The contracts the Sabres have on the books for the 2015-2016 season, by position.
LW – E. Kane $5.25M, M. Moulson $5M, Foligno $1.875M, Deslauriers $.6375M (the only full position) TOTAL $12.7625M
C – Z. Girgensons $.894167M, J. Larsson $.950M, C. McCormick $1.5M TOTAL $3.344167M
RW – T. Ennis $4.6M, C. Hodgson $4.25M, B. Gionta $4.25M TOTAL $13.1M
D – Z. Bogosian $5.142857M, J. Gorges $3.9M, M. Weber $1.667M, R. Ristolainen $.925M, N. Zadorov $.894167M TOTAL $12.529024M
G – C. Johnson $1.3M TOTAL $1.3M
Team Total $43.035691M
Open positions, going strictly on the above: C (1), RW (1), D (2), G (1) = 5
2015-2016 Cap Ceiling $71M, Cap Floor $53
That puts the Sabres at having $10M to spend on 5 total positions just to reach the cap floor, and roughly around $27M to hit the cap ceiling for 2015-2016.
You can forget the cap ceiling as that is not going to happen, even if they go on a drunken spending bender. What it means is the team is not going to be able to fill many of those openings from within as they won’t hit the cap floor if they go that route, and they know it.
That leaves you wondering what is the best way to spend at least $10M to hit the salary floor ($53M guesstimate).
The first thought is it is definitely NOT by spending big money on a RW. You may ask why, since it is clearly an area of need based on what they currently have, as moving Ennis to a 2nd line RW would greatly help his production assuming the 1st line was taking all the difficult assignments, but the why not has a name, and that name is Cody Hodgson.
Unless you are going to let Hodgson play 2nd line C, thereby making Larsson the 3rd line C, and McCormick or someone like Schaller the 4th line C, RW is his only option on this team. LW, as you can see above, is full with no openings available. Luckily Brian Gionta only has one more year after next on the books, at which point they will need an actual, impactful RW player for the 3rd line. Gionta is filler and nothing more going forward, and even currently, but is Cody Hodgson the same? He has shown in the past that he can make an impact in a positive way. The team clearly, badly needs points producers, and even with his defensive shortcomings, they could sorely use a return to form of the prior two systems from Hodgson, which leads me to the next point…
Perhaps the best way to spend the money is on a D, or even two D.
The team, to me, will likely sign two goaltenders this offseason, although they may only sign one (Neuvirth, hello) and use a combo of Johnson/Hackett as the backup. Spending big money on a goaltender is foolhardy as everyone is well aware, and whoever they sign will likely not command big dollars.
Further, spending on a C is not likely to happen as they will likely fill that opening from within (Reinhart or 2015 draft pick).
That brings us back to spending the most money on either one or two D men.
The team could blow every other team out of the water, if they wanted to, when signing a D this offseason, in terms of dollars per year (doubtful they will offer long term to anyone as that would be a bad idea; 3 years would be my max term mentally). Let’s say they signed both Paul Martin and Mike Green to big money 3 year deals. That would give their 7 D the following look:
Martin – Green
Gorges – Bogosian
Ristolainen – Zadorov
That is a massive improvement over the past two years, but that plan has one potentially fatal flaw. What of Mark Pysyk and Jake McCabe? Pysyk is certainly ready and deserving of a spot on the team next year, and McCabe, if he isn’t already, will be ready by the midway point of next year, at the latest.
How do you amend that? By getting rid of at least Weber, and likely Gorges too.
Doing that allows you to play Pysyk where he belongs and have McCabe be the 7th D. I know some will say that is a waste for McCabe as he needs playing time, but the 7th D in the modern day NHL plays virtually all the time due to injuries.
Martin – Green
Pysyk – Bogosian
Ristolainen – Zadorov/McCabe
Now that is an intriguing top 7. Yes, it is very young, but you balance that out with the top 2 who can take all the tough assignments. You could make that even better by making the top 2 pairings Martin – Bogosian and Pysyk – Green. That allows the top pair to really handle the tough go while the second pair is freer to roam and the young guys on the 3rd pair can be sheltered so they are given the best possible chance to succeed.
All of this still leads back to the overall conundrum that is Cody Hodgson.
If you decide to trade him, you are trading him for pennies on the return due to his performance this year and his contract going forward. Could he be part of a package for someone like O’Reilly along with Grigorenko, another, and a pick? Possibly, but not likely. If you bury him in the minors, that is a waste IMO of dollars. The only other option is to let him ride it out as the 2nd or 3rd line C, and leave him there for the entire season, and if you do that, with a center lineup of Reinhart/top pick, Girgensons, Hodgson, Larsson, McCormick, how good are you really going to be next season? Putting that center lineup out there is like admitting another bottom 5 finish is coming your way.
The decision on Cody Hodgson will decide the course of the team for this offseason.