The Buffalo Sabres have now signed all their restricted free agents and have a roster that looks to be close to ready for next season. However, with that in mind, there is still the question of who will be Buffalo’s second-line center, a hole the team struggled with all season. The team had high hopes that Casey Mittelstadt, the eighth overall pick in 2017, could fill that role immediately last season, but he struggled to adjust. While the hope was that the Sabres would find a replacement via trade or free agency this summer which would give Mittelstadt more time to develop as a third-line center, it looks like the team might have to hope that Mittelstadt can improve on his performance in his second NHL season.
In a mailbag column, the Buffalo News’ Lance Lysowski writes that it looks more and more likely that Mittelstadt will return to the second-line center role, although he points out that the team is likely going to have Sam Reinhart and Marcus Johansson to help him develop on that line. On top of that, with the cost of top-six centers nowadays, it’s likely that even moving Rasmus Ristolainen wouldn’t even be able to net themselves someone like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Throw in the fact that the team is likely to have 2019 first-rounder and seventh-overall pick Dylan Cozens with the team by next season and the team might be better off working on developing their centers.
- The Athletic’s Joe Yerdon (subscription required) writes that with the Buffalo Sabres having hit the salary cap ceiling after signing Jake McCabe and Linus Ullmark Saturday, the team has quite a few options in front of them to loosen the team’s salary cap situation before the season starts. The team’s best chance to do that is with a buyout, which they will get to do later this week, if the Sabres choose to. The most likely candidates are Vladimir Sobotka and Marco Scandella, but both come with cap hits towards next season, which doesn’t help the team next year, especially with Sam Reinhart and Brandon Montour likely needing new deals. A trade of Ristolainen would be another option, but also would likely come with salary coming back, which might defeat the purpose of the trade.
- NHL.com’s Heather Engel looks at that the Sabres top five prospects, but also notes that their top two prospects are expected to miss training camp this year. Buffalo’s first-round pick in 2019, Cozens, had surgery to repair his left thumb that he injured during development camp and is expected to miss two to three months, making it unlikely he’ll be ready for training camp. Their second-best prospect, goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen had hip surgery in April and is expected to miss six months, not a good time when he was supposed to make his professional debut this season. The hope is that both players will be able to pick up where they left off last year despite missing some time at the start of the season.