Targets aplenty as free agency approaches

With the quality of player available in this year’s free agent class, it shouldn’t be difficult for Tim Murray to improve the Sabres roster.


With July 1st rapidly approaching, the Buffalo Sabres have another golden opportunity to ramp up the pace of their current rebuild. Buffalo Sabres General Manager Tim Murray has not held back one bit when it comes to talking about the upcoming Free Agency period.

“We’re going to chase the big fish and as we get close on them or let down by them then we’ll change direction,” Murray told media members following the NHL Draft.

Where does that leave the Buffalo Sabres? We have compiled a brief, yet triumphant, list of potential free agent targets for the Sabres. Take a look below.

Real Big Fish:

Tim Murray said he was all in for the big fish, as previously mentioned above. In this year’s free agent class, there are two big fish – one markedly bigger than the other, but both are big nonetheless.

stamkos tampa

Steven Stamkos, Center – Previous Team: Tampa Bay Lightning

Arguably the biggest fish we’ve seen in the Free Agent pond, since the Ilya Kovalchuk Cap Circumvention Extravaganza back in July 2010. You remember, when Kovalchuk’s 17 year deal with the New Jersey Devils was squashed for cap circumvention issues and it ended up being a 15 year deal, but LOL he left after 3 years? This is relevant because do you recall who signed Kovalchuk to that ridiculous contract? Oh yeah, the guy who is running the show in Toronto. Hi, Lou!

Before we get too side tracked, lets get back to the Buffalo Sabres. When asked to elaborate on Buffalo’s interest in Steven Stamkos, Tim Murray told media members, “The next conversation I’ll have with them is, ask if Steven is going to be available on July 1, and if he would be interested in Buffalo. I have to ask that question, or I wouldn’t be doing my job.”

It is very easy to get excited about the prospect of Steven Stamkos joining a very talent-top heavy Sabres squad. Stamkos has played just short of a point-per-game hockey in his NHL career, tallying 562 points (312 goals, 250 assists) in 569 games.

To underline the offensive talent that Stamkos is, he has averaged 39.5 goals the last two seasons. Good luck finding that kind of talent elsewhere in this goal-drought of an era we are currently witnessing.

While we remain punch drunk by the incredible talent that is Steven Stamkos, there is something very important to keep in mind. Steven Stamkos’ current injury situation is no joke, and it should be treated as such. An issue with blood clots took Stamkos out in April and caused him to miss the remainder of the season. While this might just be an isolated incident, we have seen blood clots take the careers of Penguins forward Pascal Dupuis and former Penguins goaltender Tomas Vokoun. Stamkos’ recovery from blood clots (and the removal of a rib) is something to keep an eye on, but most people will agree that the risk most certainly will be worth the reward.

LIKELY CONTRACT – 7 years, 84 million dollars – the Buffalo Sabres, per CBA rules, can only offer Stamkos a maximum of 7 years. There have been rumors of Buffalo being interested to pay as much as 12 million per season solely due to other teams (DET, TOR to name a few) having very strong interest in Stamkos’ services. No reason to think that Buffalo will not go all-in if Stamkos truly is their guy.

ODDS – A safe bet would say 50/50 odds to put Stamkos in Buffalo. Personal feelings have this at more around 65 to 70 percent. If we want to settle on an even number, we’ll just call it 69% because Stamkos in Buffalo definitely would be nice.

Kyle Okposo – Right Wing – Previous Team: New York Islanders

As free agency buzz has grown, it is clear to many that Kyle Okposo will be a Plan B for a lot of National Hockey League franchises, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Okposo, coming off a 64 point season, will be a hot commodity come July 1st.

In the last 3 seasons, Okposo has averaged 22.3 goals and 39 assists for a total of 61.3 points per season. Many believe that Okposo’s statistics are inflated because of his penchant for playing with John Tavaraes but as pointed out by SB Nation’s Winging It In Motown, that certainly is not the whole story. Last season, Okposo played 490 minutes 5-on-5 last season without John Tavares and 407 minutes with Tavares. The author, Jimmy Wellington, goes to point out that Okposo’s most frequent linemates were Frans Nielsen and Nikolay Kulemin. It is safe to assume that Okposo’s statistics will improve with an increased amount of talent around him.

If Buffalo were to pull the trigger on Kyle Okposo, it is expected that he would step right onto the first line to the right of Evander Kane and Ryan O’Reilly. With Okposo’s penchant for hard-nosed hockey, he could easily be the apple of Buffalo’s eye.

LIKELY CONTRACT – 6 years, 39 million – Arthur Staple, New York Islanders’ beat writer, reported recently that Okposo could be seeking upwards of 7 million per season, which makes sense for a player looking to potentially cash in and sign one of the last contracts of his career. A good estimate for Okposo would be 6/39 million or 7/45.5 million, giving him 6.5 million per season.

ODDS – Having Okposo play in the Sabres top-6 for the next 6 to 7 seasons would be a very attractive option to have. Over time, it is likely that Okposo would become a RW2 with Reinhart moving up to RW1. No problem there, but you have to remember future money could definitely become an issue if you started creeping into the high 6/low 7 territory. If Stamkos signs, there is 0% change Okposo comes to Buffalo. If Stamkos goes elsewhere, an arbitrary number can be thrown out and we’ll say 55%.

Stand By Your Man:

What about signing a free agent that currently belongs to your franchise? Not to worry, the Buffalo Sabres have one of those!

vesey harvard

Jimmy Vesey – Left Wing – Previous Team: Harvard (NCAA)

Jimmy Vesey – we all know the story here by now. The Sabres acquired Jimmy Vesey’s rights from the Nashville Predators after Vesey’s agent made it clear that his client would not sign with the Predators franchise. Tim Murray took a swing for the fences in acquiring Vesey’s rights. Jimmy Vesey is a player that many could easily see in the Sabres top-6 for the next decade, so it is no surprise that Tim Murray would lunge at the opportunity to acquire the rights and possible a step up in negotiating. At this point, Vesey is the prize in the claw machine that you really want but it continually eludes you (for the few weeks you exclusively have the rights to that claw machine),

LIKELY CONTRACT – 2 years, 925k – The terms here are locked, per CBA rules. Vesey will receive 2/925k. Whichever franchise signs Vesey likely will load up with obtainable bonuses to sweeten the pot, but either way the term is set.

ODDS – With the Buffalo Sabres owning the rights to Jimmy Vesey until August 14, it seems very likely he will sign. Many people are pessimistic because Vesey’s agent Pete Fish says Jimmy Vesey will test free agency. Fish did confirm that the Sabres were on Vesey’s short list, likely due to his friendship with Jack Eichel and ability to play on the same line as Eichel. We’ll set the odds here at 75%.

Getting The Band Back Together:

Remember when Buffalo Sabres fans take up the dead air in the offseason and talk about signing old fan favorites? Well, this offseason there may be two players who actually make sense for the Sabres to take a look at.

NHL: DEC 12 Panthers at Bruins

Brian Campbell – Defense – Previous Team: Florida Panthers

Brian Campbell has carved himself out a fantastic career following his trade from the Buffalo Sabres back in February 2008.

Campbell has played in 1002 career NHL games, where he has tallied 487 points (82 goals, 405 assists). Not bad for a guy who was originally drafted in the 6th round of the 1997 NHL Entry Level Draft. Campbell has actually scored more points than any other defenseman in that draft and the 7th most points of all 246 players drafted that year.

According to Todaysslapshot.com, Campbell ranked 1st among Florida defensemen in ice-time per game, 5-on-5 ice time per game, Relative Fenwick For, Relative Goals for per 60 on the power play, and Relative Goals against per 60 on the penalty kill last season.

When it comes to the Buffalo Sabres, they certainly could benefit from the return of Brian Campbell. While the franchise just acquired left-handed defenseman Dmitry Kulikov, who is expected to be a top-pairing defenseman, there can never be enough good defense on a young team looking to make the next step toward the Stanley Cup. Campbell has played well with young Florida defenders, including Aaron Ekblad, so this likely will make Campbell a more attractive free agent target for any franchise.

If Campbell were to sign, Josh Gorges would likely become expendable solely because of Jake McCabe, Gorges’ 3.9 million dollar cap hit per season, two years left on his deal and ability to still be a somewhat effective bottom pair defenseman for a Stanley Cup contending franchise. Buffalo would likely need to sweeten the pot for a team to take on Gorges but if it means fitting Brian Campbell in at the top with Rasmus Ristolainen, it might not be too difficult of a move for Tim Murray to make.

LIKELY CONTRACT – 2 years, 10 million – After scouring the interwebs, a handful of people have come to a conclusion that maybe Campbell takes a bit of a pay cut to play with a contending team, a return to Chicago has been rumored. Will this affect his interest in Buffalo? It remains to be seen. The safe bet among hockey minds seems to be 2/10 for Campbell.

ODDS – Buffalo isn’t dying for a top-2 left-handed defenseman at this point, but it never hurts to have a talented defenseman assisting in the development of your top defensive stud in Rasmus Ristolainen. If Buffalo wants to further speed up the process, and maybe play in a few playoff games this season, signing Campbell seems like a smart move especially with the low cost. Paying 2/10 compared to a blockbuster trade seems like a very easy answer for most. That being said, safe odds are likely around 30-35%, due to the recent acquisition of Dmitry Kulikov.

Thomas Vanek – Left Wing – Previous Team: Minnesota Wild

In a normal hockey world, Vanek would not be labeled a gigantic disappointment in Minnesota. The issue with Vanek and the Minnesota Wild were wild (no pun intended) expectations. Many throughout the hockey world expected Vanek to come to Minnesota after a season where he combined for 27 goals over three franchises (Buffalo/NY Islanders/Montreal) and push this fledgling Wild franchise to the next level. Unfortunately, that did not happen.

In two years with the Wild, Vanek played 154 of 164 games, where he tallied 39 goals (21/18) and 93 points in 154 games. This falls short of Vanek’s career average of 28.7 goals per season but mind you, Vanek has not scored 28+ in a season since 2010-11.

It seems to many like we’ve hit the downside of Vanek’s NHL career but he still can touch the twine.

Vanek was on a deal that paid him 19.5 million over 3 years, but after being bought out of the final year of his deal, Vanek will be paid 7 million over the next 2 seasons. This means good news for whichever franchise decides to take a risk on Vanek because he should come relatively cheap.

We’re talking about a “reclamation project” that has averaged 19.5 goals per season over the last two years, in a league that struggles to score. Get Vanek around better talent and maybe those numbers will rise back up to that magic threshold everyone wants Vanek to be at. Either way, a franchise should be thrilled to have 20 goals a season from a guy like Thomas Vanek.

LIKELY CONTRACT – 1 year, dollar amount unknown – Seems like a cop-out here with these terms but it is very hard to predict what Vanek would take to revitalize his role in the NHL, solely because he will also be paid by the Minnesota Wild. A one-year deal to bet on himself seems like a very smart move for both Vanek and whichever franchise takes a shot on him. Taking less money might make Vanek more attractive to a contender, like the rumored New York Rangers, which seems to be the best route at this point.

ODDS – This move makes sense for many different reasons, but unless the Sabres clear up some cap space, it is unlikely this happens. There seems to be more of a “pipe dream” feel to Vanek’s homecoming but we’ll throw odds around 15%. Seems like there will be no TV Parties in Buffalo, at least for the Sabres.

Did we miss any players? Or maybe you disagree about what we said. Let us know on Twitter, @BLTDSports, or let us know over on Facebook.

Written by Ryan Wolfe

Ryan Wolfe is the founder and editor-in-chief of BLTD Sports. He can be heard on the BLTD Podcast. Ryan's writing is also featured over at TheHockeyWriters.com.

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