Sabers mailbag: Arena renovations, upcoming long-term deals and the possibility of Patrick Kane
The Buffalo Sabers head into their bye week just one point behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for the final wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference. Kevyn Adams’ rebuild is ahead of schedule, as Don Granato has led the Sabers through a period of steady growth since the middle of last season.
With the playoffs in sight, there are plenty of short- and long-term questions about what’s in store for Buffalo. Here is the first part of our mail bag of the week.
Any updates with the KeyBank Arena renovations? Scope of work and deadlines? Late 2020s? – Aaron H.
No new updates at this stage. Last I heard, the Pegulas were waiting for the football stadium deal to be behind them before addressing the arena. This is one of the main issues I hear from fans when we do these mailbags and it’s certainly justified. The building has gone out of fashion, and that’s part of the obstacle to the building being full again.
What’s the balance between “making the playoffs” and “growing this young team” in the Sabers front office right now? -Harold K.
For most of the season, the balance seemed to tip towards ‘developing this young team’. According to them, making the playoffs will be a byproduct of the work they do to develop their rising talent. And they will consider the development of their young players in any deal they make. For example, if you’re trading for Timo Meier, who comes out of the better power play unit? Does he replace JJ Peterka or Jack Quinn on the second line? If paid as part of the core, who might not get paid that way when the time comes? That’s not to say Meier is an automatic ‘no’ for them, but they need to understand how he fits into their short and long term plans. Ultimately, Adams will have to be aggressive in acquiring outside talent, but they want to build the foundation through homegrown players. That’s how the best teams have been doing it for years in the NHL. Their chemistry is strong and most of their young players are moving in the right direction. Adding depth to the defense would be smart. Expensive rentals don’t make much sense. And any successful move has to align with Adams and Granato’s long-term vision for this team. Adams can afford to wait a bit longer and see how the team gets closer to the deadline. There’s something to be said for how this group would benefit from some playoff experience. Adams has to weigh that too.
Which prospect who’s signed but has yet to play a (significant) minute in the NHL excites you the most? I think Kulich and Savoie are at the top of most fans’ list, but I’m curious to hear your perspective. Also, are there any other more under the radar prospects we should know about? – Dan C.
Jiri Kulich and Matt Savoie are certainly the easy answers to this question. Kulich, in particular, has been ahead of schedule by where you might expect a No. 28 pick to be in his plus-one draft season. I liked what I saw from Isak Rosen over the summer and I think his shooting will be a real asset at the NHL level. The player I would perhaps be most intrigued to see evolve, however, is Aleksandr Kisakov. He certainly needs to get a lot stronger to be able to handle the NHL game, but his offensive instincts and stickwork are impressive. I also like his attitude. He has a ton of confidence on the ice, especially when the puck is on his stick. As for under-the-radar prospects, this year’s sixth-round pick Jake Richard has had a great season in the USHL. He’s already tied his goal tally from a year ago with 18 and has 35 points in 30 games. He was just traded to the Tri-City Storm and is heading to the University of Connecticut next season.
With Thompson and Samuelson locked up long-term, who are the next main cast members who need deals and how long and how long? Also, would you bring Okposo and Girgenson back next year? I like the idea of being able to leave the prospects in Rochester for another year to develop. -William S.
Dylan Cozens, Owen Power and Rasmus Dahlin could all get new contracts this summer. I would expect the Sabers to try to lock every player into the same seven-year span they did with Tage Thompson and Mattias Samuelsson. The Sabers have very little doubt that these three players are part of their core. Cozens is a restricted free agent after this season, so he should be given priority. Power will still have a year left on his entry-level contract after this year, and if he wants to, the Sabers would be wise to lock him in early in the long term. Dahlin isn’t a restricted free agent until 2024-25, so the rush isn’t important, but it’s something the Sabers would like to do sooner rather than later, too. The way Power and Dahlin play, their price will only go up. Those three could end up being worth over $25 million combined per season.
Right now I think bringing Kyle Okposo and Zemgus Girgensons back would be a good move provided the rate is reasonable. Their leadership and reliable style of play are invaluable in a young and growing team. Having one more season to allow prospects to grow and allow current players on the roster to grow into leadership roles would be a nice situation.
Thanks for what you do Matt. There is a lot of talk surrounding GMKA taking a big step before the given deadline where the team is and how much cap space is available. That said, this list will get very expensive in the near future. It would be interesting for you to project where you think they will be in terms of capitalization over the next few years and how that might influence what moves GMKA might be willing to make now. -Keith M.
With the contracts mentioned above, the Sabers won’t be swimming in the cap space like they have been for the past few seasons. Things will tighten up a bit when you add the Cozens, Power, and Dahlin contracts to the books. Quinn and Peterka could win new business in a few years. Depending on the timing and structure of those contracts, the Sabers could still have a good cushion under the salary cap next season. When we have a complete picture of what the NHL salary cap will be, it will be easier to know where the Sabers are. But I would expect them to have at least $20 million to play even after these expansions.
This could impact Adams’ thinking in several ways. On the one hand, he won’t want to make a move that will prevent him from signing one of these main players for his next contract. But he may also recognize the opportunity the team has over the next few seasons before the cap situation tightens and wants to add veterans to the mix to round out the roster. They are about to enter a fascinating stage of their reconstruction.
What is Eric Comrie’s state of mind these days after losing the net to a rookie? – Claude G.
Someone who knows Eric Comrie quite well recently described him, saying, “I don’t think this guy has ever had a bad day at the rink. That’s an apt description of my relationship with him. The guy loves hockey like few people I’ve met and brings a positive, upbeat attitude to the rink consistently. I’m sure he’s frustrated with how this season has gone. This is not what he had planned. But his post-Winnipeg comments were the last indication to me that he’s in good spirits. I also think he could still be an important piece of the puzzle here. If there is an injury to Craig Anderson or Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, the Sabers will need him to be ready. He also has a two-year contract, so when Anderson retires he will have a chance to support Luukkonen.
If Patrick Kane agreed to waive his no-move clause for the Sabers, what would they do? —Dan. S
They would pass. Trading for Patrick Kane doesn’t make sense for several reasons. The first is that it is quite an expensive rental both in terms of cost of acquisition and cost of keeping after the season. The fact that he’s a free agent after the season means that if the Sabers really wanted him, then they could try to acquire him. I’m also not entirely sure if it fits the team’s current schedule. He’s kicking someone out of the lineup and it’s unclear how many top-flight seasons he has left. He also sold his house in Buffalo a few years ago, so how much would he want to come here and what would be the interest on the Buffalo side? It’s a bit blurry.
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