Massive Addition: Sabres Closing In On Agreement To Sign Experienced Veteran Forward In Free Agency

Massive Addition: Sabres Closing In On Agreement To Sign Experienced Veteran Forward In Free Agency

Without any major deals on draft weekend, the Buffalo Sabres may have to turn to free agency to improve their squad. The team needs a center because Tage Thompson, Dylan Cozens, and Peyton Krebs are the only NHL centers currently under contract. The Sabres can go a couple different paths, with one major name, Steven Stamkos, at the center of attention.

Some may argue that the Sabres are set with Thompson and Cozens as their top centers. Some may even argue that Krebs is a sufficient third-line center. Still, it’s evident that the Sabres need to add someone, and the more depth they can generate, the stronger the club will be.

Here are Buffalo’s best center options in free agency.

Steven Stamkos

Steven Stamkos’ agent, Don Meehan, acknowledged on Saturday that the star forward’s standing with the Tampa Bay Lightning has not altered. In other words, he will be a free agent. This is despite the Lightning’s clearing cap space, which will be used to pay freshly acquired Jake Guentzel.

The Sabres might benefit from the 34-year-old Stamkos’ skill and experience. He’s alternated between playing center and wing, but he remains one of the league’s greatest finishers. The Buffalo Sabres, as well as the Nashville Predators, are anticipated to pursue him.

According to Evolving-Hockey’s contract predictions, Stamkos is expected to earn $8.443 million each season over three years.


Adding Stamkos immediately bolsters the top-six forward group. Stamkos could be used as the second-line center to form a scoring line and push Cozens into a shutdown role, which he embraced last season. Stamkos could also be a complementary player on the wing in the top six.

The line possibilities with Stamkos on the Sabres could look something like this:

JJ Peterka – Tage Thompson – Alex Tuch

??? – Steven Stamkos – Jack Quinn

Zach Benson – Dylan Cozens – Jordan Greenway

Beck Malenstyn – Peyton Krebs – ???

As a winger, Stamkos can play the left side on a top line:

Steven Stamkos – Tage Thompson – Alex Tuch

JJ Peterka – Dylan Cozens – Jack Quinn

Zach Benson – Peyton Krebs – Jordan Greenway

Beck Malenstyn – ??? – ???

The addition leaves room for another scoring option in the lineup. No matter how the Sabres’ lines shake out, Stamkos adds some much-needed offensive pop to the lineup. He also is a big asset to the locker room and adds veteran experience to the leadership group, as a former captain.


Stamkos is an elite powerplay talent, even in his mid-30s. So, why is this considered a negative? He fills the same job as Buffalo’s top power play player, Tage Thompson.

Both star players are powerful right-handed shooters who look for one-timers from the left side. It’s a redundant role that may force the Sabres to be more inventive on the power play. It would most certainly be uncomfortable for two players who prefer to set up shop on the off-wing.

Also, the defensive component of Stamkos’ game has tailed off as he’s aged. He’s detrimental to the team at even strength defensively much like Jeff Skinner was. Head coach Lindy Ruff would have to harness the star signing and get him to buy into a more 200-foot game.


If nothing else, signing Stamkos would reassure the fanbase that the Sabres are trying to compete. He’s not the player he once was, but is still one of the NHL’s better offensive threats. Weighing the positives and negatives, Stamkos would be a “buckle up for the ride” signing that could set the new-look Sabres in the right direction.

Chandler Stephenson

Chandler Stephenson most certainly priced himself out of Vegas, since the center played a key supporting role for several of the team’s top players. He’s 30 years old yet still a quick, versatile player. His player analogies are varied, with offensive playmakers, defensive specialists, and powerplay specialists among the top ten.

Stephenson is expected to sign a four-year contract with an average annual value of $6.133 million, according to Evolving Hockey. That’s a bit steep for an elderly third-line center, but one that the Sabres would almost certainly have to outbid in free agency.


Stephenson, who plays on the team’s third line alongside Benson and Greenway, might give some spark in transition. He centered one of the league’s finest defensive wingers in Mark Stone in Vegas, so his combination with a lockdown guy like Greenway and a persistent forechecker like Benson might be easy.

Stephenson has also found powerplay success in the bumper role, which the Sabres will miss with Skinner’s buyout.


Besides the potential contract hindrance, Stephenson is below replacement level on the penalty kill and only a slightly above-replacement player at even strength. He’s had recent struggles defensively, which is not something that would appease Ruff in a third-line role.

He’s more of a player who counter-attacks with speed, which is good for creating quality scoring chances but means the opposing team will control the puck more often when he is on the ice.


A Stephenson signing could be a fallback option, but it’s not a recipe for the Sabres’ long-term success. They have near-NHL-ready prospects in the system who have more to offer, and a four-year deal north of $6 million will pinch the cap by the end of it.

Sean Monahan

Sean Monahan has seen a career resurgence since leaving Calgary, where he was relegated to the third line. Since then, he’s reestablished himself as a top-six forward and powerplay contributor. Unlike Stephenson, Monahan’s not going to blaze you with speed. Instead, he’ll work more tactically to create and drive offense.

Evolving-Hockey projects a cheaper cost for Monahan’s services, with a three-year, $5.276 million projected AAV.


Monahan would immediately step into a “2A” and “2B” center situation with Cozens. Monahan would center a line more apt to score, while Cozens is the more complete, two-way center. That opens up all kinds of options for the Sabres, depending on other additions to the forward group.

He would also instantly improve the powerplay, as Monahan has been one of the better bumper scorers in the NHL throughout his career.


Since Monahan adds what the Sabres are missing, it’s hard to criticize a potential signing for his flaws. There are flaws, however. The Sabres are a young, fast team and Monahan is not a speedster. Notably, he did play well with speedy Winnipeg Jets winger Nikolaj Ehlers though.

Then there’s the defensive aspect of his five-on-five game, which isn’t up to par. The Sabres might be able to shelter him with some of their better defensive wingers. Otherwise, they’d just turn loose a line offensively and try to avoid specific matchups.


Monahan would be a much more cost-effective signing than Stephenson, especially if he’s cheaper. He’s 29, so even if Buffalo adds an extra year to incentivize the signing they’d be in okay shape.

Alex Wennberg

Alex Wennberg is more your traditional third-line center, with experience in a shutdown role. Some of his most similar players across the league have defensive tendencies with playmaking attributes, including Alex Kerfoot and J.T. Compher.

A projected contract of three years at $4.41 million per season is an affordable and justifiable price for a third-line center.


Wennberg’s an effective even-strength player, with the versatility to contribute on both special teams units as well. He won’t do anything to wow you, but he’s the kind of reliable forward that Ruff likes to put on the ice in important situations.

There’s a play-driving aspect of his game that suits a shutdown role. His passing ability can spring play out of the defensive zone and up the ice.


Wennberg does not have the same level of name recognition as Stamkos, Monahan, or Stephenson. He’s played for relatively weak clubs, but the Presidents Trophy-winning New York Rangers prioritized acquiring him at the trade deadline last season.

Wennberg is also a reliable penalty killer, but the data does not support him in this role. The team’s system dictates a lot of his shorthanded effectiveness, therefore he might be better off killing penalties for the Sabres. Nonetheless, you’d prefer a player who is good shorthanded, regardless of the constraints.


Wennberg would be a fine addition to the Sabres, but he will probably draw interest from a lot of teams in more cap-restrictive situations with a need at the center position. He’d form a clear-cut one-two-three with Thompson, Cozens, and him. Krebs could push Wennberg to the fourth line if he takes a step in development, making Wennberg an overpriced luxury.

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