Here’s a few moves that came to mind recently as I was reading the posts of some of the more enlightened minds here on the site. As the gears in my brain started turning, I got a few ideas that I decided I would jot down here. A couple of things to keep in mind:
A. I don’t think any of the free agents are coming back to BFLO by choice. Maybe they can’t find work anywhere else. Or maybe they have family that’s local, i.e. they married a BFLO gal. Maybe they can bring back some of the AHL guys. But I don’t see Larsson, Z, Vesey, or the other UFAs sticking around.
B. I also don’t see any free agents wanting to come to BFLO without a dramatic overpayment and given the way the purse strings have tightened around Harbor Center, I don’t see that happening either. Sure, you might get some fringe NHLers or guys looking for one final contract before they’re out of the League, but as for guys who have options, I can’t see them volunteering to come to the Queen City. So you can cross off your Edmundsons, your Holtbys, and your Taylor Halls.
C. On that note, you have to assume that any players with a No-Trade, No-Move, or anything comparable have BFLO on their list of teams they won’t accept a trade to. That means you, Ondrej Palat or Alex Killorn or Niklas Hjallmersson. Maybe not you, Loui Eriksson, but most everyone else.
Secondly, the Sabres are in need of some repair work. I think the biggest issues right out of the bat are the following:
A. Secondary Scoring: This includes the vaunted #2C dilemma. They need to get more offense from non-Eichel line participants.
B. Clearing Up the Logjam on D: This led to all kinds of roster gymnastics by Krueger to get some guys playing time that arguably didn’t deserve it, some guys getting ‘showcased’, and unfairly quarantining players in the press box. They need to get clearly defined roles and stick to them, and they can’t do that with 8-9 NHL-caliber defenders on the roster.
C. Goaltending: Ullmark got hurt, Hutton was inconsistent (at best), so was Johanssen. Even the slightest improvement here gets them into the Tournament of 24. They have to do better.
OK, with that, let’s see if we can’t get some repair work done!
This one hurts a bit, but better to get the pain out of the way first.
Why Calgary? The Flames have been struggling with mediocrity for a while now. They haven’t won a playoff series since the 14-15 season, when Jiri Hudler (!!!) led them in scoring. And they have a tough opening round opponent this year, when under normal circumstances, they wouldn’t even have made the playoffs. Let’s say they lose to the Jets in the opening round. Maybe its time to do some roster surgery? We’ve seen ideas of bringing Johnny Hockey or Sean Monahan to Buffalo. But I’m going outside the box a little.
In Sam Reinhart, they’re getting essentially the same player as Lindholm. He can play wing on the top line, he’s actually got a higher career PPG average than Lindholm (.64 vs .61) even with Lindholm’s monster year last season with 78 points. They’re the same size, they both play a sound 2-way game, and Rino is actually a year younger. And if the rumors are true, Calgary is going to go after hometown boy Taylor Hall in the off-season. So they could roll out a really good Top 6 of: Gaudreau – Monny – Hall and Tkachuk – Backlund – Rino. The only real difference there as far as Calgary is concerned is that Rino will make more than Lindholm. But the bonus is that the Flames have almost nothing in the pipeline as far as centers go. Maybe Dillon Dube is the guy. Maybe not. But after him? Nada. So now they nab Mittelstadt. Yes, he’s disappointed. But he’s still only a ’17 Draft year, has a great pedigree, he finished strong in ROCH at nearly a PPG, and Calgary is notoriously patient with their prospects. He could spend the year in Stockton, maybe get his head right, and then take over at 3C when Derek Ryan becomes a UFA at the end of 2021. Not only that, but Lindholm came over to the Flames largely because of Bill Peters, who coached him in Carolina. Maybe with Peters out of the picture, BFLO can pry him away.
Why Buffalo? Here’s your solution to the 2C problem. Lindholm has played more center than wing in his NHL career, he’s an accomplished 2-way player who can play in all situations, and he’s a much better skater than Rino. Good size. He’s obviously got the offensive chops to score in the NHL (78 points a couple years ago) and he’s very good in the dot (career 54% face-off percentage and took a bunch last year for Monahan). He can slot in behind Eichel, eat up a bunch of D-zone starts, and could even play with a couple of fellow Swedes (Olofsson and MoJo?). He’s also young (25) and is under contract for 4 more years at a great value of $4.85M. That’s a bargain. Extremely reliable and an excellent PKer. And in a pinch, you can slot him on the top line with Eichel if you’re down and need a goal. He’s not that different a player from Rino, but he’s faster and I know he can play center in the NHL…with Rino, I hope that he can play center. If I’m the Sabres, I can’t afford to hope anymore.
Now that I’ve firmed up my center group – Eichel-Lindholm-Cozens-Asplund/Lazar – I’m moving out another Sabres’ fixture.
Why Jersey? The Devils are in short-supply of defenders of any kind. They’ve got an over-priced, aging, under-performing PK Subban, an inconsistent Damon Severson, and a 5/6 PP QB in Will Butcher. And in the pipeline, they have Ty Smith as the only sure thing coming up. Kevin Bahl might be something, but it’s a gamble. And other than Bahl, all of those guys are smaller/soft. Enter Risto. He can eat some minutes, which will reduce Subban’s minutes and hopefully help get his game back a little. And Severson played the most minutes (23/night), judging by his metrics, that did not agree with him. If you can play Subban – Severson – Risto all 20 mins a night, that’s going to help all of them improve. Risto also brings some snarl, some edge. Sure, sometimes it puts him out of position and costs a goal, but there’s no one else on the back-end for the Devils who can play that way. He’s it. And we know Lindy likes some snarl back there. The Devils can easily handle his contract, and he’s only under contract for 2 more years. So if Jersey selects a defender with one of their 3 1st round picks this year, they should be ready by the time they can move on from Risto.
Why Buffalo? First off, this helps clear the logjam on the right-side. It has been becoming clearer than Risto was inconsistent at best, and while I think he’s been woefully mishandled by the organization, an amicable split seems to be inevitable. This gives them 3 NHL-caliber defenders on the right side (Monty, Joker and Miller), a solid RHD in the pipeline (Borgen), and some depth options (Nelson, Fitz, Laaksonen) available. No more press box roulette.
Second, Wood gives them something they don’t have right now. A big, really fast forward who plays a physical game. He’s more of a 3rd line guy, but he’s got the wheels to skate with Eichel, and the potential to be a terror on the forecheck. Sure, there isn’t much there as far as puck skills go, and he’s not going to wow you with his stickhandling or offensive prowess. But he would be a great fit as the F1 coming in the forecheck. In fact, I think he would be a great fit with Eichel on the top line with Skinner. Wood is F1 coming in on the forecheck and then going to the netfront, Skinner is F2, looking to pick off a pass, and Eichel is F3 so he can conserve some energy instead of having to recover pucks regularly. I wouldn’t expect Wood to ever score more than 10-15 goals, but he doesn’t need the puck to be effective, and as Eichel is a puck-dominant player, that could be a good fit. Plus, he’s a hometown boy!
Lastly, don’t sleep on Kuokkanen. He’s got good size (6’1 195) and can play center or wing. He was extremely productive in the AHL, finishing in the Top 10 in PPG for rookies in 2018, and then putting up 42P in 52 games for the #1 team in the league in Charlotte before being dealt to Jersey in the Sami Vatanen trade. He finished up the year with 6P in 4 games for Binghampton. Really smart, versatile, great hockey smarts on both ends, and a laser of a shot while being a skilled playmaker, he immediately becomes a top-line player in ROCH and probably the first forward call-up if he doesn’t make the team outright in 2020.
So I’ve gotten bigger (Wood) and faster (Lindholm, Wood) I want to keep the momentum up. But it’s time to take advantage of the cap room the Sabres, unlike many of the teams in the NHL, have. There are a lot of teams who have older players with No-Moves and No-Trades, young guys who are coming due for big contracts, and guys who sat on LTIR this year that will need to be reinserted back into the line-up in 2020. For teams close to the cap, this is a BIG problem. Vancouver, Arizona, Pittsburgh, and others have issues to deal with cap-wise. But I’m going to focus on one team.
The St. Louis Blues. The Blues are almost at the Cap now, and they need to find money to pay Alex Pietrangelo and Vince Dunn, pay for extensions to Brayden Schenn, Marco Scandella (?!?), Sammy Blais and Justin Faulk, and they lose Jay Bouwmeester’s $3.5M of LTIR relief. So Buffalo comes a calling.
Why St. Louis? The most important thing is this clears more than $5M off the Cap for the Blues when all is said and done (Hutton accounted for). They can replace Allen with Hutton for a year, a player who has had success in St. Louis, a player they know, at a reasonable price tag for a back-up goalie. The $5M+ will cover almost all the extensions. They’ll still have to find money for A Pete, but that’s not my problem. Robbie Thomas or Barbashev can slot into Sundqvist’s 3C spot for much cheaper and they can bring Klim Kostin up to the big club.
Why Buffalo? Yes, I know, we all like to pile on Jake Allen, and as a starter, he’s had enormous struggles in the past. But last year, as a back-up, he was very good: .927 SV%, and a GAA 2.15 in 25 games. If he were to play 30 games or more and put up those kinds of numbers, that would be a significant improvement in the Sabres’ goaltending. Plus, they only have him for 1 season before he becomes a UFA. So no long-term commitment, and more time to let Johanssen and Luukkonen develop.
Second, Sundqvist is another guy with great size (6’3 210#) who relishes physical play and has the versatility that Krueger seems to like – he can play center or wing. He’s on a very reasonably deal (2.75M for 3 more years) and is still young (26) although he’s already got 2 Cup rings to show off. He doesn’t have a No-Move like almost every other St Louis forward, so he can’t turn down a trade to Buffalo (although the Blues’ GM doesn’t seem to mind screwing his guys over). An agitator, Sundqvist isn’t a guy who’s going to pile up points – probably 25-30 tops – but he’s a tough, physical player who can shelter Dylan Cozens until the kid is ready to take over #3C duties full-time.
Lastly, they add another prospect to the mix. Alexandrov was someone I didn’t really like much last year, he was too slow for my taste. But the German-born Russian’s (don’t hear that often!) skating has improved immensely, and he’s always had a ton of skill and a drive to get to the net. He was perhaps runner-up Russia’s top forward at the World Juniors this past year with 8P in 7 games and had a nice season in the Q for a mediocre Charlottetown team. He was the leading scorer despite playing 22 few games than the next leading scorer on the team. I would expect him in ROCH next year, where he can continue to drive to the net, make plays in tight, and use his improved short-area quickness and balance to work around the crease.
So after these 3 moves, what do the Sabres’ look like? Need a depth forward, preferably a center, and a LHD (maybe I can score Ben Hutton, Mark Barberio, Jon Merrill or someone like that on the cheap for a year). And I still have my #8 overall pick (come on, Marco Rossi!). Plus I’ve added forward depth in Kuokkanen and Alexandrov in the AHL.
CAP: $77.9M ($81.5M CAP CEILING)
Skinner (9) – Eichel (10) – Wood (2.75)
Olofsson (4.1)– Lindholm (4.85) – Kahun (2.4)
MoJo (4.5) – Sundqvist (2.75) – Cozens (.925)
Asplund (.85) – Lazar (.895) – Okposo (6)
Simmonds (1.5) – ?
Dahlin (.925) – Joker (.925)
? – Monty (4.5)
McCabe (2.8) – Miller (3.9)
Ullmark (2.8) – Allen (4.35)
Was the repair work good? Would you put me on Angie's List? What would YOU do if you got 3 trades?