When Buffalo Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams signed center Tage Thompson to an admittedly massive seven-year contract extension earlier this week, it raised some eyebrows considering the lack of consistency from Thompson in his career. Speaking after the fact a few days ago, Adams told The Buffalo News’ Lance Lysowski that “we’re also being strategic a little bit, to be honest, about the timeline knowing that there’s other guys potentially next summer where we’re going to be in this situation. We want to make sure we’re being strategic on when and how we put these deals together.”
So, given that Adams is envisioning more breakout campaigns from his young stars in 2022-23, how does the Sabres’ financial picture line up with their rise out of their years-long rebuild and the expected salary cap increases?
There are two players next summer who, depending on their campaigns, could demand significant pay raises over their sub-$1MM deals. Both Dylan Cozens and Rasmus Asplund are restricted free agents in 2023, although Cozens does not have arbitration rights.
Cozens is projected to slot right behind Thompson on the team’s depth chart, battling with Casey Mittelstadt for a spot centering their second line. If he wins that battle and sees increased playing time, Cozens’ offensive production is bound to take a step forward from his 38 points last season.
In any event, Cozens’ ceiling likely isn’t the 35+ goal season Thompson is coming off of, either. His development has been more linear, something that tracks well for the Sabres, at least in terms of certainty in contract negotiations. The team still currently has nearly $40MM in cap space to play with next offseason with the projected salary cap increase to $83.5MM, so any major contract the Sabres hand out now really doesn’t force their hand in the slightest.
It’s later on when things would get tricky, when the team is contending and their breakout stars want to capitalize on what should be a rapidly increasing salary cap at that point. From that point of view, betting on their players is a smart move from Adams at the moment. With the team still so far away from the salary cap, it can’t hurt to take a risk on what could be a team-friendly deal in five seasons. Even if the players don’t quite pan out as projected, those are deals that won’t be taking up nearly as much of their salary cap as they are now when they do become an issue.
Though Adams should be careful not to play with too much fire. Recent reports suggest that the first large salary cap jump could come in the 2024 offseason instead of 2025. That would be a boon to the Sabres, who have four major expiring contracts that offseason: Mittelstadt, Peyton Krebs, Rasmus Dahlin, and Owen Power. If everything goes as expected in terms of their development, that could very well be upwards of $30MM handed out just between those four players. If the Sabres put themselves in a position to give those contracts and still have some breathing room, they could finally construct a roster with the required depth to remain at the top of the Eastern Conference.