DALLAS – Although there was certainly some celebration involved, the meals spent in Big D were working ones for the Buffalo Sabres.
That's because there was simply no time to bask in a franchise-changing weekend that saw them land Rasmus Dahlin with the No. 1 overall pick of the NHL Draft. There's too much coming on the NHL calendar in rapid-fire fashion, and there was always something else on the agenda for General Manager Jason Botterill and his staff.
Botterill said after Friday night's first round in American Airlines Center that his team of executives and scouts was heading back to its hotel for some late-night food and drink – and immediate talk of Saturday's No. 32 overall pick. It was standard operating procedure.
By most accounts, the Sabres did very well there with the selection of U.S. National Development Team defenseman Mattias Samuelsson. Things stayed quiet the rest of the way for Buffalo in the draft, as the Sabres made four more picks, including three defensemen.
Dahlin will hold yet another news conference Monday morning in KeyBank Center, his first in Buffalo as a member of the team. He will be on the ice for the first time for the opening day of development camp Wednesday afternoon in HarborCenter.
With Dahlin now officially secured, there is still plenty of trade chatter around the Sabres as well as the need to start talking to free agents – their own or players from other teams who might be looking to move on and sign deals come noon on July 1.
Here's the rundown on the Sabres' busy week ahead:
Restricted free agents
The Sabres have until 5 p.m. Monday to make qualifying offers to their RFAs. If the team lets the deadline pass on a player without such an offer, he becomes an unrestricted free agent.
That's going to be the case with goaltender Robin Lehner, whom Botterill said Friday the team will not have back next year.
Players must be qualified on one-year offers at a 10 percent raise if their salary is equal or less than $660,000, a 5 percent raise if their salary is $660,000 to $1 million or an equal salary if the player made $1 million or more.
The Sabres have four restricted free agents who had $832,500 NHL base salaries last year: Sam Reinhart, Victor Antipin, C.J. Smith and Danny O'Regan. Nick Baptiste and West Seneca native Sean Malone were at $750,000, Scott Wilson was at $660,000, while Justin Bailey and Jason Kasdorf were at $650,000.
Botterill has declined to speak on Antipin, other than to say he does not adhere to rumors that the defenseman is going to return to play in the KHL. The team will certainly qualify Reinhart, who scored 25 goals last season, but Botterill said the team is working on a multiyear deal for the winger and acknowledged the process of agreeing on term and dollars could take several weeks.
Something could pop at any moment or nothing could happen. That's the bare facts on what has been a quiet NHL trade market. Nothing happened at the draft until the five-player Calgary/Carolina swap that featured Noah Hanifin, Elias Lindholm and Dougie Hamilton late Saturday. But conversations started on the floor can lead to more action when teams get home.
To wit, Botterill traded Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno to Minnesota last year on June 30 for Marco Scandella and Jason Pominville in a deal he was was formulated on the floor in Chicago.
Botterill had numerous discussions here about center Ryan O'Reilly, who is owed a $7.5 million signing bonus on July 1. It seems unlikely the Sabres would pay O'Reilly that bonus and then deal him anyway – unless another team sweetened the pot in return.
The Sabres are also looking for help on the wing, especially the left side, and in goal.
Unrestricted free agents
The interview period for teams to talk to potential UFAs began Sunday at noon but players cannot actually sign with another team until July 1 at noon. The interviews are supposed to allow teams to chat about frameworks without actually coming to terms on deals (wink-wink).
Top players on the market include New York Islanders center John Tavares, Winnipeg center Paul Stastny, Toronto winger James van Riemsdyk and Vegas winger James Neal.
Tavares, the nephew of the Buffalo Bandits legend of the same name, is expected to talk to five teams but Botterill said Saturday the Sabres will not be involved. Most NHL observers expect him to remain in New York.
The Sabres aren't likely to be players in the high-rent district but could be looking at a more cost-effective winger in the vein of Vegas veteran David Perron, who made $3.75 million last season while scoring 16 goals and collecting 66 points – which would have led the Sabres in scoring.
Where Buffalo will be active is in goal, as the radar could be focused on replacing Lehner with the likes of St. Louis' Carter Hutton, Colorado's Jonathan Bernier, Carolina veteran Cam Ward or Boston's Anton Khudobin. The Sabres also need a veteran to play in Rochester, as Linus Ullmark is graduating to Buffalo and Adam Wilcox is a UFA.
TSN reported Sunday that Hutton (17 wins, 2.09 GAA, .931 save percentage) has already eight teams inquire on his services and the Sabres are certainly believed to be among them.
Team can buy out players until 5 p.m. on Saturday and Botterill reiterated over the weekend the Sabres will not use that tool. But players who come on the market could be of interest to Buffalo on a cheaper deal. Botterill, remember, signed forward Benoit Pouliot last year to a $1.15 million deal after his $4 million cap hit was bought out by Edmonton.
Practices Wednesday, Thursday and Friday are all open to the public but the Sabres' official site, perhaps anticipating big interest in seeing Dahlin, has this warning noted: "Admittance will be on a first-come, first-served basis and not guaranteed." HarborCenter can seat around 2,000 fans.
Players will be on the ice Wednesday from 2:30-3:30 and 4-5, Thursday from 9:30-10:30 a.m. and 11 a.m.-noon, and Friday morning from 9:15-10:15 and 10:45 to 11:45.
The team's annual 3-on-3 event, dubbed the French Connection Tournament, will be held Saturday starting at 10:45 a.m. and lasting until about 1. In a change from previous years, it will not be open to the public and instead will only be open to 2018-19 season ticket holders.
Tickets are free but limited to two per account. Season ticket holders will receive an email Monday to claim their tickets. They will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis.
For fans who can't get in, the tournament will be streamed live on Sabres.com and the team's official Facebook page. The lack of streaming, or the late announcement of it, has been a major talking point on social media in recent years but the team was proactive about that area this year in making an early decision to provide the telecast.