As the Sabres reap the benefit of a first overall pick and add a franchise D-man to go with two recent #2 forward selections they now need to look toward free agency to increase their chances to improve in the standings in the 2018-19 season.
With the Colorado Avalanche trading for Philipp Grubauer from the Washington Capitals, that deal now moves Jonathan Bernier to my #1 free agent for Buffalo to go after. Since letting Robin Lehner go earlier in the week, the Sabres need a veteran stopper in the fold. Bernier shouldn’t be that expensive, is still not that old at 29, and has produced nicely in a crease-sharing role lately. He never took the starting job in Toronto, but he could join Buffalo and be the Leafs nemesis.
After filling the need in goal, another veteran defenseman would help provide partners for the young players. My first choice is Jack Johnson. It sounds like Columbus will not resign him and he will go to market. He is a solid veteran and along with Bogosian could pair up nicely with Risto, Dahlin, or Guhle. If not Johnson then perhaps Luca Sbisa or John Moore would be good additions if they make it to market.
At forward it partly depends on the fate of Ryan O’Reilly. If the team is intent on trading him then the return will impact any of the above depending on what comes back. If he stays, I would be inclined to stand pat on free agents and let Mittelstadt, Nylander, and Bailey come prove their worth. Watching some of the Amerks playoff games, Bailey is big, fast, and kills penalties well – which would make a perfect third liner in Buffalo. Nylander strikes me as a player that will get better faster in the NHL that in the AHL. Mittelstadt will of course be given a large role at camp and we will see how he handles it.
With free agency opening one week from tomorrow we have to wait and see, although teams can begin talking to UFA’s this week.