Sabres free-agent targets: Steven Stamkos and other top-six forwards who could fit


Staff member

The Buffalo Sabres have been among the lowest-spending teams in the NHL over the last three seasons. When general manager Kevyn Adams committed to a youth movement, the influx of entry-level contracts not only made the roster a young one but also a cheap one.

With the Sabres now entering the fourth season since Adams hit the reset button on the roster, the team has invested in contract extensions for what Adams considers to be his core players. Lindy Ruff has taken over as head coach in what he considers to be a “win-now” situation.

“In terms of spending, people get really focused on that,” Adams said. “In my position, I have been given every single resource to make this team the best it can be. For me, it’s about winning. So we will do whatever it takes to win. I don’t think about the spending part. Sometimes that goes hand in hand in how you build a roster. You have to be disciplined. And, obviously, when you have a young team, you’re getting that core together, and you are projecting contracts, signing extensions — all those things matter. But this is about winning.”

Entering the offseason, the Sabres have 14 players under contract for approximately $65 million in salary-cap space. That puts their cap commitments at 17th-highest in the NHL before free agency. The Sabres still have the youngest average age among players under contract for 2024-25.

The Sabres’ spending should look different this summer as Adams enters his fifth season as general manager, one that could define his tenure. That could mean Adams takes a big swing in free agency in an effort to strengthen Buffalo’s top six. Last season, the Sabres ranked 23rd in goals for and 29th on the power play. Injuries contributed to some of that regression, but the Sabres’ forward depth chart could also get stronger on the top two lines. Late in the season, the Sabres moved Jeff Skinner down the lineup and put JJ Peterka on the top line, the clearest signal yet that they are willing to try a different look up top.

So which unrestricted free agents fit what the Sabres need? Earlier this week, we looked at forwards who could fit bottom-six roles for Buffalo. Here are some available free agents who could slot higher in the lineup.

Steven Stamkos, center/wing, Tampa Bay Lightning

Steven Stamos isn’t the most realistic option on this list for the Sabres. Will he leave Tampa Bay? If he does, what would it take to get him to consider a team that hasn’t been to the playoffs in 13 years? Stamkos is 34 years old, but he’s coming off a 40-goal, 81-point season. He’s the Lightning’s captain and is a prolific power-play scorer. He can play center or wing and would provide an instant boost to Buffalo’s top line. The Sabres would have to add some money or term to get themselves into the conversation with a player such as Stamkos. But it’s tough to think of a better fit in terms of leadership and scoring prowess. Would the Sabres be willing to sign him to a four-year deal worth north of $8 million, or would they rather target someone else on this list?

Jake DeBrusk, winger, Boston Bruins

If you’ve watched any of the Bruins-Maple Leafs series, you’ve probably noticed Jake DeBrusk. He had five points in the first three games and is doing a lot of that damage by getting to the front of the net. If the Sabres are looking to break the bank for a top-six winger, DeBrusk would fill that need. The problem is, he’s likely to have plenty of suitors and could command a contract between $5.5 million and $6.5 million. For a player who has only hit the 50-point mark once in his career, that might be rich. But there’s no doubt that DeBrusk could bring the type of skillset the Sabres could use more of at the top of their lineup and on the power play.

Patrick Kane, winger, Detroit Red Wings

The Sabres made a push for Patrick Kane early in the season, but he chose to sign with the Red Wings. The 35-year old showed he has plenty left in the tank, with 20 goals and 47 points in 50 games for Detroit. Maybe with Ruff in Buffalo, Kane would view the Sabres’ situation differently. Toward the end of the season, the Sabres moved Skinner off their top line. Kane could jump right onto that line and help the Sabres’ power play.

Teuvo Teräväinen, winger, Carolina Hurricanes

Teuvo Teräväinen is coming off a career-high 25 goals playing as a top-six wing for Carolina. But the real appeal is the two-way game Teräväinen plays. The Hurricanes have had more than 55 percent of the expected goals at five-on-five with Teräväinen on the ice each of the last two seasons. He gets time on both the power play and penalty kill and has the all-around game to play on a top line. Teräväinen, 29, could give Ruff some different options to play around with in the top six.

Tyler Toffoli, right wing, Winnipeg Jets

Tyler Toffoli played the start of last season with the New Jersey Devils, so he has some familiarity with Ruff. The 32-year old had another 30-goal season playing for the Devils and Jets. He’s not a major physical presence, but he’s impactful on the power play and would bring the type of experience that could help Buffalo’s lineup.

Jonathan Marchessault, winger, Vegas Golden Knights

Jonathan Marchessault is going to be one of the prizes of unrestricted free agency, so he may not be the most realistic target for the Sabres. He just had a 42-goal season and has a Conn Smythe Trophy to his name as well. He’s small, but Marchessault, 33, is a threat in front of the net. Given the Golden Knights’ cap situation, it might be tough for them to keep everyone. Adding a player like Marchessault could give the Sabres the option to move Alex Tuch down the lineup and balance out the lineup a bit more.


Jonathan Marchessault won the Conn Smythe Trophy last year. (Bruce Bennett / Getty Images)

Elias Lindholm, center, Vancouver Canucks

Adding a center such as Elias Lindholm would make for an interesting competition at the top of the Sabres’ lineup. They could push Tage Thompson or Dylan Cozens to wing, or slide Cozens into the No. 3 center role. This was a down year for Lindholm in terms of point production, but he’s not far removed from an 82-point season in 2021-22. While he’s not an overly physical player, Lindholm is reliable in his own end and is excellent on faceoffs. The contract will be the big question with Lindholm, since he’ll be one of the most sought-after players on the free-agent market.

Chandler Stephenson, center, Vegas Golden Knights​

Chandler Stephenson would be a cheaper option than Lindolm if the Sabres were interested in adding a center to the top of the lineup. After back-to-back seasons with at least 64 points, Stephenson took a step back with 51 points this season. His underlying defensive metrics also took a hit, but Stephenson was still solid on faceoffs. A drop-off might be coming for Stephenson, 30, but for the right price, he’d be a worthwhile addition for the Sabres as a second-line center.

Tyler Bertuzzi, winger, Toronto Maple Leafs​

Tyler Bertuzzi is a pain in the neck to play against, and he has been for years. If you’re hoping the Sabres add more players with tenacity to the top of their lineup, Bertuzzi is a name to watch. Bertuzzi only had 43 points this season for the Leafs, but Toronto had 56 percent of the scoring chances and 57 percent of the high-danger chances when Bertuzzi was on the ice at five-on-five this season. Bertuzzi, 29, would be an ideal complement to some of the skill players Buffalo already has in the top six.

Max Domi, winger, Toronto Maple Leafs​

Max Domi is more of a middle-six player than a top-of-the-lineup guy, but the Leafs have pushed him up the depth chart at times this season. He’s been taking Auston Matthews’ spot as the top-line center with the Leafs’ star out for the last couple of playoff games. Domi, 29, is reliable defensively, is willing to hit when necessary and would slot in as a third-line center at worst.

Jonathan Drouin, winger, Colorado Avalanche

Jonathan Drouin had a career resurgence while playing with Nathan MacKinnon in Colorado this season. Whether that success is repeatable elsewhere is a question teams will be asking themselves in the lead-up to free agency. His on-ice expected goal share at five-on-five was 59 percent when playing with MacKinnon and 47 percent when playing without MacKinnon, so that’s the red flag. But Drouin, 29, set a career-high with 56 points and averaged the most ice time of his career.