The Buffalo Sabres sit eight points out of a playoff spot entering play last night as they sit idle on their bye week. It’ll be a large mountain to climb for the Sabres to get back into the race in the Eastern Conference and they’ll likely need some improvement on the roster to do so.
Last week, Anthony put together an extensive breakdown of values for the players on the roster if Jason Botterill wants to be a seller at the trade deadline. I’m going to go with the opposite approach here and will look at some players that could help them climb up the standings.
I’m not going to get into rental pieces like Tyler Toffoli, Chris Kreider, and Jean-Gabriel Pageau. It’s unlikely the Sabres will be in the rental market or want to pay the price to acquire those players. I’m going to focus on players that can help this season and beyond. Similar to the type of deal we saw last February with Brandon Montour.
Ryan Donato (F) | Minnesota Wild
Up first on the list is Boston-native Ryan Donato. The 23-year-old winger was a promising prospect for the Boston Bruins a few years ago but hasn’t lived up to the hype at this point. Last year he was traded to Minnesota Wild in the deal that saw the Bruins acquire Charlie Coyle.
Donato hasn’t played a full season in the NHL yet and has been rumored to be on the trade block for most of this season. He has nine goals and 15 points with the Wild this year. The 2014 second-round pick has the offensive talent to blossom into a top-nine forward in the right situation.
Ryan Donato has some sweet hands pic.twitter.com/6QHle7Jt52— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) November 29, 2019
He’s spent the majority of the season in a bottom-six role with the Wild playing with Victor Rask and Ryan Hartman as his most common teammates. It’s possible in a bigger role, that he could be more productive. He’s second on the Wild in expected goals per 60 (0.84) at 5 on 5, according to Moneypuck and has shown flashes of offensive upside in his brief NHL career. In a small sample, Micah McCurdy’s isolated impact model rates him as a solid two-way forward.
If the price is right, Donato would be a player worth taking a risk on. He’s a cost-controlled forward with only one more year on his contract after this season that carries a $1.90 million cap hit. After that, he’d become a restricted free agent.
Josh Anderson (F) | Columbus Blue Jackets
The big power-forward is an interesting player to look at. He’s battled injuries this season and is currently out a few more weeks with a shoulder injury. After scoring a career-high 27 goals and 47 points last season, he only has one goal this season.
A lot of the numbers point to a rebound on the horizon for the 25-year-old winger. He’s only shooting 1.6% this season and is shooting 3.6 goals below expected at 5 on 5, according to Moneypuck. He’s also second on the Blue Jackets in expected goals per 60 (0.86) this season and has continued to drive offense when he is in the lineup.
The question is whether or not the Jackets will want to move on from Anderson after one down year? He’s currently 19th on TSN’s Trade Bait list. They could look to move on from him because he’s headed into restricted free agency with arbitration rights. However, it likely won’t come cheap.
Ondrej Kase (F) | Anaheim Ducks
My favorite idea of this list is Anaheim Ducks forward, Ondrej Kase. The 24-year-old winger plays a style of hockey that could be a fit in the Sabres top six. His production numbers are not going to wow you. His career-high in goals is 20 and that was back in the 2017-18 season. He’s battled injury issues throughout his career, but when he’s on the ice he’s an impactful forward.
Last night Ondrej "The Energizer Bunny" Kase netted his first of two goals after a steal in the opposing zone! Watch out the @AnaheimDucks' young forward is getting hot #LetsGoDucks | @Ondrej_Kase pic.twitter.com/mziYVRiEux— FOX Sports San Diego (@FOXSportsSD) January 8, 2020
Micah’s isolated impact chart grades Kase out as an excellent two-way, play-driving winger. He’s also good at drawing penalties, which is something a handful of Sabres forwards do well.
Kase has one year remaining on his deal after this season that carries a $2.60 million cap hit and then he’ll become a restricted free agent. The Ducks are in the middle of another disappointing season and are looking to make changes to the roster. We know that Kase was available recently. He would have been traded to the Carolina Hurricanes in the summer if Justin Faulk did not refuse to waive his no-trade clause.
The Sabres and Ducks have worked out a deal in the past and Botterill should be inquiring about the winger’s availability.
Alexandar Georgiev (G) | New York Rangers
I’ll end the list by discussing a goaltending option in Alexandar Georgiev of the New York Rangers. The Rangers are looking to move the 23-year-old with their log jam in goal. Along with Georgiev, they have Henrik Lundqvist and promising young goaltender Igor Shestyorkin.
The Bulgarian goaltender has played well this season. According to Evolving Hockey, he ranks 23rd among goalies to play 500 minutes in goals saved above average and ninth in goals saved above expected. The Rangers as a team bleed shots at 5 on 5 and give up a lot of high-quality chances as you can see below.
To put it in perspective, here’s a look at the type of shot quality against that Linus Ullmark has faced this season.
Although goalies are voodoo and hard to predict, Georgiev could have success behind a good shot suppression defense that the Sabres have in place this season. A source has indicated to me that the Sabres are among a handful of teams that have expressed interest in Georgiev. However, unless the price drops, I wouldn’t expect them to pull the trigger in a trade for the goaltender. Reports have the Rangers seeking a young roster player or prospect on the verge of making the jump to the NHL.
Carter Hutton has struggled this season and the Sabres are leaning heavily on Linus Ullmark. It’ll be interesting to see what the Sabres do after this season with Hutton, as he still has one more year remaining on his contract. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen is at least two years away from seeing the NHL and the Sabres may want to add another goaltender to tandem with Ullmark to bridge to Luukkonen stepping into the NHL.
Even if the Sabres are not real contenders in the playoff picture, they can still look to add players to help them beyond this season. We’ll see how the team performs coming out of the break with an easy looking schedule in February. That’ll determine the route that Botterill takes on the February 24th trade deadline.