(Photo: Nick Cosky)
The Buffalo Sabres and General Manager Tim Murray went out and got the offensive and defensive help the team needs during the offseason, while managing to keep some of their own players.
In the draft, Murray and the Sabres focused on getting prospects at the forward and defensive position. The Sabres didn’t select a goaltender in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. During the weekend, Murray traded for a top four defenseman that the Sabres desperately needed. The Sabres blue line wasn’t exactly the best last season. Murray acquired Dmitry Kulikov and the 33rd pick (C Rasmus Ashland) in exchange for defenseman Mark Pysyk, the 38th pick and 89th pick in the 2016 draft from the Florida Panthers. Kulikov played in 74 games last season for the Panthers. He had one goal, 16 assists, 17 points and averaged 21:02 of ice time per game. The defenseman has some offensive ability, can skate and likes to jump into the play. He’s decent in his own zone, but he could improve that aspect of his game.
The first move of the offseason was re-signing forward Johan Larsson to a new one-year, $950,000 one-way contract. In his first full NHL season, Larsson had 10 goals, seven assists, 17 points and logged 14:49 of ice time per game. In all likelihood, he will assume the same role that he has last season with the team.
On June 20, the Sabres acquired the rights of soon-to-be unrestricted free agent Jimmy Vesey from the Nashville Predators for a third round pick in the 2016 draft. Despite Murray’s best efforts, the two sides were unable to come to terms on a contract, and instead Vesey headed to free agency where he signed with the New York Rangers. Buffalo re-signed forward Nicolas Deslauriers to a new two-year, $1.55 million contract. Deslauriers had six goals, six assists and 12 points in 70 games played last year. He will likely be seeing bottom six minutes again this year. They also signed defenseman Casey Nelson to a two-year contract extension that has a cap hit of $650,000 per season.
The big offensive signing of the offseason for Buffalo would have to be forward Kyle Okposo. The Sabres signed Okposo to a seven-year, $42 million contract, which carries a cap hit of $6 million per season. He had 22 goals, 42 assists for 64 points in 79 games played for the New York Islanders last season. Okposo isn’t afraid to shoot the puck or get to the front of the net.. He’ll add scoring depth to the Sabres’ top six, maybe even the top line, depending on where Head Coach Dan Bylsma slots him in the lineup.
Buffalo also signed forward Derek Grant to a one-year, two-way contract. Marcus Foligno signed a new one-year contract worth $2.25 million. Murray also acquired goaltender Anders Nilsson from the St. Louis Blues. Nilsson will most likely be the backup to Robin Lehner.
There is one more regular player to get under contract for the season, and that is restricted free agent Rasmus Ristolainen. He is one of a few restricted free agents around the league that have yet to sign a new contract with their current team.