The Buffalo Sabres have just three games remaining in the 2015-16 regular season, and have shown substantial improvement from the past two seasons. By the looks of it, the Sabres rebuild is heading in the right direction under head coach Dan Bylsma and GM Tim Murray. Buffalo’s record sits at 33-35-11, just two games below .500.
Despite the improvement in the standings, the Sabres still have lots of work to do before they are considered legitimate contenders. One of the biggest issues has been the lack of scoring. Once again, the Sabres rank near the bottom when it comes to goals scored. This will be addressed in a big way this offseason.
Another issue is the lack of experience on the blue line. Buffalo has a handful of young defenseman who will most likely turn out into solid NHLers; however, the blue line will be addressed in the offseason.
With the draft and free agency just around the corner, here are my predictions for the Buffalo Sabres offseason.
The New York Islanders will not be bringing back winger Kyle Okposo this offseason, as he will be testing the UFA market come July 1st. Okposo was drafted 7th overall in 2006 by the Islanders, and has had a very effective NHL career up to this point. In 75 games he has recorded 21 goals and 58 points and has played a major role on the success of the Islanders power play.
Okposo has good size and would be a great winger for rising star Jack Eichel. The St. Paul Minnesota native would be a great fit with the Sabres as he would add much needed scoring and play making. With over 30 million dollars in cap space, the Sabres would have no issues offering Okposo a long-term deal over six million dollars per season. There will be lots of interest in Okposo come July 1st.
An intriguing option for the Sabres this offseason is Blues forward Troy Brouwer. The 30 year old is a big body who can score goals and play a significant role on the second line while also providing help on both the power play and penalty kill.
In 79 games, Brouwer has 17 goals and 21 assists which is good for 38 points. The Vancouver, British Columbia native would add some veteran leadership into a young Sabres locker room. Brouwer would be another viable option to play on the wing with Eichel. Buffalo would have to offer Brouwer a 3-4 year deal, probably nearing the 4.5 million dollar mark.
Perhaps the most realistic option for the Sabres this offseason, is bringing in veteran defenseman Alex Goligoski. For the past few seasons, Buffalo has had one of the worst groups of defensemen in the entire NHL. Bringing in Goligoski would help solidify the blue line, and provide a major boost to both special teams units.
The Grand Rapids, Minnesota native has played for Dan Bylsma during his days with the Pittsburgh Penguins. In 80 games this season, Goligoski has 36 points, and is a plus 21. He is very effective in his own end, and is very efficient when moving the puck. Buffalo would be very smart to bring in the 30 year old come July 1st.
If the Sabres are willing to spend big money on a much needed offensive defenseman, than they may look to bring in 29-year-old Keith Yandle. Yandle has a powerful shot from the point and would bolster the Sabres power play. He is a great puck mover and would significantly improve the Sabres blue line.
In 78 games with the New York Rangers this season, Yandle has 40 assists and 45 points. The Boston, Massachusetts native will be one of the highest paid blue liners in the league and will have many teams interested in him on July 1st. If the Sabres are interested in Yandle, they will need to be willing to offer a 5-6 year deal, worth around 6-7 million dollars per season.
Finally, the biggest name on the free agent market is Tampa Bay Lightening Centre Steven Stamkos. It doesn’t look like the Lightening will be bring back arguably the most dynamic goal scorer in the NHL. Stamkos would be a huge signing for the Sabres, who would most likely have to make the 26 year old the highest paid player in league history.
In 77 games, Stamkos has 36 goals and 28 assists, which is good for 64 points. Although it is a long shot for the Sabres to land Stamkos, it does make some sense as to why the Markham, Ontario native would sign in Buffalo. Playing for the Sabres, means that Stmakos would be playing just 45 minutes from his hometown. The Sabres are a young talented team on the rise, so adding Stamkos would make them into contenders in the Eastern Conference. Stammer wants to play for a winner, and with lots of key pieces in place, Buffalo would give him an opportunity to do so. It still may still be a long shot, but the Sabres and Stamkos would be an intriguing fit come July 1st.