Restricted free agency has ended for the NWHL. General managers have spent the last month working the phones to retain their key players from the league’s inaugural season, as well as their picks from the 2015 entry draft. Despite their best efforts, there are nearly 100 unsigned players left that either played for, practiced with, or were drafted into the NWHL last season.
The Buffalo Beauts seem to have struggled to re-sign their players. While teams like Boston and New York appear to have had an aggressive strategy in the RFA period, Buffalo and Connecticut have taken more of an observatory approach. The Beauts re-signed defenseman Paige Harrington, and they became the first team to sign a player that they had drafted when they signed goaltender Amanda Leveille. Then on May 2, they announced the signing of Olympian Lisa Chesson
That leaves a lot of room for GM and coach Ric Seiling. Between the three, only $42,000 in salary is tied up, leaving the team with $227,000 to divide among 14 remaining roster spots. This freedom leaves a lot of possibilities for the Beauts, who could benefit from the presence of several star players that remain on the free agent market.
Potential Cap Hit: $20,000-24,000
For much of the 2015 season, the Buffalo Beauts struggled with secondary scoring. Through week 13 of the season, 85 percent of Buffalo’s goals came from their top six forwards. Before week 13, only one defenseman had scored a goal for the Beauts.
Kacey Bellamy is a playmaking force on the blueline. She finished with 1.08 points per game for the Boston Pride in 2015-16 – two goals and 12 assists, and added four assists in the Pride’s playoff run. Her two goals both came on the power play – an area which Buffalo struggled for the entire season.
Her national team experience with potential returning Beauts Emily Pfalzer and Megan Bozek would help to diminish the time it might take for the defensive core to learn how to play with each other. Having a familiar face will benefit these veteran defensemen as they seek to continue the success they had in the second half of the season and into the playoffs.
Bellamy is an international superstar, who serves as an alternate captain for Team USA. For a Buffalo team that seemed short on leadership at times, Bellamy would be a welcome addition to the dressing room.
Potential Cap Hit: $18,000-$20,000
One of the most surprising names to emerge from the pack in the NWHL’s inaugural season was Shiann Darkangelo.
She led the Connecticut Whale in goals with 10, despite the fact that she played in only 13 games. She also added three assists in the season. The sizeable forward adds height to a roster that was notably diminutive, though Darkangelo’s speed fits in nicely with the hard-and-fast strategy that Buffalo employed through much of the 2015-16 season.
Darkangelo would fulfill the role played by Kelley Steadman last season. With her size and speed, she is easily released on a fast breakout, and her 21.7 shooting percentage demonstrates how deadly she is with the puck on her stick.
The national team forward played two seasons for upstate New York’s Syracuse University in her college career, so she is somewhat familiar with the region. If Buffalo can manage to sign a dynamic playmaker like Bellamy, she and Darkangelo would be one of the most dangerous threats in the league.
Potential Cap Hit: $15,000-$17,500
Despite playing on a Boston Pride team that was overflowing with National Team talent, Bolden made a name for herself as one of the team’s best defenders. As Buffalo rounded out the second half of their season, and made a run to the Isobel Cup championship, their defensive unit became one of the major keys to their success.
The offensive offerings of Pfalzer, and especially Bozek, really helped to launch the team out of the basement and into a more favorable first round matchup.
The offensive push by the defensive players was huge for the team, but it assured that the Beauts need strong blueliners to pair with Pfalzer and Bozek. There may be no better fit in the league that Bolden, who backed some of the league’s most skilled defensive scoring threats in her time with the Pride.
Bolden also played in all 18 games for the Pride. Her strong, steady game would be an immeasurable addition to a team that struggled with consistency throughout their inaugural effort.
The New York Riveters continued their aggressive approach, and signed Kaliegh Fratkin and Amanda Kessel on the first day of unrestricted free agency. It would benefit Seiling and the Beauts greatly if Buffalo demonstrated similar aggression.
While there is time left, and there are a lot of players still available, a sense of urgency would demonstrate to players and fans alike that Seiling has a clear of direction for the team and the Beauts are committed to moving toward hoisting the Isobel Cup in 2017.