Three months ago I made a vow to myself: I was never going to write a GM For a Day that included trading Jack Eichel. I refused to speak this into existence. Alas, here I am. Writing an article I never wanted to create, speaking an idea into the world that feels wrong, and trying desperately to find some semblance of hope for a professional organization that consumes way too much of my free time and mental space.
I’ve sat on this article for a couple weeks now, mostly because I was hoping to get some sort of clarification on what was going to happen with Eichel’s neck injury and perhaps hoping for some bounce back from rock bottom for me in terms of recent Sabres fandom that was the Eichel/Reinhart/Ristolainen media day.
Whether we talk about the day we lost Briere/Drury, game seven of Carolina series, Brett Hull’s no goal as the most depressing days in the last ~20 years: at least with all of those occasions we were:
1.) Coming off a year we were legitimate Stanley Cup contenders, and
2.) We still had hope we would be contenders either the following year or the near future.
After Eichel’s media day and then hearing Kevyn Adams speak I truly empathize with both sides of this situation. I can’t fault Eichel for being frustrated that for all the work he’s put, we’re still continually coming in last place mostly due to the organization’s failures to build correctly around him. I can’t fault him for wanting to have surgery to try to get back faster. I can’t fault Adams for wanting to build around players who want to be a part of turning this franchise around, even if that means making the playoffs may be longer term reality. I understand the hesitancy to allow Eichel to have a surgery that could be a risk to his future health.
All that said, at the end of the day it’s the fans that are left feeling hopeless. A ship without a destination in sight is a place none of us want to be on. We already were sold once on a rebuild centered around a generational talent that would lift us to the promised land. Now that superstar looks like he’s about to be traded.
Couple that with the whole Reinhart unfollowing the Sabres on social media and then re-following them, and Ristolainen pretty much planning on not being here next year: what do we do?
I can’t promise this GMFAD is going to make us feel better. You’ll probably hate some of my moves. As a fan, what I want from this off-season is a clear direction filled with promising young players that isn’t predicated upon us trying to tank for lottery balls to fall our way to land a Shane Wright or a Connor Bedard/Matvei Michkov.
I’m going to assume an almost doomsday approach to this offseason. One that includes trading Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart, and Rasmus Ristolainen. I’d love to keep Eichel and Reinhart, but I can’t see it happening. I’m going to assume we’re going to offer the moon to Linus Ullmark to come back and he’ll re-sign. Given Jake McCabe’s injury, I can see him coming back on a short term deal since we’ll probably offer more than the open market and he’ll get a chance to earn a bigger contract when he’s healthy. Bold assumptions, but that’s the premise I’m going to work with.
Let’s rip this band-aide off and get to work.
Buffalo trades: Jack Eichel and Victor Olofsson (50% retained)
Minnesota Wild trade: Zach Parise, Marco Rossi, Matthew Boldy, 2021 1st (lower), 2021 3rd, 2022 1st, 2023 1st (lottery protected)
The big question mark would be if Parise would be willing to waive his NMC to make this trade. Given that he’s being scratched currently in the playoffs: I think he may welcome the opportunity to usher in a Sabres turnaround before hanging up his skates.
Reasons why Minnesota makes this trade:
1.) They get out of one of the worst contracts in the NHL right now AND get Jack Eichel? I feel like if Eichel were 100% healthy you could ask for the moon from the Wild in regards to their prospect pool and draft picks and they’d jump to get out of paying Parise ~7.5 million dollars for the next four years.
2.) While they’ll lose their top two prospects in their organization; the Wild will replace them with a center who is going to be better than Rossi ever could be and a servicable, scoring winger who will be deadly for them on the PP.
3.) They’ll still have a 2021 1st and 3rd round draft pick after the trade with the Penguins for Jason Zucker, and so essentially they get to trade away Parise’s contract, their two best prospects, and the 2022 1st/2nd for one the best centers in the game and an ace on the PP? All while creating cap room to make additions? I don’t know why they’d say no.
Reasons why Buffalo makes this trade:
1.) They get Minnesota’s two best prospects, including a potential top 6 center and an emerging top-end LW prospect.
2.) By the time the young core of this team matures (and comes due for a pay raise) Parise will be on the last year or two of his deal if we wanted to buy him out.
3.) Victor Olofsson is a piece that’s nice to have on a playoff or contending team, but is a negative in the transition game and is a passenger in the offensive zone. If adding him adds in the 2022 first round pick or both high end prospects I’m throwing him in. He is the ultimate sweetener in any trade that involves Eichel because Olofsson is going to need linemates who can get him the puck for his shot.
4.) We ship him out of our conference.
Buffalo trades: Sam Reinhart
LA Kings trade: Jonathan Quick, 2021 1st round pick
What Reinhart’s actual trade valuation will be with a pending RFA deal that could walk him to UFA has a wide range of outcomes. If he agrees to a contract extension with any team we’d deal him to then we can expect more, but this is going to assume he’d prefer to control his own destiny with a one year deal.
The Kings have one of the best prospect pools in the NHL, but tensions are running high as we saw recently with Drew Doughty’s media comments. Getting Sam Reinhart and having that top-6 talent combined with the flexibility to allow players like Byfield or Turcotte to transition to the NHL on the wing or 3rd line would be ideal for the Kings.
Sitting at the 9th spot in the draft lottery: it’s a pretty penny to pay for what could be a rental player. Taking Jonathan Quick’s 5.8 million dollar cap hit for the next two years off their hands makes them take this deal. The 9th pick would be nice for the Kings, but waiting another 3-5 years for this player to develop (assuming they pick the right player) might not be in their cards.
Buffalo trades: Rasmus Ristolainen (50% retained)
NY Rangers trade: Nils Lundkvist, 2021 4th round pick
James Dolan came out after the firing or Gorton and Davidson and made the comment that he wanted the Rangers to play a more physical brand of hockey. Do we have the player for you!
Lundkvist is a 2018 first round pick of the Rangers who’s played the last two years in the SHL as an offensive leaning right-handed defensemen. He’s undersized at 5’10, but extremely mobile and leans on his puck moving ability and aggressive activation from the blue line to make an impact on the game. For retained 50% of Risto’s salary we get one of the Rangers 2021 4th round picks (they have three).
Seattle takes: Colin Miller
In my head it’s between Miller and Tage Thompson, and given how many analytical minds are in the Kraken organization I imagine Miller will be the pick.
This draft is going to be huge for the Sabres if this were to play out. I’m going to make all the picks and not trade any away. If you want to read up on each of these prospects I encourage you to read about them in my Sabres Draft Guide: April Edition. I’m using Draft Sim to make these picks, and after the lottery in the first round we’ll be picking 3rd, 10th, and 22nd. The links on the player will be to Will Scouch’s videos if he has made one about the player.
1.) NJ Devils: Owen Power, LHD, Michigan
2.) Ottawa: Matthew Beniers, C, Michigan
3.) Buffalo: William Eklund, LW, SHL (2): He’s the safest of the picks left on the board in terms of projectability and talent level. The #2 player on my board he excels in transition and is a fantastic playmaker.
10.) Buffalo: Fabian Lysell, RW, SHL (4): If Beniers/Eklund are the two players I think are safest while having the talent level to justify the pick: Lysell is the one forward who I think could end up being the best player in this draft if he is able to develop correctly. Plays with an insane pace, a deceptive and deadly wrist shot, and has loads of small area skill. He’s going to have to refine his play when he’s not generating offense off the rush, but the tools are all there for him to be an elite level point producer in the league. If you want some fun: go to hockeyTV and watch the preliminary u18 game against the USA. There’s a hot mic on the USA bench where you can audibly hear the USA players talking about how he’s the best player on the ice. He’s a homerun swing, and perhaps taking a more projectable 200ft center like Svenchkov or Raty would fit well here.
24.) Mackie Samoskevich, RW, USHL (15): One of the most talented players in this draft with the puck on his stick: he is one of the best at manipulating through the layers of a forecheck and through defenders in the defensive zone to generate controlled entries/exits and high/medium danger shots and assists.
32.) Scott Morrow, RHD, USHS-Prep (19): Currently playing in the USHL championship series after playing high school prep hockey all year and all he’s done is slide right into a top four role and looked dominant. Insane offensive skill while also being one of the best defenders in the championship series right alongside teammate Jack Peart. Going to the defending NCAA champion UMass next year he’s going to see a lot of ice time with the exit of Zac Jones to the NHL. In all honesty, I think his ceiling could project to be one of the best offensive defensemen in this class and he doesn’t have the defensive zone warts that I find with Power/Clarke/Hughes.
51.) Ville Koivunen, F, U20 SM-sarja (34): Rookie of the year in the Finnish junior league: Koivunen is an excellent 200 ft player who does all of the little things right while also having skill to be able to generate points.
82.) Sean Tshigerl, LW, WHL (36): I will be banging the table for Tschigerl at some point during the 2021 draft. I can feel it. A powerful skater with great skill who had a slow start in a very shortened season with 3 points in his first 9 games, but finishing with 18 points in his final 12. Once it clicked for him he took off and I would’ve thought he’d have had a meteoric rise up the draft board similar to Tristan Robins last year had the WHL season had 20ish more games. His point totals at the beginning of the season was often the catalyst of some terrible puck luck, as he’s one of the most prolific transition players and sending pucks to the dangerous areas of the ice that I tracked.
86.) Shai Buium, LHD, USHL (44): A big defensemen at 6’4 who is extremely fluid on his skates and possesses some really good skill as well. He gap controls well and will most likely be a longer term project as he doesn’t enter the NCAA with the University of Denver in 2022-23.
87.) Aleksi Heimosalmi, RHD, U20 SM-sarja (45): Had his coming out party in the U18s where he had a pair of highlight reel goals with his end-to-end rushes. A skilled, mobile defender who has great vision.
96.) Jake Martin, RHD, USNTDP (47): An eraser at the defensive blue line and one of the best players in Mitch Brown’s data tracking for controlled exits. A defensive minded blueliner who has skill to give more in the offensive end, but not something I’d expect.
99.) Lorenzo Canonica, C, QMJHL (53): Plays a very smart game who may not flash when you watch him play but when you re-watch the game he’s always the one making the little plays that springs offensive transition, breaks up a defensive zone cycle, or finds a player in the offensive zone to finish.
146.) Elias Stenman, C, HockeyEttan (54): The Swedish version of Ville Koivunen but with more uncertainty with projectability.
160.) Aku Koskenvuo, G, U20-SM-sarja (89): The goalie for Finland’s u18 team. He stood on his head to keep them in games. In the Russia game alone they should’ve been down 9-0 if it weren’t for him. Extremely athletic and 6’2: going to play at Harvard in 2022-23.
191.) Dmitri Kuzmin, LHD, Belarus (67)
192.) David Gucciardi, LHD, USHL (71)
Kuzmin is a small, offensive dynamo who will be best remembered for his lacrosse goal in the u18s. Gucciardi is a defensive blue line eraser who does a great job in his own end and in getting the puck out of the zone with control through his vision.
Overall Draft thoughts (if you don’t care about the draft just skip this part):
I purposefully didn’t let us get Beniers (I think after the World Championships he’s going to lock himself into a top 2 pick) so here are some thoughts:
3.) Brandt Clarke/Luke Hughes were seriously considered here. Overall I went with the safest of picks but if we went with either here in reality I’d be okay with it. Just some defensive worries with both and, while both do some things offensively at an elite level, there are definite developmental plans that need to be in place to take them.
10.) It came down to Svechkov vs. Lysell for me. I debated long and hard taking the Russian Beniers, but at the end of the day I really feel Lysell could end up being the best forward in this class.
24.) Samoskevich is one of my Brassholes this year (is this acceptable terminology? I’m running with it) of which I will be having meltdowns if they’re available from this range on and we don’t take them. Rosen went the pick before which made this selection even easier
32.) Morrow is another Brasshole. I’ll bet that I end up as one of the most aggressive rankers of Morrow in this draft season. His upside is ridiculous, and has looked the part in the USHL championship series.
51.) Jack Peart and Dylan Duke went the two picks before and I cursed the simulation gods. Koivunen is severely underrated in this draft and has an NHL level floor to me.
82.) Get on the Tschigerl bandwagon folks. There’s plenty of room and you won’t be disappointed
Third round Defenders: The third round is where I’ll be hammering home the defense this year if the simulations are to be believed. So much value I find there with both offensive upside players and with really good defensive defensemen.
Stenman/Canonica: Both my highest ranked players at that spot and also chasing the future of the third line with responsible 200ft players whose data translates into sneak offensive upside.
David Savard, RHD, TB Lightning: So you miss Ristolainen? Well let me bring in a guy who hits just as much (if not more) than Risto but also is not a defensive liability. Overpay him for a 2 year contract until Lundkvist/Morrow/Martin are ready to jump into the fray.
Opening Night Lineup
Captain: Jake McCabe
Assistant Captains: Okoposo and Parise
Skinner- Cozens- Bjork
Boldy- Rossi- Okoposo
Eklund- Mittelstadt- Thompson
Parise- Ruotsalainen- Girgensons
Bryson (McCabe)- Savard