The 2016-17 season was expected to be one in which Nathan Beaulieu -- Montreal's first-round draft pick in 2011 -- broke out, and in many ways he did. Elevated to a top-four role, including opening the year as Shea Weber's partner, Beaulieu posted a career-high 28 points, including 12 on the power play, tying him with Andrei Markov despite much fewer minutes. So, how did he go from that level to a healthy scratch in the final playoff game? Beaulieu excelled when he focused on the man advantage and penalty kill, but breakdowns occurred under the dynamics of even-strength play. Beaulieu was ultimately given less ice time under Claude Julien, and the playoff benching was the proverbial writing on the wall that he'd end up with a one-way ticket out of Montreal. However, instead of losing him for nothing in the expansion draft, Montreal flipped Beaulieu to Buffalo for a third-round pick. He signed a two-year deal, avoiding arbitration and bringing offensive upside to the Sabres.
Beaulieu agreed to a two-year deal with the Sabres on Monday. Initially, it appeared Beaulieu and the Sabres were heading toward arbitration, but the two sides came to terms on a deal that will pay Beaulieu $4.8 million over the next two seasons. The defenseman spent last season with the Canadiens, for whom he tallied four goals and 24 assists in 74 games, all career highs. Beaulieu is expected to play a top-four role for the Sabres this coming season, and if he can replicate last year's success it's a great value deal. He will be a restricted free agent at the end of the contract, which will give the Sabres some leverage in their next contract negotiation.
Beaulieu has filed for salary arbitration, Bill Hoppe of the Times Herald reports. Beaulieu was dealt from the Canadiens to the Sabres in mid-June and was recently extended a qualifying offer, as Buffalo likes the 24-year-old's upside. After he filed for arbitration, however, a hearing will be set for later in July, when the two sides will argue the details of a contract in front of a third-party arbiter. They'll still be able to negotiate a contract in the meantime, so there's a chance the two sides reach a deal prior to the hearing.
Beaulieu received a qualifying offer to remain property of the Sabres. Qualifying Beaulieu was just a formality, as the Sabres made it clear they see him as a piece of their young core and will likely sign him to a longer and more lucrative extension. Acquired in a trade from Montreal, Beaulieu finished with 28 points in 74 games with a plus-8 rating this past season, all of which were career highs. On a team that will give him a chance to play a bigger role, 30-40 points isn't out of the question for Beaulieu, especially if he pairs up with Rasmus Ristolainen on the power play. With nearly $25 million in cap space, the Sabres should have no problems re-signing the promising 24-year-old defenseman.
Beaulieu, who was recently acquired from Montreal, was one of three defensemen protected by the Sabres. It wouldn't have made sense for the Sabres to acquire Beaulieu for a third-round pick and then potentially lose him for free to Vegas, but it also means veterans Zach Bogosian and Josh Gorges were left unprotected. Assuming the Sabres lose one of them to Vegas, that opens the door for Beaulieu to play a significant top-four role after scoring a career-high 28 points in 74 games with the Habs. The 24-year-old is clearly considered a piece of the future moving forward, and his two-way play should be able to take some pressure off Rasmus Ristolainen and Jake McCabe.
The Canadiens traded Beaulieu to the Sabres on Saturday in exchange for a 2017 third-round draft pick. Habs GM Marc Bergevin looks to be overhauling the blue line in a major way, as Beaulieu counts as the third defenseman he's done away with this week; the chief boss also shipped away prospect Mikhail Sergachev (Tampa Bay) and announced that he wouldn't be issuing a qualifying offer to Nikita Nesterov. Of course, this may be the groundwork for an eventual deal involving forward Alex Galchenyuk. Beaulieu makes sense for the Sabres, though, as he's a smart two-way player who can work on the man advantage. Over 74 games this past season, he recorded four goals, 24 assists, 102 blocked shots and a plus-8 rating. With Dmitry Kulikov unlikely to return to the team, Beaulieu will likely play on the third pairing to begin the season, but may end up playing a bigger role if Josh Gorges gets injured, which seems like an annual occurrence.
Rank Among Leaders
Last 7 Games
|3 Year Avg||67||2||16||19||3||1||0||0||0||0||75|