Jason Botterill doesn't figure to be a major player when free agency opens July 1. The Buffalo Sabres' general manager told reporters earlier this month that trades are a "more realistic" way for him to supplement the NHL roster.
After all, the Sabres signed Jeff Skinner to an eight-year, $72 million contract. Although the team has cap space and needs a top-six forward, Botterill is unlikely to hand out a lucrative long-term deal to a free agent class he described as top heavy.
The Sabres will still explore the market, though, and here are some players that could be on Botterill's shopping list when unrestricted free agents can begin signing with teams Monday:
Left wing, New York Islanders
2018-19 cap hit: $3,750,000
Analysis: Botterill would need to pay a king's ransom to land Lee, whose 102 goals since the start of the 2016-17 season rank 13th in the NHL. He's a big-bodied winger who can score around the net and is difficult to play against. The Sabres may have somewhat of an advantage since their director of amateur scouting, Ryan Jankowski, was assistant general manager of the New York Islanders when Lee was drafted in 2009. The cost to sign Lee – both term and dollar figure – will likely be too rich for the Sabres.
Right wing, San Jose Sharks
2018-19 cap hit: $1,900,000
Analysis: Donskoi can drive play from the wing, one quality that's lacking the Sabres' bottom-six forwards. He also draws penalties and was an excellent 5-on-5 player this past season, an area in which Buffalo is trying to improve. Donskoi didn't play much special teams, but he is capable of killing penalties and filling in on the power play. A number of teams have reportedly expressed interest in Donskoi, which doesn't bode well for the Sabres' chances.
Right wing, Washington Capitals
2018-19 cap hit: $1,500,000
Analysis: The Sabres are in desperate need of a right winger who can score and can sell Connolly on the opportunity to play with Jack Eichel. There would be risk involved since Connolly has only once surpassed 15 goals in a season. However, he would certainly be an upgrade if the Sabres don't have to overpay on a long-term deal. Connolly has won a Stanley Cup, invaluable experience for a roster lacking playoff experience.
Center, Boston Bruins
2018-19 cap hit: $4,583,334
Analysis: Johansson likely earned himself a lucrative contract with his play during the Stanley Cup playoffs, scoring four goals among 11 points in 22 games. He's a versatile, skilled forward who has twice scored 20 goals in a season during his NHL career.
Right wing, Buffalo Sabres
2018-19 cap hit: $5,600,000
Analysis: Pominville will likely be willing to take a substantial discount on a one-year contract and can provide the Sabres with leadership, versatility and a familiarity with Eichel. However, Pominville is unlikely to contribute on the power play and doesn't have elite speed. Though Botterill would likely prefer an upgrade, Pominville is a nice fallback option if the Sabres can't sign a substantial right-wing upgrade.
Center, Colorado Avalanche
2018-19 cap hit: $5,000,000
Analysis: Brassard was a disaster during his time in Pittsburgh and was twice traded last season, finishing in Colorado, where he had one point in nine playoff games. He openly complained about his role with the Penguins, but he's only one year removed from a 21-goal season and can provide depth down the middle on what should be a cheap, short-term deal.
Defenseman, Vancouver Canucks
2018-19 cap hit: $1,110,000
Analysis: Pouliot was drafted eighth overall by Pittsburgh in 2012 when Botterill was the Penguins' assistant general manager. A smooth skater with a left-handed shot, Pouliot has never quite realized his potential. He produced only 34 points over the past two seasons, though his defensive play improved some in 2018-19. Could be a nice buy-low candidate for the blue line if Botterill opens a spot on the left side, perhaps with a trade of Marco Scandella.
Left wing, Winnipeg Jets
2018-19 cap hit: $1,150,000
Analysis: The Sabres need to make changes to their bottom six if they hope to improve this coming season. Tanev plays a heavy game that improved this past season -– only his third in the NHL. He's a strong defensive player who can create turnovers but his 5-on-5 play should give teams pause.
Right wing, Dallas Stars
2018-19 cap hit: $875,000
Analysis: Hartman is a pest, which is precisely what the Sabres could use on their fourth line. He was acquired by Dallas this week, only to not receive a qualifying offer because the Stars were uncomfortable paying what Hartman would receive through arbitration. Hartman could be an impact bottom-six forward and is two years removed from a 19-goal season with Chicago.
Right wing, New York Islanders
2018-19 cap hit: $700,000
Analysis: Kuhnhackl won two Stanley Cups with the Penguins when Botterill was assistant general manager. He can kill penalties and is capable of moving up and down the lineup, a quality Botterill is looking for this offseason. Kuhnhackl was effective when healthy last season, though he was limited to only 36 regular-season games.
Goalie, Vegas Golden Knights
2018-19 cap hit: $650,000
Analysis: With goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen to miss the start of the season, the Sabres are in need of a No. 3 goalie who can start in Rochester and is capable of playing in the NHL. However, it will be difficult to lure the market's better goalies considering Luukkonen will take over as the Amerks' starter once healthy.
Story topics: Buffalo Sabres