The 2015-2016 Buffalo Sabres finished with a 35-36-11 record, good for 81 points and 7th in the Atlantic. After finishing dead last the season before, the Sabres improved their record by 27 points. They will no doubt be looking to continue their upward climb and shift their rebuild into the next gear.
Cap Space: $21,871,309 (according to CapFriendly)
Key UFAs: G Chad Johnson and F Jimmy Vesey. After offseason acquisition Robin Lehner went down with an ankle injury in the Sabres’ opening game, Johnson stepped in and held down the fort admirably. He finished with a .920 SV% and a 2.36 GAA in 45 games. Given that Lehner is still an unproven commodity, the Sabres still need a capable backup in case things go sour. The Sabres have made big splashes in the past two off-seasons, so it is not be out of the question for the Sabres to go after a high-profile goalie and relegate Lehner to a backup role. That would leave Johnson as the odd man out, especially with young prospect Linus Ullmark waiting in the wings.
The Sabres traded for Jimmy Vesey’s negotiating rights on Monday June 20th, which we reported here. Vesey won the Hobey Baker Award as the NCAA’s top hockey player, and was originally drafted by the Nashville Predators in 2012. Nashville traded the young prospect after they failed to sign him late in the season. Despite the trade however, Vesey’s camp maintains that he still plans to explore unrestricted free agency.
Key RFAs: F Marcus Foligno, F Zemgus Girgensons, and D Rasmus Ristolainen. Foligno is fresh off an ELC and looking for a reasonable raise as he enters his RFA years. The young forward finished last year with 10G and 23P in 75 games. Girgensons is also coming off an ELC and 7G and 18P in 71 games. While the Sabres would like to bring him back, the Latvian centerman is rumored to be considering signing in the KHL. Finally, Finnish defenseman Ristolainen finished fourth in team scoring with 9G and 41P in 82 games. He lead the team in playing time with over 25 minutes—three minutes more than any other player. Re-signing the former first-rounder is Buffalo’s main RFA priority.