Sabres general manager Jason Botterill explained the team's situation as it pertains to the salary cap during an appearance with Andrew Peters and Craig Rivet on The Instigators on Wednesday morning.
The Sabres agreed to contracts with their final two restricted free agents on Saturday, signing defenseman Jake McCabe and goaltender Linus Ullmark to one-year contracts worth $2.85 million and $1.325 million, respectively. Those and the team's other offseason moves, including the signing of forward Marcus Johansson and trade acquisitions of forward Jimmy Vesey and defenseman Colin Miller, have the Sabres projected to be roughly $1 million over the cap for 2019-20, according to CapFriendly.com.
Botterill explained the options the Sabres can use to remain cap compliant without making a trade, though he did say trade avenues will continue to be explored as a means toward improving the roster.
"These websites do an amazing job of keeping everything up to date, but the bottom line is they're picking our roster for us right now in August and we don't have to do anything until the start of October," Botterill said. "The bottom line is we don't have to make a trade."
Botterill, who was responsible for managing the salary cap during his decade in the Pittsburgh Penguins front office, cited the long-term injured reserve list and the cap relief associated with sending players to the AHL (roughly $1.1 million) as potential avenues the Sabres can use to become compliant before the season begins.
"We wanted to add more depth where we had four lines contributing to our team," he said. "We knew when we made the free agent signing of Marcus Johansson that we were going to be close to the cap. But we felt it made our team that much stronger, so we like the situation we're in right now."
The Sabres are set up to have plenty of financial flexibility next summer, with 26 contracts expiring after this season. Fifteen players are scheduled to become restricted free agents; 11 can become unrestricted free agents.
Botterill said that flexibility is by design, both as a means of increasing player competition and leaving room to sign players who exceed expectations.
"You have three-year projections and you have five-year projections," he said. "But within that, we also know that a trade comes along, a player like Marcus Johansson becomes available, you have to have the ability to adjust. That's what we're just trying to have, is we're always trying to have that flexibility.
"We know Rasmus Dahlin is eventually going to have a very large contract. But we also have to be prepared if one of our other players steps up in the next couple years, whether it's a [Henri] Jokiharju or a Will Borgen continues to develop or one of our forwards comes on.
"We want to at least be able to not be locked into so many contracts that we can't keep that young player that we want to have on our roster. This is something I learned over the course of my career."
Here are more takeaways from Botterill's appearance on The Instigators.
Opportunity abounds for young players
Botterill reiterated his stance that the organization's young players will be given opportunities to earn NHL roles at training camp, even if it means replacing a veteran on the roster.
"I think you just have to look at our track record," he said. "It's not just words that we're saying, 'Oh there's jobs available.' We'll do whatever it takes if our young guys step up.
"Whether it was [Matt] Moulson, last year with Scott Wilson in the minors - we're willing to put one-way contracts in the minors if younger players are ready to take their jobs. That's what should excite them coming in here and it's the message Ralph has been delivering to all the guys."
The Sabres loaned Moulson to the Los Angeles Kings' AHL affiliate in 2017-18, when the forward was in the fourth year of a five-year deal. Wilson played 17 games with Rochester last season after signing a one-way, two-year deal last summer.
Botterill even cited the organization's young forwards as candidates to earn a place on Jack Eichel's wing, a credit to the center's ability entering his fifth season.
"Sidney Crosby, I think that was one of his big developments as a player," Botterill said. "There used to be a lot of discussion of, 'Who's going to be on Sid's wing?' Now it seems like whoever goes up there, Sid pulls the best out of them.
"… I truly believe Jack has that ability. He's that talented. He likes holding onto the puck. He can create opportunities for anyone who plays up there with him. … Whether it's an Olofsson, a C.J. Smith, a Tage Thompson, if they can play further up in the lineup there, I think it just gives us more depth."
No worries on RFAs
Botterill addressed the fact that league currently finds itself "frozen" as teams wait to see the contracts given to a talented group of remaining RFAs, including Colorado's Miko Rantanen, Toronto's Mitch Marner and Calgary's Matthew Tkachuk.
The Sabres' group of potential RFAs next summer includes Sam Reinhart and Brandon Montour, but Botterill said the events of this offseason do not have him concerned.
"Not at all," he said. "Tkachuk, Rantanen, Marner, they're all very talented players. We want to make sure we have the cap flexibility moving forward, but if one of our young players sort of pops and becomes that great player, those are good problems to have.
"You can talk about different teams in the National Hockey League having salary cap issues and this and that. Well, it's probably because they have very good players on their roster. That's the point we want to get to, is having good, young players that we're locking up longer term."