The Sabres benefit from having core players like Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart, who are exempt because they have played less than three years of professional hockey. GM Jason Botterill may use the expansion draft to try to shed a big money contract, which Buffalo has in ample supply.
Evander Kane will also be shielded if he is on Buffalo’s roster on June 18th when the final protected list has to be submitted. There are persistent rumors about Kane being moved which may relieve Botterill on that responsibility. Johan Larsson is 24 and played well as a checking center until suffering a double dislocation (elbow and wrist) in December.
The Sabres blueline situation is similar to up front, in that they have players that they likely would not mind losing to Vegas to clear a salary of an underachieving player.
The Sabres have to choose between protecting veteran Josh Gorges or Zach Bogosian. Gorges is 32 and is entering the final year of his contract making $3.9 Million, which might make him a candidate to be flipped to a contending team.
Bogosian makes over $5 Million for another three seasons and has been chronically injured the last four years (his high water mark was 64 games in 2016). He has pretty much been a bust in Buffalo, since being included in the deal that sent Tyler Myers to Winnipeg.
Robin Lehner was acquired from Ottawa for a first round pick by former Sabres GM Tim Murray and it is unknown whether Botterill wants to commit to the 25-year-old, who is an RFA. If Lehner is protected, young netminder Linus Ullmark was be exposed and the Sabres like the big Swede.
Projected protected players and their cap hits
Ryan O’Reilly – $7,500,000 through 2023
Kyle Okposo (NMC) – $6,000,000 through 2023
Evander Kane – $5,250,000 through 2018
William Carrier – $689,167 through 2018
JohanLarsson – $950,000 RFA
Zemgus Girgensons – $1,150,000 RFA
Marcus Foligno – $2,250,000 RFA
Rasmus Ristolainen – $5,400,000 through 2022
Josh Gorges – $3,900,000 through 2018
Jake McCabe – $1,600,000 through 2019
Robin Lehner – $2,225,000 RFA
Likely Expansion loss for Buffalo
Vegas has to take on a certain amount of salary to reach the cap floor, so it is possible that the Golden Knights takes on one of the Sabres high-priced exposed players, but the lure of a young goaltender like Ullmark could be tempting for McPhee.
The three most likely selections off the Sabres roster are Ullmark, Bogosian and Ennis.