Although they’ll fall into the “seller” category, it doesn’t mean that Jason Botterill can’t make an addition to the roster that will help the team beyond this season. We saw him make a move like this last season with the acquisition of Brandon Montour.
The Sabres have a few pieces that they could move in a “hockey trade” to improve the talent on the roster. They still have an overabundance of players on defense and a few of those defenders could be fit the needs of other teams around the league. One such team could be the Carolina Hurricanes. They sit two points out of a playoff spot and have a need on the blue line after losing Norris Trophy candidate Dougie Hamilton a few weeks ago to an injury.
In his piece yesterday for The Athletic, Pierre LeBrun mentioned two players specifically that could be of interest the Hurricanes. Here’s the snippet from LeBrun:
“But there are other possibilities as well if Carolina looks to go the hockey route: Brandon Montour or Rasmus Ristolainen in Buffalo, for example.”
The trade rumors on Ristolainen go back as far as last deadline, but Montour is newer name that has come up lately. Both carry some value in the trade market and could be used as pieces to acquire an impact forward. The Hurricanes have a few forwards that could be interesting trade targets for the Sabres if the two sides were able to facilitate deal.
The realistic option at the top of the list could be winger Warren Foegele. The 23-year-old winger has played in a top-six role this season primarily with Jordan Staal and Andrei Svechnikov. If you remember, Foegele was a big part of the Hurricanes run to the Eastern Conference Finals last season. He score five goals and recorded nine points in 15 playoff games.
His overall production isn’t going to jump off the stat sheet. He’s on pace for career high of 15 goals and 37 points this season in his second full season in the NHL. Looking beyond his production, some underlying numbers indicate that he could be having an even better season. He’s currently shooting 4.6 goals below expected at 5 on 5, according to Moneypuck.
Foegele is a player that gets high quality shots in the offensive zone. Evolving Hockey has him ranked tied for seventh among all forwards to play at least 200 minutes in individual shot quality (ixG). He’s a good two-way forward that draws a lot of penalties and has the potential to be a solid top six winger in the NHL.
The Hurricanes could use him as a piece to improve their blue line with the emergence of 2017 first-round pick Martin Necas. Foegele is scheduled to become a restricted free agent this summer and that could also factor into the Hurricanes decision to move him in the right deal.
Another player that could be of interest to the Sabres is centerman Erik Haula. The 28-year-old reportedly had a brush up with the Hurricanes coaching staff recently. Both sides could be looking for a move after Haula was acquired in the summer from the Vegas Golden Knights.
The catch with Finnish forward is that his contract expires, and he’ll be an unrestricted free agent in July. They could see if he’d be open to an extension before completing a trade if the Hurricanes allow it, but it’s risky. The Sabres don’t want to trade one of their prime assets and lose a player to free agency. It’s also worth noting that Haula has had some injury concerns from a knee injury he suffered from his time with the Knights. That’s another thing that the Sabres would have to be comfortable with before making a move.
Even though there are some concerns, Haula fits the Sabres’ biggest need at this point on the roster. He can step in as a second-line center and give some lineup protection to Dylan Cozens over the next few years. He’s on pace for a 27 goal and 48 points pace per 82 games this season.
Haula is a solid two-way center that is a good shooting talent as Micah McCurdy’s impact chart below indicates. Even if the Sabres don’t complete a trade to acquire him at the trade deadline, he should be an option to explore in free agency come July.
The Hurricanes have a strong prospect pool and the Sabres could look to dip into that in a potential trade. LeBrun mentioned in his piece that the Hurricanes would make their first-round pick available in the right trade. They hold two first-round picks this season as they own the Toronto Maple Leafs first-rounder from the Patrick Marleau cap dump.
Just a year ago Montour was traded for a first-round pick and a prospect (Brendan Guhle). His value may no longer be that high, but would the Hurricanes hypothetically be open to moving Haula and a prospect for one of the Sabres defenders?
Jack Drury is one of the more interesting prospects in the Canes system that could fit a need for the Sabres. Yes, his uncle is former Sabres center, Chris Drury.
The 20-year-old is currently having a solid Sophomore season for Harvard with 15 goals and 29 points in 20 games. He was a second-round pick of the Hurricanes in the 2018 NHL draft. With Ryan Suzuki and Jamieson Rees in the system as arguably their top two center prospects, the Hurricanes could be open to moving Drury.
The Sabres are low on high-end forward prospects in their pool and particularly at center. Drury would fill some of this void and may not be that far away from being ready to turn pro.
Another prospect I’ll highlight is 2018 first-round pick Dominik Bokk. He was selected 25th overall by the St. Louis Blues that year but was moved to the Hurricanes just before the season started as part of the Justin Faulk trade.
Dominik Bokk's second goal of the game for is a beauty! pic.twitter.com/kqguPTFYWP— TSN (@TSN_Sports) December 28, 2019
He’s a highly-skilled winger that hasn’t lived up to the hype yet from his draft year. The 20-year-old has had a slow season in the SHL playing for Rogle with eight goals in 32 games. He did showcase his potential again at the World Juniors against his peers. He scored six goals and registered eight points in seven games for Team Germany.
As I mentioned above, the Sabres are thin with high-end talent at forward and should welcome any opportunity to improve their prospect pool.
The Hurricanes are an interesting trade partner for the Sabres, but I’m not sure how big they want to go on acquiring a defenseman like Montour or Ristolainen. They still have a strong blue line without Hamilton, and it may not be worth it to them to part with key assets.
Data via Evolving Hockey, Moneypuck, Hockey Prospecting, and Micah McCurdy