Buffalo Sabres Free Agency Roundup: How Much Better Are They Now?


Last Tuesday was a pretty busy day for Tim Murray and the Buffalo Sabres.

Coming into the day over $20 million below the salary cap floor, Murray went on a mission to inject the youthful Sabres with veteran leaders. Starting with the trade for Josh Gorges and ending with the signing of Andrej Meszaros, the team already has a drastically different feel from last year.

So where do the moves leave the Sabres? 

The first move was likely the most shocking with Murray landing veteran blueliner Josh Gorges from the Montreal Canadiens for a second-round pick in the 2016 draft (via Sabres.com). Gorges had initially refused a trade to the Toronto Maple Leafs, but apparently he felt the Sabres were a better landing spot. 

Gorges will likely fill the shoes of the recently departed Christian Ehrhoff, but he is by no means the same player. A defense-first guy, Gorges will likely step into the top pairing with Tyler Myers to be the steadying force Myers has needed since Henrik Tallinder left in 2010. Gorges will also see time on the penalty kill, which was an area the Sabres were at least halfway decent at last year, finishing the year with the 20th-ranked penalty kill

Next came the signing of Gorges’ teammate in Montreal and Rochester-native Brian Gionta, who signed a three-year deal (via Sabres.com). Gionta, the Canadiens’ captain last season, is getting up there in years but can certainly add a ton of leadership to the Sabres’ room along with the occasional goal. 

Gionta scored 18 goals last season, good for fourth on the Habs, and he played in 81 games. The Sabres obviously don’t expect him to replicate his 48-goal season in 2005-06, but 15-20 goals and a presence on the power play, as well as in the locker room, will make the team happy. A cap hit of $4.25 million per season is also pretty reasonable on a three-year deal (via CapGeek). 

The next two Sabres moves brought back Matt Moulson and Cody McCormick from Minnesota. 

Moulson, who signed a five-year, $25 million deal (via CBSSports.com), returns to the Sabres after being traded, with McCormick, to the Wild at the deadline. 

Moulson brings a very simple attribute back to the Sabres: goal scoring. Moulson‘s 23 goals last season may have been his lowest full-season total since he entered the league, but he still has 30-goal potential. He will start on the Sabres’ first line this year, and I’m sure Murray’s hope is that he remains at least a second-liner by the time his deal ends. 

McCormick, who signed a three-year deal (via WIVB), will step back into his fourth-line role. 

Still keeping busy, Murray re-signed restricted free agent Marcus Foligno to a two-year deal (via Sabres.com). Foligno will likely get top-six looks this year and will be given the chance to show he can find something resembling a scoring touch.

Finally, Murray added veteran defenseman Andrej Meszaros on a one-year deal (via Sabres.com). The $4.125 million deal (via CapGeek) also put the Sabres above the dreaded salary cap floor of $51 million, ending all the unnecessary speculation as to whether or not Murray was going to be able to reach it. 

Meszaros, who spent time with the Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins last season, has been hampered by injuries the last two seasons, and when he has played he has not been the same player he was at the beginning of his career. However, he still moves the puck well and will likely be considered for a power-play role. 

The Sabres also signed defenseman Tyson Strachan to a one-year deal on Thursday (via NHL.com). Strachan will likely play most of the year in Rochester. 

Most of the team’s unrestricted free agents, which include Tallinder, Zenon Konopka, Matt D’Agostini and Jamie McBain have not been extended contract offers, and it doesn’t seem like there are any plans to. John Scott signed a one-year deal with the San Jose Sharks (via CBSSports.com). 

Now while all of these moves do make the Sabres better and certainly increase the team’s leadership quotient, how much better are they?

As it stands, probably not good enough to challenge for a playoff spot, something Tim Murray acknowledged in his post-frenzy press conference. Murray said the team still “has a long way to go,” and that much is clear.

Barring anything miraculous, the Sabres are going to struggle again. They’re certainly going to be more competitive, but wins will still be hard to come by. The roster looks a lot different from opening night last season mainly due to the veterans that have been added, but those who think it makes them a contender are mistaken.

There is one important thing to keep in mind during all of this: Just because the team is likely going to be near the bottom, that does not mean this free-agency period shouldn’t be seen as a positive. 

These signings are geared toward the short-term, but they have set up the Sabres for the long-term as well. The Gorges trade and Moulson‘s deal seem to have the most apparent long-term impact, but most of these deals will be felt in how these players help those who will be in the room in a few seasons, or, in other words, very indirectly. 

Overall, Tim Murray made a middling team a little less middling last week, while still allowing the Sabres to remain fully in the “Mission For McDavid” or “Sack For Jack” campaign all expected them to lead.

Well done, Timmy. 

Follow me on Twitter for NHL and Sabres news all offseason: @SwordPlay18

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