Free agency is now a little more than a month away and teams are looking ahead to when it opens. There will be several impact players set to hit the open market in July while many teams have key restricted free agents to re-sign as well. We continue our look around the NHL with an overview of the free agent situation for the Buffalo Sabres.
Key Restricted Free Agents
F Tyson Jost – Jost looked like a good bottom-six option for the Colorado Avalanche when he broke into the league in 2017-18. He produced 22 points in 65 games in his rookie season and followed it up with 11 goals and 15 assists in 70 games in his second season. Unfortunately, Jost then struggled through the pandemic shortened seasons and was dealt to the Minnesota Wild in March of 2022. Jost’s struggles followed him to the Wild and he was claimed off waivers by the Sabres on November 19th, 2022. Jost was able to find a role and Buffalo and got back to the numbers he initially posted when he first came into the league. He put up 22 points in 59 games after coming over to Buffalo and will look to build on that next season should he be tendered a contract.
Jost made $2.25MM last season in the second year of a backloaded contract and isn’t a guarantee to be offered a renewal. The Sabres will likely tender the qualifying offer and take another long look at Jost before deciding if he is a long-term fixture in their core. Jost has yet to show the top-6 promise he demonstrated prior to being drafted tenth overall but given his age and pedigree he would be worth a look on a one-year deal for a cap number around his qualifying offer.
D Kale Clague – Thus far Clague has shown himself to be a capable offensive defenseman at the AHL level, but he has yet to establish himself as an everyday NHLer. This past season the 24-year-old rearguard dressed in 33 games for the Sabres putting up just four assists while playing over 15 minutes a night. He fared much better with Buffalo’s AHL affiliate in Rochester where he put up a goal and five assists in just 14 games. Clague will likely get another contract from Buffalo but given that the Sabres have seven defensemen already signed, he may be destined for another season split between the NHL and AHL.
Key Unrestricted Free Agents
F Zemgus Girgensons – Girgensons has been a good soldier for the Sabres through a lot of very lean years in Buffalo. He looked like a good middle-6 option for the Sabres back in his season as he had 15 goals and 15 assists in 61 games. But since that time seven seasons have passed and Girgensons has never topped 12 goals or 20 points again. The Latvian has been a strong defensive forward for the Sabres throughout his career, albeit an expensive one in their bottom six. The Sabres have always valued his ability to be trusted with defensive zone starts and have never really had a replacement for that when Girgensons has missed time due to injury.
Now with an opportunity to test free agency it will be interesting to see what value other teams place on what he brings to the table should he reach the market. Girgensons has a chance to cash in on what could be his last sizable contract, and although he won’t light up the stats sheet, his defensive metrics will be attractive to any team that values defensive analytics. Girgensons should receive a multi-year offer, at a salary that is likely less than the $2.4MM he made last season with Buffalo.
F Vinnie Hinostroza – Hinostroza is just a few years removed from putting up 16 goals and 23 assists in 72 games with the Arizona Coyotes, but this past season found himself healthy scratched before being put on waivers and sent down to the AHL. The 29-year-old responded by putting up nine points in 11 games with Rochester, but it was not a position he wanted to be in as he headed towards unrestricted free agency. Hinostroza will likely have to take a one-year contract at league minimum to try to rebuild his value and take another kick at free agency next summer.
Projected Cap Space
Cap space shouldn’t be an issue for Buffalo this summer. However, they will need to be careful how they allot their space because they will have a few large extensions to young players that they will need to leave room for in the future. Nearly all the Sabres defense core will require new contracts after this season including Owen Power and Rasmus Dahlin. Up front forwards Casey Mittelstadt, and Peyton Krebs will also need new deals next summer. All four players will likely require large raises and for Power and Dahlin those two contracts could top $15MM annually when combined. Overall, Buffalo is in good shape for this upcoming season with almost $17MM in cap space and 21 players signed. But their core is about to get very expensive starting in 2024-25.
Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images. Contract information courtesy of CapFriendly.