BUFFALO – If the Sabres pay Ryan O’Reilly his $7.5 million bonus by midnight, the dynamic of any potential trade for the center would change, general manager Jason Botterill said.
Speaking earlier in the day on a conference call, Botterill explained based on his conversations with other teams, paying the money would mean the Sabres have a new asking price.
“But we’ve always said, if we are going to make any movements on our team, we certainly will look at them because of where we finished in the standings, but it would have to make sense to make it to improve our team,” said Botterill, whose Sabres finished dead last in 2017-18.
Botterill isn’t surprised teams have asked him about O’Reilly, a former NHL All-Star who logs big minutes playing in all situations.
“When people are calling me to talk about our team, they’re looking at our good players, and Ryan is certainly one of them,” he said. “We’ve talked about his reputation throughout the league.”
While trading O’Reilly would fetch the Sabres a nice return, it’s likely none of the assets coming back would be able to replace him, at least right away.
Given how the Toronto Maple Leafs beefed up Sunday, signing star center John Tavares to a seven-year, $77 million contract, the Sabres might need O’Reilly more than ever.
The Sabres’ fiercest Atlantic Division rival now possess arguably the league’s best group of pivots. The Sabres need a ferocious checker like O’Reilly to contain Tavares, Nazem Kadri and Auston Matthews four of five times a season.
The Sabres had to pay O’Reilly his bonus, part of his seven-year, $52.5 million contract, by Sunday.
In addition to adding goalie Carter Hutton on Sunday after free agency opened, the Sabres signed or re-signed three players: winger Scott Wilson, goalie Scott Wedgewood and defenseman Brandon Hickey.
More on the signings:
– Wilson signed a two-year, $2.10 million deal.
The Sabres did not tender Wilson as a restricted free agent so they could avoid arbitration.
“We’ve always wanted to bring Scott back to our group,” Botterill said. “We just didn’t want to go through the salary arbitration process. We just wanted to work more in just our team salary structure. … A big reason we made this trade earlier in the season is we want Scott’s tenacity on the forecheck, the fact that he’s played in playoff games.”
Wilson, 26, compiled six goals and 14 points in 49 games last season after the Sabres acquired him from the Detroit Red Wings on Dec. 4, 2017.
– Wedgewood signed to a one-year, two-way contract.
The 6-foot-2, 195-pound Wedgewood, 25, went 5-9-4 with a 3.45 goals-against average and a .893 save percentage in 20 games with the Arizona Coyotes last season.
Wedgwood is likely ticketed for the Rochester Americans next season.
Botterill said the Sabres wanted to have a strong No. 3 goalie in the organization.
“You look at Scott’s background, what he’s accomplished in the American Hockey League, and then especially this past season, getting more NHL experience, we felt it was great to have a goalie with NHL experience to come into that role, but also, too, with his age, we feel that there’s growth there,” he said.
– Hickey signed a two-year, entry-level contract.
The Sabres acquired Hickey’s rights from the Coyotes on June 14. The Boston University product participated in Buffalo’s development camp last week.
Like Wedgewood, Hickey, 22, should start next season in the AHL.
“Brandon felt very comfortable becoming a part of the Sabres organization,” Botterill said. “You just look at the way he plays, his ability to create, we feel he’s a guy who can fit into what we’re trying to accomplish here.”
If Hickey waited, he could’ve become a free agent Aug. 15.
While the Sabres traded for Conor Sheary on Wednesday, they still look thin on the wing. Some speed and scoring to flank their centers would help.
“We just didn’t see there was a fit that worked well for us, for our team, especially with some the term that was going out with some of the contracts out there,” Botterill said. “We’re excited about some of the players that we are bringing into our organization from that aspect and we’ll continue to look to see who that is.
“But as much as we think that, ‘Hey, maybe we could add a little bit more scoring to the wing,’ we’re also very happy with the strength that we have down the center right now.”