May 16, 2018 | 8:50Pm ET
SABRES IN THE RUNNING FOR TAVARES?
John Tavares, centre
As July 1 gets closer, the talk surrounding New York Islanders superstar centre John Tavares will get louder and louder.
With Tavares scheduled to be the biggest name to hit the open market this summer as an unrestricted free agent, the situation regarding the 27-year-old is gaining attention league-wide.
Teams that have been linked to Tavares include the San Jose Sharks, St. Louis Blues, Montreal Canadiens, Carolina Hurricanes, Vegas Golden Knights and Vancouver Canucks, among others.
But in an interview on TSN 690 in Montreal Wednesday afternoon, TSN Hockey announcer and play-by-play voice Gord Miller pinpointed the Buffalo Sabres as a real candidate to sign Tavares this summer.
“I think (drafting first-overall) makes Buffalo a legitimate contender to get John Tavares,” Miller said. “Tavares wants to win and he wants to play in a good hockey market. Well, Buffalo’s a good hockey market. And now you’ve got Rasmus Dahlin coming. They’ve already got (Rasmus) Ristolainen. They’ve got (Jack) Eichel. They’ve got an owner willing to spend money. It’s close to home, but it’s not in Toronto with all the scrutiny. His uncle John played lacrosse in Buffalo for years, he’s a legend there. All of a sudden, with Buffalo winning the draft lottery, they look like a team that players would want to play for.”
With a little more than $19 million in cap space (which will increase once the salary cap increases) to play with this off-season, the Sabres certainly have the room to sign Tavares, though Miller suggested the team may opt to trade Ryan O’Reilly if they lock down Tavares, who will likely make around $12 million per season on his next deal.
Trading O’Reilly isn’t a given, though a number of teams, including the Canadiens and Hurricanes, have interest in, having Tavares and Eichel up the middle would likely result in moving O’Reilly and his $7.5 million cap hit, even though he can shift to the wing, for help in other areas on the team.
Adding Tavares would see the Sabres commit at least $22 million up the middle to him and Eichel, whose cap hit jumps to $10 million next season, as opposed to $17.5 million with Eichel and O’Reilly.
The Sabres plan on bolstering their roster this summer and whether they sign Tavares or not, GM Jason Botterill will be looking to strengthen other areas of his team, including the goaltending position.
It’s unclear if Chad Johnson will be brought back and the Sabres have tried to trade Robin Lehner, so it’s safe to assume they plan on moving forward with a different No.1 to start the 2018-19 season.