With just two days left in the NWHL’s free-agency period, and six roster spots remaining, Buffalo Beauts General Manager Ric Seiling has some work to do. The team has $127,500 remaining in their salary cap budget to sign the remaining players ($21,250 average per player), which could mean that Seiling is pursuing some of the bigger names in women’s hockey.
One can safely assume the return of star defenders Emily Pfalzer and Megan Bozek. The pair of national team blueliners were integral to the Beauts’ success in their inaugural season, with Pfalzer serving as team captain and Bozek contributing to the team’s anemic power play in the second half push that drove Buffalo to the Isobel Cup Finals.
It can also be assumed that US National Team captain Meghan Duggan will not be returning to the Beauts.
As reported by Kate Cimini on twitter, sources close to Duggan have indicated she’ll be playing elsewhere in 2016-17. The superstar likely chose Buffalo in 2015 because of its proximity to Clarkson University, where Duggan was an assistant coach.
However, the power forward has resigned from that position to focus on playing and preparing for the 2018 Olympic Games. It stands to reason that she would want to play closer to her home in Massachusetts.
In their first season, the Beauts carried five defenders, which impacted the team negatively on more than one occasion — when Bozek and Pfalzer had to attend USNT responsibilities, Buffalo’s back end was badly weakened.
The team had practice players that were able to fill in, but players like Bozek and Pfalzer aren’t so easily replaced. When Pfalzer was with the team, she shouldered a heavy load, with extensive 5-on-5 time, as well as serving both special teams units.
Likely, Seiling and co-coach Craig Muni are searching for a sixth defender this year.
With Lindsay Grigg heading to Sweden, Kelly McDonald is the last unsigned defender Buffalo’s roster from last season, and did an admirable job in the third pairing role.
With nine assists, she was second on the team behind Duggan, Bozek and Pfalzer, who each had 10. McDonald added two more assists in the playoffs, which lead the team in the postseason. McDonald proved herself to be reliable, and it’s surprising she’s unsigned heading into year two.
Another NWHL veteran has expressed interest in playing defense for the Buffalo Beauts. Former New York Riveters defenseman Sydney Kidd recently attended the free agent camp hosted at Buffalo’s HarborCenter, where she spoke about her plans for the future.
The Ontario native has committed to finishing her degree, and she hopes to play hockey close to home.
At the Buffalo camp, Kidd told Today’s Slapshot, “Buffalo’s got a lot of shifty forwards; I think offering some more offense from the defensive end, too…no team ever hates that, right? When a defenseman can move the puck quickly up the boards…I would love to sign a contract with Buffalo.”
If the team were to sign another defenseman, along with the requisite second goaltender, that leaves three slots open for forwards. The Beauts recently added size to their forward lines by picking up former Boston Pride middle-six winger Corinne Buie.
Though buried on an uber-talented Pride team, Buie could very well end up playing first-line minutes with Shelby Bram and Kelley Steadman. With the team’s second line of Hailey Browne, Kourtney Kunichika, and Devon Skeats solidified, the Beauts will be looking to add speed, depth scoring and perhaps physicality for their third line.
The league has held two free agent camps in the offseason, and in Today’s Slapshot’s reports on both the Newark and Buffalo camps, forward Hayley Williams has stood out from the crowd.
Kate Cimini identified Williams as one of the premier players attending the Newark camp, and Williams reprised that role in Buffalo, designated by Seiling to lead stretches and drills. Williams’ speed, strength, and tenacity were on full display at the HarborCenter, and these skills could easily fit in with Emily Janiga’s playmaking abilities.
By some remarkable stroke of luck (likely related to her time with the US National Team) Shiann Darkangelo is still available on the free-agent market.
Darkangelo, who played for the Whale last season, is among the most underrated in the NWHL. Despite her scoring prowess (13 points in the regular season) and her impressive physical game, the young American is frequently overlooked for bigger names like Hilary Knight.
Though Darkangelo’s talents would be wasted on the third line, she could easily work her way up to the top line, with Kelley Steadman on the far wing.
As July 31 approaches, with it comes the free agency deadline.
Although Buffalo has laid a strong foundation, there are still several positions to be filled that could make or break their second season. The money left for Seiling to spend is substantial — he should be able to draw top-notch talent to fill his last six spots.
The Beauts have the option of returning some familiar faces or flashing the cash and attempt to draw top veteran talent from other rosters. Whichever Seiling and the Beauts do, it’s going to be an interesting weekend for women’s hockey fans everywhere.