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Do the Sabres Have a Second Untouchable on the Main Roster?

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Is Jack Eichel really the only untouchable player on the current NHL roster?

NHL: Edmonton Oilers at Buffalo Sabres Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Is Jack Eichel the only player on the Sabres who is off limits? Elliotte Friedman said on Hockey Night in Canada. “Now, I do think if you’re going to ask about a Ristolainen or a Marco Scandella or a Sam Reinhart, you better be coming with a serious offer because I don’t think Buffalo is going to trade those guys unless the offer is great. But I think they are prepared to listen to everyone except the franchise player.”

If this were true, should there be any other players who should be untouchable, aside from obviously a prospect like Casey Mittelstadt? The only two players who this may apply to could be Rasmus Ristolainen and Ryan O’Reilly. There are also some who believe Evander Kane shouldn’t be traded and signed to an extension.

I have a very hard time seeing how Ristolainen trade offers can even be entertained unless it was an outrageous deal, which was kind of what Friedman suggested, to begin with.

The Sabres simply do not have another player on the roster who can do what Ristolainen does for this team. He leads the team in ice time per game in even strength and shorthanded situations. He is only a hair behind Eichel in powerplay ice time per game. He’s also having his best year as a possession player with a 2.4 CF% Rel, and a 49.6 CF%, although this hasn’t translated into more points, especially as the powerplay is near the bottom of the league

Brendan Guhle is the only prospect in the system that might be capable of playing against the top competition in the NHL.

You can always make an argument that the Sabres shouldn’t trade Robin Lehner because it could have disastrous consequences on the goaltending situation here, but goaltenders are much easier to acquire than top pair defenseman. We also have a viable option to replace Lehner down the road in Linus Ullmark, and we also just drafted Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen.

A trade of Ristolainen would also leave Zach Bogosian as the team’s top right-handed defenseman, and lone right-handed shot from the defense. More help could be on the way in a couple years with Casey Fitzgerald, and Will Borgen, but it’s doubtful either of those two would ever be able to replace what Ristolainen can do in his role.

Two years ago, the Sabres once had a surplus of right-handed defenseman with Ristolainen, Bogosian, Pysyk, and Franson. Now a surplus has turned into a deficit when Pysyk was moved last year, and with Franson leaving for free agency. Hopefully, Borgen and Fitzgerald can help add depth to the Sabres down the road.

The only deal that would make sense to me would and this is just an idea, not a rumor of any sort: trading Ryan O’Reilly for a player like Justin Faulk, and then trading Ristolainen for a younger, cheaper centerman.

Faulk is younger and has less term with two years left on his deal after this season, and at the major bargain, cap hit of 4.8 million. However, after that two years is up, Faulk is going to be getting a huge raise into the 7-8 million per year range. O’Reilly has five years left, at 7.5 million per season.

With Ryan O’Reilly, the Sabres have one of the strongest two-way forwards in the game. Some fans who do not watch the Sabres regularly will quickly point out his cap hit and contract term, and how no team will pick that up for a big return. This could not be further from the truth as O’Reilly does too many things of value to not be worthy of a nice return.

He’s turning 27 in February and signed for another five years through the age of 32. He’s at the peak of his career, and with the cap trending upwards, his 7.5 million cap hit would be a bargain for any team who acquires him. There could also be a lot of suitors because of his versatility, strong two-way game, and most importantly, his position as a center.

I wouldn’t be surprised if a team like Carolina were interested in the top six help, and O’Reilly to Hurricanes, in particular, would be interesting because of Jordan Staal’s presence. They could play them both on the same line and form one of the toughest lines to play against in the league or keep them separate, giving them two of the strongest two-way centers in the game. He would certainly be a boost to their top six forward group.

The St. Louis Blues could also be interested in a potential replacement for Paul Stastny, but they also have a potential internal replacement in prospects Jordan Kyrou and Robert Thomas. We don’t know however if Kyrou or Thomas will make their roster next year, but with all of the prospects on the Blues, they should remain good for a long time.

They will also get a healthy Robby Fabbri back next year but will be coming off a serious knee injury. Kyrou and Thomas are first, and fourth in OHL scoring, and are both under 20.

Speaking of the OHL, in case you were wondering, Cliff Pu is 11th in OHL scoring and is having a great year playing with Robert Thomas. Keep an eye on Max Jones, with the Knights as well, as he is on one of the teams that could be interested in Evander Kane with the Anaheim Ducks.

Maybe the New York Islanders become interested in the offseason. If they lose John Tavares this summer, they could be looking for a potential replacement if they don’t have faith in the internal help coming from the system. They’re also poised to lose Josh Bailey who is their leading scorer this year, and Jordan Eberle will be entering a contract year next summer.

A Ryan O’Reilly trade would likely do two things for the Sabres: free up a lot of cap space, and open up a door for Casey Mittelstadt to make the team as the second line center. They could also get a piece in the return that ends up competing with Mittelstadt for the job, as well as signing a free agent for a middle six role.

While Ryan O’Reilly might have been envisioned in Tim Murray’s plans, it is quite possible that O’Reilly may not be apart of Jason Botterill’s long-term vision for the Sabres.

Such a move would probably be more likely over the summer as opposed to the deadline. When Evander Kane is traded, an O’Reilly trade afterwards would create not one, but two huge voids on the Sabres. The team leans heavily on the trio of O’Reilly, Kane, and Eichel, and all three log over 20 minutes a night.

O’Reilly is also this team’s top faceoff man winning 61.5% of draws. He’s been the top faceoff man in the league with a minimum 100 draws taken. Antoine Vermette and Luke Glendening are second and third in the league with faceoffs. The Sabres next best faceoff man is Johan Larsson, who has won 49% of his draws. Jack Eichel has hovered around 40-41% of draws won this year.

You may also note that O’Reilly has been a negative Corsi player so far this year with a -1.3 CF% Rel, but he’s also starting a career-high 59% in the defensive zone. Only Larsson is leaned on more for the defensive zone starts than O’Reilly. O’Reilly has been a positive Corsi player his entire career, despite starting more than 53% of his career in the defensive zone with both Buffalo and Colorado.

This hasn’t been his finest season, but there is no questioning all that Ryan O’Reilly does for the Sabres, and is still young enough to be apart of the long-term picture here. We know Jack Eichel, and Casey Mittelstadt are both off limits, but should anyone else on the team, or in the system be labelled as untouchable?