some familiarity there.
But, would he want to join a team still learning how to win?
Michael Grabner (Devils)
Left wing is an issue, but so is the right side with Kyle Okposo, Zemgus Girgensons and Jason Pominville failing to provide secondary scoring on a consistent basis.
Grabner can skate – by all accounts one of the best in the NHL – and we know the Sabres want to employ a speed and skill game. Brendan Guhle could make be with the Big Club in the fall and with Rasmus Dahlin, having two guys who can execute a breakout pass to a speedy winger would (finally) be fun.
Ian Cole (Penguins)
Much like Kunitz, Cole would provide some leadership and (hopefully) help create a winning culture for the Sabres.
He has familiarity with Botterill, as well, and you can’t discount that.
A solid all-around defenseman would provide an added level of stability for a defense that has vastly underperformed.
With questions surrounding the health of of Zach Bogosian and Jake McCabe, it might be worth while to try and bring in Cole.
Jonathan Bernier (Avalanche)
With Robin Lehner told he won’t be returning, the Sabres still need to address the crease to find a goaltender that could split-time with Linus Ullmark.
Bernier fits that bill after putting up solid numbers in each of the last two seasons posting 19 and 21 wins, while boasting a sub-3 goals against average. He also had 26 and 21-win seasons while with the Maple Leafs.
The big netminder doesn’t need to be the long-term solution by any stretch, but he’d provide quality efforts on a nightly basis.
Chad Johnson (Sabres)
We know Johnson said he’d have to be convinced to return to the Blue & Gold for another season after the disaster of a year the team just went through…so maybe with the addition of Dahlin and a few other D in free agency it’s enough to bring Johnson back.
He’s a veteran goaltender, who like Lehner, struggled to provide decent outings with a Sabres group that showed little effort or commitment on a nightly basis.
That said, maybe he returns to Buffalo and posts similar numbers to his first year with the club (22-16-4, .920 %).
Eddie Lack (Devils/Flames)
Lack would be an interesting addition to the Blue & Gold, considering he’s bounced between the AHL and NHL and, hasn’t put up put up decent numbers since his second to last year with the Canucks (18-13-4, .920 %, 2.45 GAA).
If the Sabres are committed to having Ullmark log No. 1 duties, Lack could find a role as the No. 2 as he finds his groove.