Sabres GM for a Day: Patrick Kane headlines series of bold offseason moves


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A 13th consecutive season without playoff hockey in Buffalo caused General Manager Kevyn Adams and owner Terry Pegula to make drastic changes.

Don Granato was fired as coach and replaced by Lindy Ruff. Seth Appert was elevated from coach of the Rochester Americans to an assistant on the NHL staff. Michael Leone was hired from the United States Hockey League’s Green Bay Gamblers to take Appert’s spot with the Amerks.

More changes are on the horizon. The Sabres have just over $23.2 million in salary cap space, according to, and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen is among their prominent restricted free agents. Zemgus Girgensons will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

Some players will be brought back. Others will sign elsewhere. Adams’ plan isn’t known, but he’s made it clear through his comments in recent months that he plans to add another center and reshape the bottom of his lineup.

Free agency isn’t an easy path to improving the Sabres next season. Price tags are high. Buffalo may have to overpay to convince an established veteran to sign. Trades can also be challenging because many players have full or limited no-movement clauses that give them the power to block a move to certain teams.

The challenges shouldn’t prevent the Sabres from improving the roster, though. Using contract projections from Rochester-based consulting firm AFP Analytics, here’s a step-by-step plan on how I’d leverage their cap space and assets to build a playoff-caliber lineup:

Restricted free agents​

• The Sabres are prioritizing a new contract for Luukkonen after the goalie’s breakout season. The 25-year-old totaled a .910 save percentage and career-best 2.57 goals-against average with five shutouts in 54 appearances after he was a healthy scratch on opening night in October.

Luukkonen’s agent, Markus Lehto, likely will use Thatcher Demko’s most recent contract with the Vancouver Canucks as a comparable. Demko signed a five-year, $25 million contract in March 2021. The Sabres may not want to give Luukkonen a longer-term deal though since they still have Devon Levi, who will be a restricted free agent next summer.

To compromise, we’ll give Luukkonen a three-year contract with a $5 million average annual value to keep him tied to Buffalo through the 2026-27 season. The Sabres should know by then whether Luukkonen or Levi is their franchise goalie.

Sabres goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen against the Golden Knights on March 2 during one of a career-best 54 appearances last season. Joshua Bessex/Buffalo News

• Peyton Krebs is the next player that the Sabres will retain. The 23-year-old center had just four goals and 17 points in 80 games, and his average ice time per game has dropped in each of his past two seasons in Buffalo. We’ll bring him back on a two-year contract with a $1.7 million average annual value with the plan to have him on the fourth line next to a pair of offseason additions.

• Jacob Bryson’s improvement last season was enough to convince me to bring him back as the seventh defenseman. Depth is necessary. He can play the left or right side, and his skating with an ability to break pressure exiting his own zone make him a fit for the system Ruff will implement in Buffalo. We’ll give Bryson a one-year, $1.2 million contract.

• We’ll cut ties with restricted free agent defenseman Kale Clague. He was an effective power-play quarterback in Rochester this season, but it would benefit 2019 first-round draft pick Ryan Johnson to get an opportunity on the man-advantage. He won’t have that role in the NHL, however, the experience would aid his development.


• Henri Jokiharju showed marked improvement on defense last season and, according to Rochester-based AFP Analytics, the 24-year-old restricted free agent will cost approximately $4.016 million per season on a three-year contract.

It’s a reasonable number for a right-handed shot with his experience, but the price tag is a bit high given the role that the Sabres likely will use him in next season. Rather than extend Jokiharju, I’m going to make a trade to address the team’s need for a third-line center.

We’ll send Jokiharju and the 11th pick in the 2024 NHL draft to the Philadelphia Flyers for center Scott Laughton and the Florida Panthers’ first-round pick, which will be 31st or 32nd overall.

Laughton would fill the hole created by the Sabres losing Casey Mittelstadt in a trade that brought defenseman Bowen Byram to Buffalo. Laughton has produced double-digit goals in six of his eight seasons as an NHL regular, including a career-high 18 in 2022-23. The 30-year-old is under contract for two more years at a reasonable $3 million average annual value, and he can help on the penalty kill while shouldering the defensive responsibilities that seemed to slow Dylan Cozens this season.

Blue Jackets center Boone Jenner is atop my wish list for that role in Buffalo, but Columbus insists it’s unwilling to move him. The Flyers are desperate for high draft picks and this scenario would still allow the Sabres to select a prospect such as center Sam O’Reilly of the London Knights.

• The Sabres need more physicality in their bottom six. They shouldn’t count on 2019 sixth-round draft pick Lukas Rousek to step in as an everyday player next season. Their other options in Rochester don’t fit that role, either.

Unrestricted free agency isn’t the best path to address that need. Even third- and fourth-line players can be expensive on the open market, so we’ll acquire Vegas Golden Knights winger Keegan Kolesar in exchange for a 2024 third-round draft pick and prospect winger Aleksandr Kisakov.

Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin knocks the puck from Golden Knights forward Keegan Kolesar in March. Joshua Bessex/Buffalo News

Kolesar has one year left on a contract that counts $1.4 million, and he’s averaged eight goals over the past two seasons while providing the Golden Knights with an intimidating presence on the fourth line. He’s the type of forward the Sabres haven’t had in several years. It’s important to have someone to protect this team’s star players.

• We’re going to need to create cap space to pursue two important unrestricted free agents. Winger Jordan Greenway emerged as an important depth forward for the Sabres last season. He also was among the top penalty-killing forwards in the NHL. Greenway is entering the final year of his contract, though, and his $3 million cap hit is steep for the role that we’ll need him to fill on the fourth line. Cozens, Laughton, Alex Tuch, Zach Benson and Jack Quinn would be able to fill Greenway’s spot on the penalty kill.

I’m trading Greenway to the Nashville Predators for their 2025 second-round draft pick, which the Sabres can package at the trade deadline to acquire help for a playoff push.

Unrestricted free agents​

• Winger Victor Olofsson will sign elsewhere once he’s an unrestricted free agent on July 1, and I’m going to pass on re-signing Tyson Jost and Eric Robinson. Neither is the type of forward the Sabres need in their bottom six.

• The Sabres are interested in bringing back Girgensons for an 11th season, but I’m opting to go in a different direction. It’s time to clear the way for franchise pillars like Rasmus Dahlin to take on prominent leadership roles and create an opportunity to bring a different skill set onto the roster.

• Depth in Rochester will be critical to the Sabres’ success this season. They also need to surround their prospects with productive veterans who understand how to win. With that in mind, we’re re-signing forwards Brett Murray and Brandon Biro and defensemen Joseph Cecconi and Jeremy Davies to one-year, two-way contracts.

Murray is arguably the most intriguing player of the group. The 6-foot-5 winger did not have the foot speed to play under Granato, but is he a better fit now that Ruff is behind the bench? Don’t discount Appert’s influence, either. He admires Murray and values the work that he does around the opponent’s net.

• Levi will be working in tandem with Luukkonen next season, even though the 22-year-old has only 61 games of pro experience. The Sabres won’t bring back Eric Comrie, so another goalie is needed. Why not sign Malcolm Subban to be the organization’s No. 3? The 30-year-old was outstanding for the Amerks in 2022-23 and would provide Rochester with an additional veteran who has NHL experience.

• To replace Greenway, we’re signing Florida Panthers winger Ryan Lomberg to a one-year contract worth $900,000. He’s a fast, abrasive fourth-liner who understands how to get under an opponent’s skin and helped his team reach the Stanley Cup final for a second consecutive season.
A fourth line of Lomberg, Krebs and Kolesar would be a fast, physical group that can wreak havoc on the forecheck.

Panthers right winger Ryan Lomberg celebrates a goal with his teammates. He could be a fit for Buffalo's fourth line. Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News

• We’ll sign winger A.J. Greer to a one-year, $775,000 contract. He’s a scrappy fourth-liner who can bring energy and stick up for teammates. The Sabres and Ruff are familiar with Greer from his time in Utica, where he faced the Amerks in the playoffs. He’s had 100-plus hits in consecutive NHL seasons with Boston and Calgary.

• The Sabres need another right-shot defenseman to replace Jokiharju. Fans want a big, physical, intimidating presence. Vincent Desharnais of the Edmonton Oilers fits the bill. He’s 6-foot-7 with a right-handed shot and showed this season that he can defend well while skating with elite players. The 28-year-old is projected to receive a one-year contract worth $1.115 million.

Versatility is a priority with this roster spot, though. Ruff needs someone who can skate on the second defense pair if the Sabres have an injury, and handedness isn’t as important in this scenario because they may have Dahlin, Byram, Mattias Samuelsson and Owen Power on the top two defense pairs. Desharnais would not be a fit next to Connor Clifton on the third pair. Ian Cole, however, checks every box and can be signed for one year and $2.1 million.

The 35-year-old led the Canucks in shorthanded time on ice this season. He averaged over 18 minutes per game, owns two Stanley Cup rings and, unlike Erik Johnson a year ago, is coming off a stellar season that showed he’s still a valuable defenseman.

My plan allows the Sabres to keep their top prospects and draft picks, which would position Adams to make a bigger midseason trade if a need emerges on the roster.

Red Wings right wing Patrick Kane skates against the Sabres in March. He had 20 goals last season with Detroit. Buffalo News file photo

• Last but not least, I’m signing South Buffalo’s Patrick Kane to a one-year, $6 million contract. He proved with Detroit this season that he’s still a prolific winger. The 35-year-old had 20 goals and 47 points in 50 regular-season games. Signing a proven scorer like Kane would allow the Sabres to give top prospects Jiri Kulich and Matt Savoie additional time to develop in Rochester, plus Benson won’t have to be in the top six.

• Linus Weissbach, Justin Richards and Dustin Tokarski are the other Rochester free agents that we won’t bring back next season.


The Sabres haven’t used a buyout since Adams became general manager in 2020, but they may finally have the case to do so after Jeff Skinner’s struggles in the second half of the season.

The 32-year-old winger had only seven goals in the final 36 games and, though his 24 goals ranked third on the team, the production was not enough for a player who counts $9 million against the salary cap. Does Skinner still fit with Ruff as coach? Do the Sabres take next season to evaluate the situation? Skinner has three years remaining on the contract that he signed in 2019, so the cap hit would be spread across six seasons.

The cap hit for each of those years if the Sabres buy him out: $1.44 million, $4.44 million, $6.44 million, and $2.44 million in each of the last three seasons.

It would be wise to wait at least another year before the Sabres go this route. Skinner is only one year removed from posting a career-high 82 points. Give Ruff a season to try to make it work, then replace Skinner with one of the top prospects if he struggles.

Amerks roster​

Jason Karmanos, the Sabres’ associate general manager, will collaborate with Leone to build out the rest of Rochester’s roster with players on AHL contracts. In this scenario, Greer and Rousek make the Sabres as their 13th and 14th forwards.
Amerks center Jiri Kulich skates around Syracuse defenseman Max Crozier during a playoff game last month. Kulich could be part of a core group of young players again next season in Rochester.
Joshua Bessex, Buffalo News

Here’s how I envision the Amerks looking on their opening night if Cecconi, Murray, Davies, Biro and Subban pass through waivers:
Center: Jiri Kulich, Noah Ostlund, Matt Savoie and Mason Jobst.
Winger: Isak Rosen, Anton Wahlberg, Viktor Neuchev, Brett Murray, Brandon Biro, Tyson Kozak, Olivier Nadeau, Michael Mersch, Graham Slaggert.
Defensemen: Ryan Johnson, Nikita Novikov, Vsevelod Komarov, Joe Cecconi, Jeremy Davies, Zach Metsa.
Goalies: Malcolm Subban, Michael Houser.

The group includes five recent first-round draft picks – Kulich, Ostlund, Savoie, Rosen and Johnson – and each will have the opportunity to earn a spot in Buffalo during training camp and throughout the season if there are injuries on the NHL roster.

Depth chart​

Barring injury, the Sabres will have a deep lineup in Buffalo with several prospects in Rochester pushing to make the NHL. It’s an ideal scenario for an organization that has lacked depth throughout the playoff drought. The moves listed above would leave them with approximately $2.4 million in salary-cap space.
Here’s how I see the Sabres’ lineup looking with the trades, free-agent signings and players departing:
  • JJ Peterka – Tage Thompson – Alex Tuch;
  • Zach Benson – Dylan Cozens – Patrick Kane;
  • Jeff Skinner – Scott Laughton – Jack Quinn;
  • Ryan Lomberg – Peyton Krebs – Keegan Kolesar;
  • Mattias Samuelsson – Rasmus Dahlin;
  • Owen Power – Bowen Byram;
  • Ian Cole — Connor Clifton.
Extras: Jacob Bryson, Lukas Rousek, A.J. Greer.
Goalies: Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, Devon Levi.