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Sabres Quest for the Cup, Starts with the Cap

With a busy off season starting to slow down for the Buffalo Sabres, it's time for GM Darcy Regier to do some creative accounting. While additions Robyn Regehr, Christian Ehrhoff, Ville Leino, and Ales Kotalik will no doubt improve the team in the 2011-2012 season, there is no denying the impact their collective 15.520$ million against the cap is making. With new owner Terry Pegula and his deep pockets the Sabres have had the luxury of spending to, and now above the salary cap but have some decisions to make before camp starts and the team has to be back under the 64.3$ million cap ceiling. I'm going to explore what I feel are the Sabres best options moving forward.

According to CapGeek.com , the Sabres currently sit 3.595$ million over the salary cap. This is certainly not an insurmountable number, and Buffalo has plenty of options here. Once M.A. Gragnani is signed Buffalo will have 8 defensemen with NHL contracts, and Shaone Morrisonn will likely be the odd man out. In fact if T.J. Brennan has an impressive camp Morrisonn could effectively wind up #9 on the depth chart.

He has 1 year left on his contract with a cap hit of 2.075$ million. Part of me wants to try and sneak him through waivers, and have him play the year in Rochester so that we have another NHL caliber defenseman in the pipeline for the playoffs in case Buffalo suffers catastrophic injuries to their blueline again as in 05-06 against the Hurricanes. However it doesn't make much business sense to pay a player 2 million dollars to not play. Therefore i think the best option would be to trade Morrisonn to a team who could use a serviceable veteran defenseman to play a 3rd pairing or 7th defenseman role...something there is no room for him to do here. I wouldn't expect Buffalo to be able to get more than a 4th or 5th round pick back for him but it's a fair trade for cap relief.

With Morrisonn gone that leaves Brad Boyes and the newly acquired Ales Kotalik as the most likely candidates to be moved. Brad Boyes has done nothing wrong as a Sabre, he just doesn't seem to fit in to the plan. With Vanek, Leino, Roy, Ennis, Pominville, and Stafford there is no room for him in the top 6 and he's making 4$million this year which is too much for a bottom 6 forward. However being that he is in the final year of his contract he should be a valuable asset in a trade, and i believe the Sabres could land a mid level prospect, or a conditional pick (were he to re-sign with that team) in the 2nd or 3rd round for him. The Minnesota Wild have made it a point to upgrade their offense this off-season and Boyes could return to his earlier offense prowess if put on a line with Koivu and Heatley. There are plenty of teams near the cap basement that would do well to add Boyes to their line-up.

That leaves us Ales Kotalik. Now if Gragnani signs a deal with a max cap hit of 1$ mil., that would put Buffalo at 4.595$ mil. over the ceiling. If Boyes and Morrisonn are moved and no salary is taken back in return they would be approximately 1.4$ mil. under the salary cap. That would give them some wiggle room, but in the interest of discussing Kotalik let's assume the aforementioned moves aren't made. Kotalik is a different animal than the previous two players as he has a no trade clause. However he does not have a no movement clause and can be buried in the AHL. If Ales Kotalik shows up to camp in shape and motivated I'd like to see him on the roster. His best days were with Buffalo and he can be a solid 3rd line power forward who can help steal us a few points with his shootout prowess. However given the past couple seasons between Calgary and New York that's it's hard to imagine him looking like the old Kotalik right out of the gate. Kotalik is a guy i would send down to Rochester to work on his game and be an injury call-up.

If all three of the aforementioned players aren't on the active roster at the start of the season the Sabres would have around 4.4$ million in cap space. However that would leave them with only 12 fowards, which is why i'm hoping Kassian and or Adam can make the team out of camp. With their combined 1.75 $ mil. cap hit the Sabres would have a nice 2.75$ million in cap space...plenty of room to play with during the season if necessary. Whichever way Regier opts to go he has some work to do to get this team back under the cap, but for long time Sabres fans, it's a nice problem to have.

-Brandon Hess

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