The Buffalo Sabres made their marquee move of this offseason on Sunday evening by trading center Ryan O’Reilly to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for five pieces. Three players and two draft picks.
I haven’t seen a trade that varied on opinions like this one has in some time. You’ll have your people that love it and all the way at the other end of the spectrum you’ll find the people who hate it. Of course, some people will fall in the middle, but the majority seems to fall at either end of the spectrum with their thoughts.
Once the return coming back to the Sabres was announced, you saw an initial reaction of fans looking for the big prospect in this move. There was no Robert Thomas, Colton Parayko, Jordan Kyrou or even Klim Kostin. Instead, the prospect centerpiece was 2016 first round pick, Tage Thompson.
I’ll admit I had the same reaction at first. We saw reports that Thomas was not part of any trade talks, but personally, I believed the Sabres were going to pull either Kyrou or Kostin out of the Blues. I didn’t think much about the idea of Thompson.
At the crux of it, that’s the primary issue people have with this trade. The Sabres didn’t land the big, blue-chip prospect.
Well, pump the brakes.
Thompson may not have the ceiling of Thomas, but he’s still a good prospect. The 20-year-old is a big forward with playmaking ability and a lethal shot that could be a good match with a playmaking center.
Is he the fastest skater in the league? No. He’s an adequate NHL skater, however.
At times, we get a little carried away with the whole speed thing. It’s understandable seeing that the Sabres were arguably the slowest team in the league and they need an infusion of speed.
There’s a difference though between being a fast skater and playing the game fast. Justin Bailey and Nick Baptiste are really fast. How well as that served them?
Sam Reinhart isn’t the fastest skater, but he can diagnose the game quickly, which allows him to play fast. He scored 25 goals last season.
The puck moves faster than any skater on the ice. While the Sabres need to add some actual speed (which they’ve done in Conor Sheary and Rasmus Dahlin), they also need to bring in players who can play fast. Move the puck up the ice quickly with decisiveness.
Thompson isn’t going to win every foot race, but he has the potential to play the game quickly. Find the opening in the defense and allow his teammates to find him to unload his great shot. He can be a force on the forecheck with size as well. Something the Sabres have lacked in the last few years on the wing.
During his media availability today, the Phoenix-born forward talked about how the Sabres have indicated they have big plans for him next season as part of the roster. So, he’ll likely get the opportunity to make an impact right away.
St.Louis was in a position where they wanted to go money in, money out with this deal. Earlier in the day the Blues signed Tyler Bozak in free agency and only had a little over $7 million in cap space.
Therefore the Sabres took on two NHL players in Vladimir Sobotka and Patrik Berglund. Sobotka was perhaps the true salary dump in this deal, as Berglund provides a little more value.
Sobotka, who has two-years left on his deal that carries a $3.5 million cap hit, turned 31-years-old yesterday. Berglund has four-years remaining with a $3.85 million cap hit, just turned 30-years-old in June.
Neither player is going make fans super excited, but they both accomplish a goal that was very important for Jason Botterill to address this offseason. They make the bottom six of the lineup better than what it was last season.
The two are better players than Zemgus Girgensons, Johan Larsson, Scott Wilson, Jacob Josefson, Jordan Nolan and arguably Jason Pominville at this point in his career. Berglund and Sobotaka will also give you more production from the bottom of the lineup. Especially at even strength.
Again, they’re not the best players that the Sabres general manager could have acquired, but an improvement nonetheless. Both have a track record of being serviceable in the NHL and specifically in the case of Berglund, brings a good leader into the room.
The last pieces of this trade were the two draft picks. The second-round pick is all the way out in 2021, so we’ll leave that alone for now.
Acquiring the 2019 first-round pick gives the Sabres three picks in the first round of next year’s draft. Both the Sharks and Blues picks have protections on them. However, we know both clubs are very likely making the playoffs.
The three picks give Botterill the ammunition to chase a top-six winger that the roster still appears to be craving for. He could address that this summer or wait until the draft next year to use the assets in a trade.
On the other hand, Botterill could grab three players in the first round to continue to stockpile the prospect pool next June.
Spare me the “these picks will be late first round picks” argument. Those same people wanted Thomas (20th overall pick), Kyrou (35th overall pick), Parayko (86th overall pick) and Kostin (31st overall pick). Nothing says picks in the back end of round one cannot turn into good players or carry value.
A first-round pick is a first-round pick.
Changing the Core
We can’t forget to discuss what moving O’Reilly off the roster does for the club. It obviously wasn’t working. The rumors about the locker room stuff were there and the post-season comments didn’t help the situation.
While the 27-year-old center is a very good hockey player, he didn’t make a big difference in getting the Sabres out of the basement of the NHL standings.
He won a lot of face offs.
At times, he also disappeared for long stretches of games and had lapses in the defensive zone that ended up in the net. I don’t think the speed was as big of an issue as some made it, but if you want it, that’s there too.
The Sabres got out from under his big contract, allow Casey Mittelstadt the opportunity to grab the second line center role and perhaps most importantly hand the team over to Jack Eichel.
Are the Sabres a more talented team after this trade? No, probably not. Do they have the potential to be a better overall hockey club after this trade? Yes, I believe they do.