Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers just signed a seven-year deal worth and estimated $215 million. That averages out to $30.7 million per year. Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller is in the last year of a contract that pays him $6.25 million per year. Not only is Miller the best player on the Sabres, he is also one of the best players in the league. So, what will it cost Sabres owner Terry Pegula to put together his Stanley Cup contenders and keep his goaltender?
If Miller decides to stay in Buffalo, he will have to be the highest-paid goaltender in the league, which would not be difficult for the Sabres to accomplish. Right now, the highest-paid goalie in the league is Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators at $7 million per season. It is entirely possible that the Sabres would have to push into the realm of the highest-paid player in the league to keep Miller.
The highest-paid player in the league is Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins at $12 million per year. Would Pegula really pay Miller $12 million per year to keep him in Buffalo?
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman recently estimated that the 2014-15 salary cap could be as high as $71 million per team. Once again, the league has grown and the players will rightfully reap some of the benefits. Will a $71 million cap allow Pegula and the Sabres to put together a winning team? Yes, it will.
The biggest thing going for Buffalo right now is Ted Nolan. While the Penguins win games with superstars like Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, Nolan has a history of winning games with a superstar goalie and 18 guys that just want to work hard every night. Hardworking hockey players are fun to watch and they do not cost nearly as much as superstars.
Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that Miller gets his $12 million per year. That would leave $59 million for the rest of the team. The Penguins seem to be able to hold onto several star players on $59 million per year, so the Sabres should be able to do the same with hard workers.
The Sabres have a lot of unrestricted free agents coming up at the end of this season, but many of those UFAs can be let go. Defenseman Henrik Tallinder has been relatively ineffective all season long and the Sabres can let him hit the open market in July. Cody McCormick, John Scott, Linus Omark, Zenon Konopka, Alexander Sulzer and Patrick Kaleta are all UFAs that should be able to test the free agency market with the full blessing of GM Tim Murray.
The three most pressing UFAs aside from Miller would be captain Steve Ott, assistant captain Matt Moulson and forward Matt D’Agostini. Ott and Moulson represent the core of the new team and will probably get raises with new contracts. D’Agostini would be a bargain at $750 per year, which would be a raise for him. Everyone else is either locked up in a contract or is a restricted free agent.
Once Murray cuts away the excess waste and gets rid of a few contracts, he will be left with a lot of money for Buffalo to play with on the free agent market. If Ott accepts a deal worth $3.5 million per season and Moulson can be signed for $4 million, then the Sabres would have its core locked up with plenty of money left to play with.
The Sabres will be a big player in free agency this offseason, but it will mostly be for players that fans have not heard of. That is the way Nolan builds hockey teams. He uses guys that can play the game but don’t quite get the big contracts. However, Buffalo fans can take heart in knowing that if a big-name free agent is out there, the Sabres are prepared to make a play for him.