Now that the Sabres have named a brand new head coach in Don Granato, the Sabres should once again transition into a younger hockey team. With the Sabres big three trade assets in play which consist of Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart, and Rasmus Ristolainen, one can only expect some major changes going forward. In this GM for a Day, I am going to be mocking my predictions for the Eichel, Reinhart, and Ristolainen trades, as well as the Sabres expansion draft and trades. I am not going to cover free agency as I expect free agency to be highly unpredictable for the Sabres as realistically it will be tough to project what the Sabres will attempt to do in free agency.
But to start us off, I am starting with the Jack Eichel trade. NHL GM’s in the Eastern Conference have gotten the hint from Kevyn Adams, that the Sabres may not be thrilled about sending Eichel to another team in the conference. For a team to truly have interest in Eichel, to me, it needs to be a team that is looking at Eichel to make the next step into contention. One thing I have learned is that everyone wants a number one center, but nobody wants to pay the price of a number one center. But there is also a flip side to that coin. There are plenty of Buffalo fans who think an injured Jack Eichel is going to return Quinton Byfield, Alex Turcotte, a top six forward, 8th overall, a future first and more, or Alexis Lafreniere, Kappo Kakko, and multiple top prospects and firsts. That sadly is not going to be the case, and while Buffalo will get a very good return, I'm expecting the actual trade will disappoint Sabre fans, and make the fans of team acquiring Eichel unhappy believing they paid too much.
Having said that, it is understandable that teams will not want to blow up the farm and depth to acquire Eichel, especially an injured one. A team is going to have to have enough tradable assets to move Eichel so that they can still put a team around him. Buffalo couldn’t put a team around Eichel and look how that worked out for us. So that leads me with a runner up and a lead contender.
My runner up prediction is the Anaheim Ducks, but I do not project Zegras in the trade. I think Anaheim will want to put Eichel with Zegras. My projected deal with Anaheim would be the third overall pick, Maxime Comtois, Isac Lundestrom, and goaltender Lukas Dostal. That’s a trade that will piss Sabre fans off but as I said, teams are going to balk at blowing up their farm and depth for Jack Eichel. The other issue is that while every team will have interest, only a few have the ammunition to pull a trade off, and still have something left over to build around Eichel. And if you really favor sending him out West, that leads me to my lead contender: the Minnesota Wild.
To Minnesota: Jack Eichel
To Buffalo: Marco Rossi, Jordan Greenway, Matt Dumba, and a 2022 first round pick, and a 2021 second round pick
To Philadelphia: Matt Dumba
To Buffalo or Minnesota: Nolan Patrick, and the 14th overall pick in 2021
First and foremost, it should noted that I didn't really specify time and dates of any of these trades, which will have an impact on Buffalo's expansion draft plans. What would be up in the air for more speculation would be when the Matt Dumba trade occurs. It's likely Minnesota could move Matt Dumba first before the expansion draft protection list deadline on July 15th, acquiring the assets that could be used in a Jack Eichel trade. It’s possible Minnesota acquires the 14th pick and Nolan Patrick first and then flips those assets in a package to Buffalo. As I said before, the timing of the trades, which this year with the expansion draft is very important, but I left that up in the air for speculation. There are a lot of ways this can play out, and the purpose of this is to provide a template for a deal.
I believe Buffalo will ask for a top center prospect with top line potential or a high first round pick, a young roster player, and a third young prospect. I believe Buffalo will likely try to avoid acquiring players over the age of 30 or taking bad money as they did in the Ryan O’Reilly deal. I think they want youth and players with upside, potential, and team control.
As I said before, of the things I have learned about trading a number one center is everyone wants a number center, but nobody wants to pay the number one center cost. I’ve heard some say they don’t think Rossi should be included in an Eichel trade. I don’t see a trade with Minnesota without including him, and possibly Matthew Boldy, although here I have Jordan Greenway coming the other way, who is under team control for three more years. Greenway is also a player that Granato has coached a few times at the World Juniors, and fits the bill of a young roster player.
Minnesota is starting to make the most sense for Jack Eichel, but in order for them to make the move, they need to make some moves first. First of all, they will need to find cap space for him, and more than likely Buffalo will need to take some money back, but I don't think the money needs to be bad money, nor should it be. Buffalo did too much of that in the Ryan O’Reilly trade, and you’d like to think that they will learn from their mistakes this time around. Luckily Patrik Bergland eventually ditched the Sabres and did the team a favor. Minnesota is also going to have to figure out what to do with some of their bad money deals such as Zach Parise, and Victor Rask. If they try to dump Zach Parise, it will likely cost them a high draft pick. A buyout of Rask saves the Wild cap, but a buy out of Parise only helps them for this year. His buyout cap hit in the subsequent seasons doesn’t save Minnesota much cap.
I will not be surprised if Dumba is in the Eichel trade. Minnesota can’t protect him in the expansion draft, and they are likely having their hand forced. He does have some decent trade value separately, especially if he comes to a team like Buffalo that could protect him if he’s moved before the draft, if they move or even expose Ristolainen of course. Dumba arguably has more value than Ristolainen.
He also carries a six million dollar cap hit. I don’t think Buffalo should keep him if they did acquire him. I think they immediately trade him for more younger assets in such a scenario. It’s also possible the Minnesota simply moves him first and then trades those assets to Buffalo.
In this trade, I have Dumba being flipped to the Philadelphia Flyers in a separate trade for the 14th overall pick, and change of scenery candidate, Nolan Patrick. Nolan Patrick is an interesting player to bring back given that he’s a former high draft pick who has not lived up to his draft billing. Injuries have also hurt him, and he could use a change of scenery. There is no question the talent is there. What's interesting here is that Philadelphia’s General Manager Chuck Fletcher drafted Dumba in 2012, so I have no doubt there will be interest, especially if they feel the price for Seth Jones is too high.
Nolan Patrick is a very interesting player to look at. His father, Steve Patrick was a former winger and 20th overall pick for the Sabres in the 1980 NHL Draft. He played five seasons with the Sabres organization. His uncle, James Patrick, had a much more notable NHL career spanning 20 years, including six with the Sabres at the end of his career as a veteran presence. Kevyn Adams said he wanted to bring in guys who want to be here, and who are proud to wear the jersey. I'm sure Nolan Patrick has a respect for the Sabres organization, and would probably be more than open to the change of scenery. Don Granato seemed to really be able to revive Casey Mittelstadt's NHL career. Is Kevyn Adams thinking he can do the same with Nolan Patrick?
Marco Rossi is an interesting case for this trade, and he is the centerpiece of an Eichel trade. First and foremost, I think everyone remembers last year’s draft when the Sabres selected Marco Rossi’s teammate Jack Quinn instead, to the angst of many Sabres fans.
Rossi is immensely talented and has the number one center potential the Sabres covet, however, Rossi has not played much hockey in the past year. Rossi suffered from Myocarditis and COVID complications and wiped out his 2020-21 season after contracting COVID while playing for the Zurich Lions of the Swiss National League in October of 2020. He did play at the World Juniors shortly after his infection in January of 2021 for Austria, but he clearly was still having complications. He registered no points and was a -6 in four games. There is a risk here for Buffalo if they do acquire Marco Rossi in an Eichel trade, albeit it’s different from the Risk Minnesota is taking. That’s what makes this deal interesting considering that there is some "shared risk" on both sides. We don’t know how Marco Rossi is going to come back from long term complications from a disease that did not exist until 2019, just as Minnesota doesn’t know how Eichel is going to come back in 2021.
The Sabres brass was rumored to be interested in Marco Rossi at last year's draft, but they passed on him. So one has to wonder, how much do the Sabres really like Marco Rossi?
The end result of the Jack Eichel trade I proposed is returning: Marco Rossi, Nolan Patrick, Jordan Greenway, the 14th overall pick, and a 2022 first, and a 2021 second round pick.
To Vancouver: Sam Reinhart and Rasmus Ristolainen (50% retained)
To Buffalo: 9th overall pick in 2021 NHL Draft, G Michael DiPietro, F Loui Eriksson
Vancouver has some cap issues coming up next season. They have a three million recapture penalty for starters on Roberto Luongo. They also have pending UFA’s in Travis Hamonic and Alexander Edler. Lastly, they have Elias Pettersson who is due a big raise. The Canucks also have plenty of bad money tied up in players like Braden Holtby, Loui Eriksson, Antoine Roussel, and Jay Beagle.
Sam Reinhart for the ninth overall pick has been something that has been rumored, but I personally can’t see it happening unless the Canucks are getting some help with their cap situation, especially for ninth overall. Therefore, I have Loui Eriksson and his final year coming the other way. Elliotte Friedman on the Instigators has mentioned the possibility of teams attempting to get two of Buffalo’s big three trade chips, which would probably be more likely with Ristolainen and Reinhart together. In terms of pure speculation, that is essentially what this after all, I can see Vancouver being interested in moving ninth overall for Reinhart, if and only if Eriksson is coming back. I can also see Ristolainen coming the other way as Vancouver will have a need for a young top four right handed defenseman.
The Sabres also acquire someone for their goaltending prospect pool in Michael DiPietro, who spent some time with the Utica Comets last season. He would be a great addition to the Rochester Americans next year, and could form a future tandem with Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen.
It likely will not be a popular move in Buffalo, but it helps the Sabres get another high draft pick in the top ten that they covet. I have the Sabres targeting either Michigan forward Kent Johnson, or center Mason McTavish ninth overall. McTavish has been rising up boards, and I with the shortage of centers, I wouldn't be stunned to see him go as high as 5th overall. If Reinhart is traded for ninth overall, I think Vancouver will likely feel better with an extension in place, but even if there isn’t one, and Vancouver simply wants to gamble, I can see Reinhart signing long term in his hometown without hesitation.
I do also see the Columbus Blue Jackets as a fit for Reinhart as well, and for the same reasons as Vancouver, I can also see them interested in Ristolainen as well.
I strongly believe that the Blue Jackets think they can reload as opposed to rebuild. I think they feel a coaching change and a different voice, combined with a healthier roster, and a better team down the middle can get the Blue Jackets back in the playoff picture. Jarmo Kekalainen has three first rounders, and will likely have a fourth after the trade of Seth Jones. If the Seth Jones partner is Philadelphia or Chicago, that first rounder could be 12th or 14th overall. I don't think Kekalainen will want to draft with all three or potentially four selections, and I think he will move one of them for immediate help.
The main issue with Columbus though is the quality of the package they can put together. Buffalo will probably have interest in Elvis Merzlikins, but does a package of Alexander Texier, Emil Bemstrom, or Liam Foudy with a mid to late first move the needle?
To Buffalo: Warren Foegele
To Carolina: 2022 second round pick (from Boston or Minnesota)
The Carolina Hurricanes, are reportedly ready to move on from Foegele, whom they expecting more out of this season, and both sides seem ready for a change. The Hurricanes are one of a handful of teams in expansion draft trouble. According to Elliotte Friedman, are shopping Foegele, and the 25-year old forward is exactly what the Sabres could use in their lineup with his grit, and two-way play. Foegele would be a welcome addition for Buffalo’s bottom six, and the Taylor Hall trade tree continues on.
To Buffalo: LHD Calvin De Haan
To Chicago: 2021 third round pick (from Florida)
I suspect Buffalo will attempt to bring in a veteran defenseman of some sort, and I also expect them to try to keep Jake McCabe, who will be coming off an ACL injury. The Sabres will be in dire need of experience and veteran presences back on the blue line with the looming trade of Rasmus Ristolainen. If McCabe is re-signed he will likely not be ready for the season. De Haan for a third is a reasonable price for a steady two-way defenseman, while Chicago clears salary.
De Haan can serve as a stop gap while Owen Power develops in college, and while Jake McCabe works his way back from an ACL injury.
I can also see Buffalo interested in Vince Dunn from St. Louis, but the cost will be higher, and not to mention, how good is Vince Dunn? Does the 33rd overall pick and a prospect get it done?
To Seattle: 2021 third round pick (from Montreal)
Seattle agrees to select Zemgus Girgensons
For the expansion draft purposes, I didn't necessarily specify when these deals occur. I suspect however that the Dumba acquisition in the Eichel deal occurs just before the expansion draft, since if that is the package Minnesota wants to part with, they cannot protect him in the 7-3-1 model. However, when Dumba is traded from Buffalo, I didn't specify here, and I only proposed it as an idea and a blueprint. So it's possible that the Sabres acquire Dumba and move him immediately to Philadelphia, or maybe they only engage in talks and have a deal in place, but don't actually execute the trade until after the expansion draft.
When Ristolainen is traded, I also left up in the air for speculation, but I assume it would likely happen after or around the same time Dumba is acquired.
The goal here is the protection of Will Borgen, who I believe Buffalo will want to protect. A secondary goal would also be the protection of Rasmus Asplund, who may be an attractive option for Seattle to acquire.
While Asplund most certainly can be of use to the Sabres next season, Girgensons remains as one of the longest tenured Sabres, but like Ristolainen, a guy who has known nothing but losing his whole career and may need a change. Seattle may be intrigued by Asplund, but Girgensons with his playing style and defensive capabilities in the bottom six may be intriguing enough to keep Seattle away from the Sabres youth movement.
A popular choice here is Colin Miller. However, Buffalo may also desire to keep him since they will be extremely young on defense opening night without him. Seattle may want to take Colin Miller anyways, but the problem is with Asplund and Borgen available, and with Miller's salary relative to his production, the Sabres may need to pay. Cody Eakin may be of interest, but the problem with him is how irrelevant he became on a dismal Sabres offensive team.
1-1 Owen Power LHD, Michigan (NCAA)
With little question, the closest thing to a lock at number one as it gets. Some will still hate the pick, and some will want the Sabres to pass for Beniers. At the end of the day the Sabres have a deep defensive prospect pool, but they do lack an all-around type who can play big minutes in any situation. With the departure of Rasmus Ristolainen, this will be a necessity going forward.
1-9 (From Vancouver), Kent Johnson, C/LW, Michigan (NCAA)
This is actually a very interesting selection in this draft for the Sabres to acquire. The main reason is because in this draft, it’s really the last spot of the top tier talent. Of course every year somebody makes a selection that makes no sense or is a reach and throws everyone’s mocks off, but there is pretty much a consensus top nine in this draft, ten if you want to include Jesper Wallstedt.
1-14 (From Philadelphia) Fyodor Svechkov C, Togliatti (VHL)
This would be one of the last parts of the Eichel trade which included: Marco Rossi, Jordan Greenway, Nolan Patrick, a 2022 first round pick, and now Fyodor Svechkov. On paper, it looks like a nice return, but as I said before, there is some risk with Rossi, and Nolan Patrick is a reclamation project that Philly is essentially giving away at this point. It would be sad if Jordan Greenway became the best player in the deal.
In a draft that is weak at the center position, one player who I feel flies under the radar is Fyodor Svechkov. If this were a more conventional draft year, I would expect Svechkov to go even higher in the draft if teams were able to scout him more. Svechkov is a player frequently mocked to the New York Rangers at 15th overall.
He is an elite defensive forward who is no slouch offensively. He can play in any situation and could end up being a steal in the 2021 Draft. The only downside is that Buffalo rarely looks to Russia for talent, and this has been historically true for the past couple decades. The most recent player selected out of Russia was Vasili Glotov in the seventh round of the 2016 draft.
He is signed on with SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL for next season.
As I said before, I didn't plan on trying to project free agency because it's a total crap shoot at this point. Nobody knows what the Sabres will plan. The Sabres will certainly need to solve their goaltending situation, and it may take free agency to do it. The Sabres suprised everyone last year with the acquisition of Taylor Hall, and I wouldn't be stunned if the Sabres attempted to sign a veteran to a short term deal. A guy who immediately comes to mind is Nick Foligno, who would be the instant captain the moment he walks in the door, but you would need to overpay to get him. Still, Adams has mentioned he wants guys who want to be here, and are proud to wear the jersey, Foligno would fit that bill.
The Sabres could also try to bring in a veteran middle six center to a short term deal. A guy like Erik Haula, or Nick Bonino would also fit the bill here. Then of course you have defense to address. Yes it is an organizationally deep position, but in terms if opening night, without any additions, the Sabres could have one of the youngest defenses in the league.
Right now, the Sabres will have Rasmus Dahlin, Henri Jokiharju, Colin Miller, Will Borgen, Jacob Bryson. Jake McCabe, if he's resigned, will likely not be ready for opening night, and even if a trade happens for a guy like De Haan, the Sabres may need another guy to be a stop guy to allow guys to develop this year, and to serve as a mentor.
Alec Martinez would be a dream, and Alex Goligoski would also be a solid add. Erik Gustafsson, a guy who had a career year when Don Granato was an assistant in Chicago under Joel Quenneville would also be an intriguing add, but he is by no means a shutdown defender.He does bring plenty of offensive and puck moving abilities.
The Sabres will likely be a younger team next season, and we've heard this before. But if it's done right, this rebuild could finally come to end. The only problem is, not many have faith that will happen.