Here we go again. After a hot start to the season, the Sabres have now dropped five straight. In a spooky deja vu moment, they have dropped from first place in the NHL to out of a playoff spot in a matter of a few weeks.
However, in comparison to last season, the Sabres are equipped with a much deeper roster and hold some interesting cards to play as their defensemen get healthy. It is widely anticipated that Jason Botterill is considering his trade options, perhaps even pushing to make a deal, and is likely looking for an upgrade or two at forward.
Let’s explore some of the most likely trade targets and what they might bring to the club as an asset. The first name a familiar one, as I actually brought his name up as a target in my first DBTB piece at the turn of the new year - Tyler Toffoli.
Toffoli was anticipated to be a name available come trade deadline, given that he will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season and there are no contract negotiations with the Kings in sight. However, to add fuel to the fire, Toffoli has quickly fallen out of favor with new head coach Todd McLellan, who sat Toffoli as a healthy scratch at the end of October.
As the Kings are currently flirting with being the cellar dweller of the Western Conference, perhaps they become a team that is willing to create an early-season shake-up. They are giving up a lot of goals, and scoring has not been their issue so far this season, so parting with a forward like Toffoli would be their best bet.
As far as what he can bring to the Sabres, the hope there would be goal scoring. Toffoli scored 31 goals in the 2015-2016 season, and was a twenty-goal scorer two other times. He is coming off of a down year in only netting 13 goals, though he has four in 16 games so far to start this season.
When looking into whether his career year was an outlier, or if he can recreate it, it can be pointed to that his expected goals and his Corsi-for numbers are strong indicators in favor of a rebound to top form. In other words, Toffoli is getting the chances, and perhaps a switch up of teammates and a change of scenery can bring that out of him.
It should be noted that, in order to add Toffoli, the Sabres would have to make salary cap room for his 4.6 million dollar cap hit. This would likely mean salary, in the form of a current player, being traded back to Los Angeles. While this is certainly doable for the Kings. as they have over five million in cap space currently, they would have to be willing to accept the quality of player and contract coming back in return.
While, in looking around the league, Toffoli seems the most likely target, there are a few other avenues that Botterill could explore if this one doesn’t pan out.
Winnipeg has long been attached to potentially acquiring an NHL defenseman, and the Sabres certainly have an overload of them. Some of the rumoured bargaining chips they are holding are Nikolaj Ehlers, Jack Roslovic, and Mathieu Perreault.
Ehlers is a big, fancy name to be throwing out there, and if he ever becomes available the Sabres should definitely jump on that. He brings speed, good production, and strong sustainability numbers to the table. However, it’s unlikely the Jets would be willing to part with such a key forward mid-season, especially given that he is locked in long-term.
Roslovic is very interesting in that is a former first-rounder who feels like he isn’t quite getting the opportunity he deserves in Winnipeg. His production has suffered due to his limited role, but he has strong defensive metrics. Perhaps if given an opportunity in the Sabres top six he could show a bit more offensively.
Perreault would be considered by some to be a “salary dump”, but not by me. At age 31, he has two years at slightly over four million per year as a cap hit and a modified no-trade clause. Last season, he recorded 15 goals and 15 assists for 30 points, while playing the majority of the time on the 3rd and 4th line. Not only is his production strong in limited minutes, but he also has really strong corsi numbers and good expected-goal totals. He even has been very good on the power-play, as his advanced metrics will tell you.
It seems like the only thing he is missing, is opportunity. Maybe that opportunity could be with his former teammate in Washington, Marcus Johansson. Perreault is certainly poised to help up and down the lineup, and could prove to be a very cheap and valuable get.
Here’s a quick rundown of the rest of the potential targets:
- Ondrej Kase was rumoured to be part of the nixed Justin Faulk deal to go to Carolina, so he could and should be a guy Buffalo is interested in. Anaheim has had a pretty good start to their season, though, and after acquiring Erik Gudbranson for cheap I doubt they’d go for a major shake-up.
- If Anaheim balks on Kase, former team USA hero Troy Terry is another interesting name on the wing. He has struggled to get going in his NHL career to-date.
- A player who seems to not quite fit into a role with his club is Minnesota Wild center/winger Joel Eriksson Ek. He hasn’t quite yet taken that next step in being a top-six forward, but he has some postive metrics to indicate maybe he’ll get there. The Wild certainly don’t need a defenseman, however, so I’m not sure the fit is there as a trade partner.
- Nashville, somewhat surprisingly, has struggled defensively this season. In looking at their forward group, they also have two miscast forwards as well. This reeks as a recipe for a dark-horse trade partner for the Sabres. Craig Smith has been stuck in a third-line role with the team. As an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, perhaps it is time for Smith and the Predators to part ways sooner than later. Smith’s truly a complete player, and would be a major impact player if acquired.
- The other seemingly miscast Predators forward, Kyle Turris, I would stay far away from. Although he’s had success in the past, Turris has five years remaining at six million per year at age 30. He’s been relegated to the 4th line, and I don’t see any indicators that he will turn it around.
- Last but not least is a forward who always seems to make most of his limited opportunity. Brandon Pirri of the Vegas Golden Knights continues to outproduce his competition, yet get overlooked at his job long-term. He brings a heck of a shot and a well-rounded game to the table, and if the Sabres can add him for little in return it would be very well to do so.