The Sabres could ask Jeff Skinner to waive his no-movement clause. ©2021, Micheline Veluvolu

Sabres must make difficult decisions before NHL Expansion Draft

Buffalo Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams knows all about the expansion draft, having been picked in it 20 years ago this month by the Columbus Blue Jackets.

In 2000, Adams was a 25-year-old forward fresh off playing 52 regular-season games and another 12 playoff contests for the Toronto Maple Leafs. After spending most of the previous three seasons in the minors, he had finally arrived in the big leagues.

Adams remembers Toronto GM Pat Quinn calling to inform him he would be exposed in the draft. The Blue Jackets, who were entering the NHL with the Minnesota Wild, selected Adams 34th overall.

“I was disappointed, yet all of a sudden, I was drafted and I was part of a really cool experience,” Adams said on a Zoom call Wednesday after the Sabres won the NHL Draft Lottery. “So there’s a lot of excitement around that, and there should be. It’s great for the league.”

The expansion draft has changed a lot since Adams played. The days of a team grabbing depth players or castoffs are over. The NHL overhauled the rules for the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017, allowing them to pick some prime talent. The Seattle Kraken, the league’s 32nd team, will draft under the same rules July 21.

Every team but Vegas, which is exempt, will lose one player to the Kraken. Teams must protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie or eight skaters and one goalie. Players with a no-movement clause must be protected unless they waive it. First- and second-year pros don’t qualify for the draft.

The Sabres might ask winger Jeff Skinner to waive the no-movement clause in his eight-year, $72 million contract. While the Kraken would likely pass on Skinner – he scored seven goals in 53 games this season – the Sabres could use his spot to protect another player. Sabres winger Kyle Okposo has a modified no-trade clause in his seven-year, $42 million contract.

Ex-Vegas GM George McPhee stocked his roster with so much talent in 2017 the Golden Knights roared to the Stanley Cup final in their inaugural season. In addition to the expansion draft, McPhee made side deals, helping him acquire more assets.

The Sabres traded the Golden Knights a sixth-round pick to lay off goalie Linus Ullmark. McPhee ended up taking winger William Carrier from the Sabres.

Adams acknowledged he has stockpiled draft picks – the Sabres have 10 this year – knowing he might need to trade some to Seattle GM Ron Francis, his former teammate with the Carolina Hurricanes.

“It’s absolutely something you have to be open to and this was a little bit of the strategy on building up draft picks once we were where we were in the standings and we had to pivot this year,” Adams said. “So will we do that? I don’t know. (You) certainly want to use your draft picks, but if it was the right thing for our organization, then we would potentially be interested in that.”

Adams said he has spoken to Francis “many times.”

“Just kind of sharing, asking him questions about his thoughts, he’s asked me where we’re headed in certain ways but (we) haven’t gotten down the road far enough yet on exactly players because still a lot can change,” he said. “I think he’s still going through that process on their side as well.

“I think from his standpoint, he looks at our team currently constructed, he knows there’s going to be players available to him that are good hockey players, and I think that’s what he’s excited about.”

Of course, Adams and his staff have already gone through different versions of the Sabres’ potential protected list.

“But … it’ll go right toward the end of when we have to put the actual list together because a lot can change between now and then,” he said.

Adams said he and associate GM Jason Karmanos have talked “to a lot of different people” about the Sabres’ head coaching vacancy.

“Myself and Jason Karmanos have met with people from NHL experience background, American Hockey League,” he said. “We’ve talked to college coaches. We’ve talked to people with European backgrounds, and we’re continuing to go through that.

“For me, I’ve learned from every one of those conversations. We’ll work our way through a number of people.”

Adams said he doesn’t have a timeline for making a hire.

“We’ll narrow it down and get a little further into the weeds on some maybe hockey-specific type questions and fit and kind of go that direction,” he said. “That’s really the update real-time where we’re at. We’ve had a number of discussions with a number of different people and more to come.”

Interim coach Don Granato, who earned praise from Adams and his players for his work transforming the Sabres, is considered a strong candidate.

On Thursday, the Sudbury Wolves announced they will draft Hamburg native Quentin Musty, 15, first overall in the Ontario Hockey League Priority Selection.

Musty, a winger, is the first American-born player drafted No. 1 overall since defenseman Jacob Chychrun in 2014.

After developing in the Jr. Sabres organization, Musty played the 2020-21 season with the North Jersey Avalanche, recording four goals and seven points in four games.

Also on Thursday, Michigan defenseman Owen Power, 18, earned Player of the Game honors in Team Canada’s 2-1 overtime win over Russia at the World Championship.

Power, who’s ranked first among North American skaters in NHL Central Scouting’s final ranking of 2021 draft prospects, played a team-high 24 minutes, 2 seconds.

The prospect could be taken first overall by the Sabres on July 23.

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