The Buffalo Sabres re-signed two key restricted free agents on Thursday in forward Casey Mittlestadt and defenseman Henri Jokijarju. Both were re-upped to matching three-year contracts a total salary of $7.5 million, with an annual average value of $2.5 million per season.
After struggling to find his game under former bench boss Ralph Krueger, Mittlestadt started to find his groove under current head coach Don Granato, seeing more ice time, which allowed him to tally 17 points in the final 22 games, while returning to his natural center position. The 2017 Sabres first-round pick has faced his fair share of adversity since joining the hockey club, jumping between the NHL club and the team’s AHL affiliate, paired with moving up and down the lineup and moving to the wing position. Now, with a solidified extension, and given the trust he’s earned so far under coach Granato, the Edina, Minnesota native has a chance to play a full season on Buffalo’s top two lines, which includes time on the power play as well.
The other restricted free agent signed in Henri Jokiharju is also poised to take on a bigger role this season, given the trade of Rasmus Ristolainen to Philadelphia. The defenseman, along with Rasmus Dahlin, and the young core of this team are set to take on more ice time and more responsibilities, as the franchise appears set out towards a rebuild. Last season, Jokiharju, through 46 contests, amassed eight points, tallying three goals and five assists.
The only remaining free agent yet to sign is Rasmus Dahlin. I think it’s safe to say that a bridge deal is not what the 21-year-old will be looking for, given how he played and thrived under Don Granato. The native of Trollhättan, Sweden displayed flashes of pure dominance and showed his skills during the second half of the season, which may have him looking for a long-term deal. My guess would be a seven or eight-year deal with an AAV in the realm of $7.5-9 million per season. Here’s a look at some defensemen comparable contracts that may appear similar to what Dahlin might be seeking.
1.) Miro Heiskanen (DAL) – Cap Hit $8,450,000
2.) Thomas Chabot (OTT) – Cap Hit $8,000,000
3.) Zachary Werenski (CBJ) – Cap Hit $9,583,333
With training camp approaching this month, the former 2018 first overall pick and the Sabres will continue to negotiate and hopefully secure an extension in the coming weeks, with the hope of completing an agreement prior to training camp. Buffalo is set to open their preseason on September 28th against the Columbus Blue Jackets, which will provide young prospects an optimal opportunity to show their skills and attempt to earn a roster spot where numerous vacancies still remain.