When the salary cap numbers for the 2022-23 NHL season were issued last week, the word came during a quiet moment for reporters in the Ball Arena press room the day after Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final in Denver.
There figures to be quite a contrast Friday night as there won't be much silence in the building because the Colorado Avalanche will be looking to win the Cup for the first time since 2001. They can also end the Tampa Bay Lightning's quest for an historic cap-era three-peat with a victory in Game 5.
On May 31, Isak Rosen signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the Sabres, who selected him in the first round, 14th overall, at the draft last July.
While the Avs and Bolts play on, the rest of the NHL has turned its attention to next year. The draft in Montreal is just two weeks away, coaches are being hired all over the place – with Boston and Florida oddly losing their minds – and capologists are putting in their hours wrangling the numbers.
The Sabres are in that latter group and got plenty of antennas to go up on June 11 when they acquired the roughly $4.9 million contract of retired Dallas goaltender Ben Bishop, which runs through next season. Of note, the salary cap was announced as moving up to $82.5 million, while the team floor is $61 million.
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Confusion on the Bishop move was enormous. It pushed the Sabres' cap total for next season to about $46.9 million, leaving the team about $14 million shy of the floor. There won't be any issue getting there, no matter how much consternation you see about it on social media.
(Quick trivia time: You may recall that Bishop was Tampa Bay's franchise goalie and the starter in the 2015 final against Chicago. But he got dinged up early in the series and an unheralded kid had to give him a break and start the Hawks' 2-1 victory in Game 4 that tied matters at two wins apiece. The 20-year-old's name? Andrei Vasilevskiy.)
The Sabres still have to add to their defense and forward group, including deciding what to do with Victor Olofsson. The restricted free agent winger could be looking at an arbitration award and/or a bridge deal that could take him close to $5 million a year. On a short-term basis with all this cap room, no reason not to pay him for now and then see if you're going to keep him or include him in any NHL-level deals.
The Sabres aren't spending for the big names in unrestricted free agency, so forget about the likes of Johnny Gaudreau, Evgeni Malkin or Kris Letang. You have to keep your eyes in goal and that doesn't mean Marc-Andre Fleury either. Buffalo needs to bring in a big-name veteran to play with Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen unless Craig Anderson pulls a surprise and announces he'd like to return.
This view has long been in favor of making a move on Dallas' Braden Holtby and seeing how much magic he has left from his 2018 Cup run in Washington. He and Alex Tuch can commiserate about that paddle save on Tuch late in Game 2 of the final that allowed the Caps to escape with a split in Vegas and go on a run of four straight wins to claim their only Cup.
Holtby was on a one-year, $2 million deal last year in Dallas and gave the Stars a 2.78 goals-against average and .913 save percentage before he was supplanted for the playoffs by Jake Oettinger. You wonder if the Sabres go to two years and $8 million if that would get him here. It would certainly help with the floor.
The juicier conversation floating around the final, however, was what Colorado will do in goal come next season as Darcy Kuemper is a UFA after making $4.5 million this season. There's no real sense the Sabres have any interest in Kuemper but that's not the case when it comes to Jack Campbell of Toronto.
Kuemper, meanwhile, could be a fit in Toronto going forward if Campbell goes elsewhere. Campbell may want a deal of 3-4 years and the Sabres aren't all that interested in that kind of term. Maybe they can get it down with a bigger offer in dollars, but the Sabres can't leave themselves vulnerable either.
They say they don't want to block their young players and that's fine. But they have no idea if Luukkonen can even stay healthy, let alone play a whole season in goal. Nor do they know for sure if prospects Erik Portillo or Devon Levi will eventually sign. Tea leaves say Levi is much more likely in this area.
You can't let the building momentum of this rebuild go by the boards without a goalie. And you have to start pushing to win while you're still paying core players on entry-level contracts or team-friendly deals like you see with Tage Thompson and Rasmus Dahlin.
As for Campbell, you need to see the version he put out in the first half of the 2021-22 season and maybe you will. Health issues conspired against him in the second half and Campbell wasn't good enough in the first round against Tampa Bay either (3.15/.897).
Memo to all: The Sabres can't worry about who is good or who isn't good in the playoffs at this point. They have to get there first.
If Campbell can make enough saves to help them get in, that's what you want. If you can weaken one of your big rivals and a team you're chasing, even better.
From this view, it's Holtby or Campbell in goal. St. Louis' Ville Husso is going to want dollars and terms the Sabres won't be interested in.
They'll get to the floor. It's not an issue. The point continues to be this: The Sabres used to spend all the money and it got them nowhere. They're not a cap team right now and that's fine. They need to spend the right money. And they have to do it in goal.