The arbitration figures for the last few cases came out fast and furious today from Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet. Finally, Jake McCabe was the final player Friedman reported on, indicating that the defenseman asked for $4.3MM while the Buffalo Sabres filed for a $1.95MM contract. McCabe is scheduled for a hearing on Sunday. It is important to remember that the two sides can continue to negotiate up to (and for a short period after) the hearing. The arbitrator does also not need to choose one filing or the other, but will almost always decide on a number near the mid-point of the two.
McCabe, 25, is asking for quite the raise on the $1.6MM salary he averaged on his previous three-year contract. The former University of Wisconsin and World Junior star hasn’t quite taken the steps to becoming a top-pairing option like many believed he could, but is still a valuable part of the Sabres blueline. How effective he is in that role and where his future lies is another question as the Sabres continue to bring in more players to improve their defense corps. The left-handed McCabe has already obviously been overtaken by young phenom Rasmus Dahlin, but even Lawrence Pilut showed some more upside in his limited opportunity last season.
It’s not that McCabe is without value however. Logging nearly 19 minutes a night again for the Sabres last season he recorded 14 points in 59 games and more hits than any defenseman other than Rasmus Ristolainen. When he was healthy enough to contribute he was a staple on the penalty kill, and was given some of the toughest deployment of any Sabres defender.
The huge divide between filings is indicative of how unclear McCabe’s future is (and also something of a trademark for the Sabres recent arbitration cases). Is he a second-pairing defenseman that can contribute offensively and face the toughest minutes on the team, or is he better suited to soak up 15-16 minutes at the bottom of the lineup and help on the penalty kill? With the Sabres already having six defensemen under one-way contracts for at least $2.25MM, there actually isn’t a ton of room for another one on the roster. The team has just over $3.1MM in cap space remaining, though obviously that can be worked around by sending players down in training camp.
One possibility that remains is the second buyout window that the Sabres will receive after their arbitration filings are complete. Several defensemen could be potential buyout candidates if the team can’t find a trade as they simply have too many to start the year with at the moment. Zach Bogosian, Marco Scandella and Matt Hunwick have all seen their effectiveness drop off considerably in recent years, and the Sabres seem committed to rebuilding the defense corps to give them a different look in 2019-20.