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Sabres Deadline Primer: What to expect when you’re not expecting

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The Sabres could go a lot of different ways by today’s trade deadline

NHL: Florida Panthers at Buffalo Sabres Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

The 2020 NHL trade deadline is upon us. Teams around the league will make some final adjustments to their rosters by the 3:00 PM EST. deadline. The Buffalo Sabres find themselves in an interesting spot. They ended the night six points out of a playoff spot, but their chances of running down third place in the Atlantic Division is still a long shot. On the flip side, they’ve won six of their last eight games and the Toronto Maple Leafs look like a mess right now.

So, what does Jason Botterill do? There are many different avenues that he could go down today. This is a critical deadline for him and a lot of people will be watching closely to see how he handles it.

Hold

With his team on a little bit of a roll, he can decide to hold the fort and ride out the wave for the rest of the season. That’s basically what he’s decided to do up to this point. The only addition made to the roster was Michael Frolik and that hasn’t done much to move the needle.

He decided not to make a move when Victor Olofsson and Jeff Skinner went down with injuries to help his scoring. He decided to not make a move when he lost Linus Ullmark for a month. Therefore it wouldn’t be a shock if he decides to do nothing again.

For me, this would be the worst outcome of the day. Doing nothing would send a bad message to the fans and just be another log to throw onto the inaction fire. Realistically, this team as constructed is not running off a stretch of 14 wins in their next 20 games to get into the playoffs. If he believes they can be a part of the race in the Eastern Conference he needs to add some help. If he doesn’t, then he’s doing himself and the organization a disservice in not adding assets by selling off unrestricted free agents.

Sell

If Botterill decides to move some players off the roster, he has five forwards that are going to be unrestricted free agents this summer. That list consists of Johan Larsson, Zemgus Girgensons, Conor Sheary, Jimmy Vesey, and Michael Frolik. You can add Evan Rodrigues to the list of players that could go out the door with his trade request and the likelihood that he’s not back next season even though he’ll be a restricted free agent.

Larsson and Sheary are the two players that probably carry the most value to other teams around the league. The Sabres may be wise to hang onto Larsson and try to re-sign him, but if a team is going to pay a second-round pick for the Swedish forward, you’d have to consider that. Both are likely to net the Sabres a mid-round pick at best. The Montreal Canadiens moved Ilya Kovalchuk to the Washington Capitals last night for a third-round pick. You’d assume that Larsson and Sheary carry less value on the market.

Girgensons, Frolik, Vesey, and Rodrigues all fall into the category of players that are not going to get a lot back in return. It’s possible a team likes Vesey and he gets a mid-round pick like the aforementioned players above.

What about players with term remaining on their contracts after this season? Would the Sabres consider trying to move Carter Hutton to a team that is need of a goaltender like the Carolina Hurricanes or Colorado Avalanche? With the surplus on defense, they could look to move Colin Miller, Rasmus Ristolainen, Brandon Montour, or Jake McCabe. Although many of those players are likely involved in a “hockey trade” of some sort.

Also, don’t sleep on the possibility of Lawrence Pilut being included in a trade. Teams have inquired and the Sabres could use him as a piece to bring in a player to help the roster.

Buy

Botterill could decide to do some buying and selling today. It’s conceivable he moves a player off the roster in a “seller” move and also adds a player with term to the roster. There are a lot of interesting names on the market they could explore.

At the top of the list is likely Florida Panthers center Vincent Trocheck. The Sabres have been linked to him and would fill the big gap at second-line center. The cost would likely cost one of Montour or Ristolainen, as well as another piece. The Panthers are still in the race for the third spot in the division. Although they desire a defenseman, they’ll need to receive good compensation to move Trocheck now.

Josh Anderson is another name that has been on the market that makes sense for the Sabres. The big winger is having a down year, but a lot of the underlying numbers on him tell the story of an outlier season. He’s shooting 3.6 goals below expected at 5 on 5 according to Moneypuck and has a career-low 1.6% shooting percentage this season.

Evolving Hockey currently ranks him 40th in the league in individual shot quality per 60 minutes (ixG/60) at 5 on 5 and is second on the Blue Jackets in that category. The 25-year-old has size and speed that would be a welcome addition to the Sabres lineup.

Mikael Granlund is an interesting target that I haven’t mentioned recently. The 27-year-old will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, but the Sabres could bring him in to see if he can fill the void at center. He hasn’t been a fit for the Nashville Predators since they acquired him at last year’s deadline from the Minnesota Wild.

The Finnish center has a history of being a solid two-way player that can give you time on the power play and penalty kill. He may classify as more of a rental player, which the Sabres may not be interested in bringing in with their current position in the standings. However, he would be an improvement to help push the team towards the playoffs and likely wouldn’t be expensive.

Some other names the Sabres could target are Erik Haula, Kyle Palmieri, Andreas Athanasiou, Tyson Jost, and Dylan Strome to name a few. If Botterill wants to add help to his roster he should be able to find a trade partner to make something happen.

We’ll see what tomorrow brings for the Sabres. It really could go either way. It could be a quiet day for Sabres fans or we could have a lot to talk about throughout the day. This day is like Christmas morning for some and hopefully, we’ll see some fireworks around the league.

Data via Moneypuck, Evolving Hockey, and Hockeyviz.com