When the Sabres claimed Cory Conacher on waivers, they hoped he could return to the player he was in his rookie season with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Buffalo had just traded some key forwards away, including Matt Moulson and Steve Ott, and had some openings on the top six that would allow for Conacher to get an opportunity.
The Sabres picked Conacher up for nothing, but now they have a decision to make. Conacher is a restricted free agent, meaning the Sabres could match any offer another team makes. Whether or not the Sabres should be interested in bringing him back at all is still up in the air.
The Ottawa Senators gave up on Conacher after paying a pretty hefty price to get him, goaltender Ben Bishop. Since being sent to Tampa Bay Bishop has established himself as one of the top young goaltenders in the league and was even considered for the US Olympic team. He was on pace to score about a point every three games, far from his 24 points in 35 games that he posted with the Lightning.
The Sabres hoped that in a new environment and with increased ice time Conacher could increase that pace. However, he didn't even come close, only scoring three goals and three assists in his 19 games in Buffalo. He wasn't able to stay in the top six either, making it all the way down to the fourth line in the last few games of the season. He averaged less icetime than Matt D'Agostini and Torrey Mitchell.
His advanced statistics don't look much better. He has a relative Corsi of -1.7%, towards the bottom of the Sabres roster. That slots him below both Ville Leino and Cody Hodgson. His relative Fenwick is even worse, with the only forwards below him being Cody McCormick, Zenon Konopka, Corey Tropp, and Patrick Kaleta.
Conacher is currently on his entry-level contract, with a cap-hit of 871,000 dollars a year. Based on his recent play he likely won't see a huge increase in his cap-hit, not that space is really an issue to Buffalo next season.
If the Sabres are really set on Connor McDavid and once again being one of the worst teams next season, to put it frank the Sabres will need bodies if they'd like to keep up the slow development of their young players. Buffalo needs forwards, and Conacher could be seen as a player who at least has shown offensive abilities at some point. However, Ted Nolan opting to go with Mitchell in the top-six at the end of the year, despite scoring two goals all season, isn't a good sign for Conacher. Nolan kept him on a very short leash, as Conacher faced the worst quality of competition of any Buffalo skater.
If the Senators are willing to give up on Conacher after giving up so much to get him, the Sabres likely wouldn't have a huge problem letting him go if they believe he didn't show any signs of turning things around offensively. Having the Canisius grad back in Buffalo was a great story, but it is likely that it will be short-lived. When it all comes together, Conacher struggles both on the score-sheet and possession-wise, as well as his increasingly diminishing position on the team, don't add up to a player that fits into the plans going forward.