We’re just under four weeks until the NHL Trade Deadline. The Toronto Maple Leafs got things started making the first “big trade” of trade season last night by acquiring Jake Muzzin from the Los Angeles Kings.
The Buffalo Sabres are in an interesting spot on what they’ll be looking to do at the deadline. The next three weeks will go a long way in determining if they want to sell a few pieces off or look to add a small piece for a playoff push.
It’s unlikely that Jason Botterill is going to use any of his three first-round picks unless he can find a deal that helps his team beyond just this season. Those type of big trades usually takes place in the summer.
That doesn’t mean that there are not players the Sabres could go out and use other assets to acquire that will help the club this season, as well as in the future. One such player that comes to mind is Washington Capitals forward Andre Burakovsky.
The Capitals appear to be testing the market for the Swedish native as a way to acquire assets to use for another move to help their roster defend their Stanley Cup. According to Elliotte Friedman’s 31 Thoughts last week, the Capitals are looking for multiple picks in exchange for the 23-year-old winger.
“On Burakovsky: The Capitals have asked for a couple of mid-to-high round draft picks in exchange (seconds and thirds would be a good get) for him. That would give them more flexibility and assets to chase what they need.”
This seems like a pretty inexpensive price to pay for a player like Burakovsky who has potential as a former first-round pick. He’s had a down year this season, but that part of that could be explained by his usage under new head coach Todd Reirden.
If you take note of the ‘DZ starts’ at the bottom of the chart above, you’ll see Reirden is using him in heavier defensive-zone starts this season. Last season, Barry Trotz used him in more offensive-zone starts and the numbers were much better.
Burakovsky is an offensively skilled player that isn’t known for his defensive game. He’ll have a bad turnover from time to time or make the occasional mental mistake. Putting him in more offensively favorable situations allows him to focus on the side of the game that he excels at and removes a lot of defensive liability off of his plate.
If the Sabres do end up acquiring him, Phil Housley will need to understand the usage that I laid out above to get maximum value out of Burakovsky.
The 2013 first-round pick would be a nice addition of size (6’3”), speed, and skill to a Sabres lineup that is lacking all of those traits in their forward group. He’ll also bring another interesting aspect to the roster as well.
If you watch the Sabres games it’s not hard to see that they struggle with entering the offensive zone with possession at 5 on 5. In fact, they really only have three or four players on the roster that are capable of doing this.
The chart below from Sean Tierney with data provided by Evolving Hockey shows that really only Jack Eichel and Casey Mittelstadt excel at carrying the puck into the neutral zone with possession.
Well, this also happens to be a strength of Burakovsky as you can see on the chart below.
Adding more players who can maintain possession entering the offensive zone gives your team the ability to create more scoring opportunities. It prevents having your forwards going to battle the opposing defense for possession on dump-ins and could result in extended zone time by maintaining puck control.
Burakovsky only has a career high of 17 goals, but last season he scored an 18 goal and 38 point pace in 56 games with the Capitals. That would have been a career high in goals and matched a career high in points.
He’s not going to come in here and light the lamp like Jeff Skinner but could be an important top-nine moving forward that fits the age timeline of the team right now. He’ll be a restricted-free-agent when the season ends and currently makes $3 million. Therefore, you have to assume he’ll be looking for a raise come July.
Where this could get sticky for the Sabres is the limited draft pick assets they have outside of the first round. They don’t have a 2019 second-round pick or a 2020 third-round pick at this point.
Their 2019 third-round pick and fourth-round pick are tied up in the condition from the Conor Sheary trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins. They also hold a 2019 fourth-round pick from the San Jose Sharks trade for Evander Kane, but the Sharks have the option to move that to a third-round pick in 2020 based on the conditions of the deal.
Botterill will need to get creative in a trade to acquire Burakovsky, but it shouldn’t be difficult to find a deal that works for both sides if they truly covet the young forward.
We’ll see if the Sabres make any moves over the next few weeks, but Burakovsky checks the boxes of what they’re looking for in adding a cheaper piece for the future.