By Mike Harrington
The Buffalo Sabres' top returning goal scorer and most prominent restricted free agent is back in the fold for the long term.
Multiple sources confirmed to The Buffalo News early this morning that the team has re-signed center Tyler Ennis to a five-year deal worth $23 million. The deal was first noted Wednesday by NHL Network analyst and former NHL goalie Kevin Weekes. The team announced at 10 a.m. that Ennis had signed a multi-year contract.
Ennis' cap hit of $4.6 million would thus put him behind only defenseman Tyler Myers ($5.5 million) and recently re-signed winner Matt Moulson ($5 million) on the Buffalo roster.
Ennis, 24, had a career-high 21 goals and 22 assists last season in 80 games. It was the back end of a two-year, $5.625 million "bridge" contract he signed in 2012 following the expiration of his entry-level deal.
It was expected he was looking for a long-term contract this time, akin to the six-year, $25.5 million pact Cody Hodgson got last summer from former general manager Darcy Regier. Hodgson's cap hit is $4.25 million.
There's been plenty of rumblings that new GM Tim Murray is no fan of the Hodgson contract, but both Murray and coach Ted Nolan have openly praised Ennis as a key player they want to move forward with and a deal was struck.
Ennis joined the Sabres for the final 10 games of the 2009-10 season. He was Buffalo's second first-round selection (26th overall) in 2008 out of Medicine Hat in the Western Hockey League. He has 69 goals, 97 assists and 166 points in 267 NHL games.
On Wednesday, the Sabres confirmed the signing of defenseman and fellow RFA Chad Ruhwedel to a two-year deal. The News learned late Wednesday night that deal was for $1.3 million, with Ruhwedel making $625,000 and $675,000 for a cap hit of $650,000. It is a two-way contract for next season ($70,000 in the AHL) and a one-way contract for 2015-16.
The deals leave the Sabres slightly more than $11 million under the the NHL's $69 million salary cap for next season. The cap payroll of more than $57 million puts the Sabres well above the floor figure of $51 million, leaving them plenty of flexibility for any possible trades this summer.
(An aside here: It would seem possible that Ruhwedel could start the season in Rochester, leaving a slightly higher-paid young defenseman like Mark Pysyk ($875,000) or Rasmus Ristolainen ($925,000) on the Buffalo roster, and adding another $200,000+ to the Sabres' cap figure.)
Ruhwedel, also 24, helped Massachusetts-Lowell to a Cinderella run to the NCAA Frozen Four in Pittsburgh in 2013 and then elected to leave school when the Sabres offered him a max salary contract ($925,000) and a guaranteed NHL roster spot for the final seven games of that season.
Ruhwedel played 21 games for Buffalo last season, collecting one assist, and had four goals and 24 assists in 47 games for Rochester. His 28 points were ranked second among Amerks defensemen and his five points in the playoff series against Texas (2g, 3a) were second on the Rochester team.
The Sabres' lone remaining RFA is forward Luke Adam, whom they gave a qualifying offer to but have yet to sign. It seems Adam would be ticketed for Rochester and not figure in the Sabres' plans, at least to start the season.
Among Sabres from last year, Henrik Tallinder, Jamie McBain, Matt D'Agostini and Zenon Konopka remain unrestricted free agents. None of them are expected to be re-signed by Buffalo.