Before you know it, the trade deadline will be here, and while some are already doing mock drafts, I am back with my mock trade deadline. First and foremost, how should the Sabres approach the trade market? The Sabres will have 38 games (not lncluding tonights game) before the March 3rd deadline, a lot can happen before then. Despite the losing streak, they are still only 3 games under .500.
Unless the Sabres go on a New Jersey Devils like tear, I would probably advise against spending serious currency to make a splash and try to go after Patrick Kane, or someone with term who could help, but would cost a ton like Jacob Chychrun. I also don't think Buffalo should be looking at rentals unless they get into the playoff race, but it is possible to make a trade to help your position now and long term.
Realistically speaking, no matter where the Sabres are, they should approach the market with the goal of mixing up their roster with different types of players. They need a little physicality, sand paper, and they also need to restock their defense prospect pool. They also have quite the center log jam, and it's quite difficult to see a future on the Sabres with Casey Mittelstadt on the roster long term, with Peyton Krebs behind him, and Jiri Kulich already in the AHL, and playing well. Oh yea, we didn't even talk about Matt Savoie, or Noah Ostlund yet, which brings us right into the first trade:
Minnesota gets: C Casey Mittelstadt and LHD Ryan Johnson
Buffalo gets: LHD Ryan O'Rourke, and a conditional 2024 second or 2024 third round pick
It's very difficult to project the value of a player like Mittelstadt, but he does have some value because of the position he plays, and there are also not a lot of guys out there whom are affordable who can center a second line. However, while he can probably center a second line on some NHL teams, there is a harsh reality that needs to be accepted about Mittelstadt for Sabre fans. That reality is, you can probably get something for him, and there will be interest in him because of his cap hit, age, and skill set, but reality is, he's still underwhelmed in the NHL and is a player whom to date has 91 points in 214 career games and teams are just not giving up "A" prospects and first rounders for that.
But Lias Andersson fetched a late second rounder for even less production,
Why does this trade makes sense?
Minnesota gets a young center that they can take a look at and can see if a return to home can help Mittelstadt, and he could end up being the answer for their center woes.
The interesting part of this trade is the prospect swap in Johnson for O'Rourke. Why would Minnesota be interested in Johnson? Well, with the talk about Johnson maybe wanting to be in California, maybe with the Kings, it's possible Minnesota could interest him given that he plays college hockey at the University of Minnesota, and his pairing partner is frequently Brock Faber, one of their top prospects on the right side. It might be appealing for the Wild to want to keep the two together, and it might be appealing for Johnson as well.
For the Sabres, O'Rourke is a physical, rough and tumble defenseman who was selected 39th OA in the 2020 NHL Draft and gives the Sabres an opportunity to acquire something useful if they believe they can't sign Johnson. O'Rourke is also playing in Iowa right now in the AHL, and would immediately boost the depth on the blueline, something sorely needed. He's mean and nasty and would replace a lot of what Will Borgen left behind when he left in the expansion draft.
Moving Mittelstadt should open a long term door for either Peyton Krebs, Jiri Kulich, Matt Savoie, or Noah Ostlund to more ice time, but in particular, Peyton Krebs would be the immediate beneficiary to a bigger role and more ice time in the event of a Mittelstadt trade, and as a forward turning 22 in January, and a key part of what made the Eichel trade possible, we need to see what he can do. With so many forwards,and so many centers, the opportunities are just not there for Krebs right now, and logistically speaking, the team is still going to be favorable with giving Mittelstadt key ice time because of his upside, what they have invested, and his future trade value. If he produces more before the deadline, he will have more value.
It's not a sexy trade, but it's a necessary one. Right now, what Mittelstadt is could be it.
This leads me to deal number two:
Buffalo gets: RW/C Luke Kunin
San Jose gets: RW/LW Victor Olafsson, a 2023 second round pick (VGK)
Victor Olafsson is simply another player who I want to place in the change of scenery category because quite frankly, we need an infusion of more gritty forwards who will muck it up, and less perimeter players, and while I always say that the one trick pony that is Olafsson still does a pretty nice trick, with players like Jack Quinn and J.J Peterka on the roster, I need more guys who will compliment them, and Olafsson more or less takes ice time away from them.
Luke Kunin is a player who does this. He is a player whom Don Granato is extremely familiar with from the U.S National Under-18 team, and the Under-17 team, and Granato was the Head Coach of that team, which included Tage Thompson and Casey Fitzgerald. Granato also coached him at the University of Wisconsin when he was an assistant on Tony Granato's staff. He also came up through the Minnesota Wild system with Alex Tuch. There definitely would be a level of familiarity and comfort here for Kunin.
Kunin was acquired by the Sharks GM Mike Grier, to provide grit, but also to be an asset that can be flipped at the this year, or next year's trade deadline, or the offseason for more assets. He's versatile, can play center or right wing, and if you care about hits, well he will easily lead the team in hits if acquired.
If the Sabres believe goaltending is a need as well by the deadline, Kappo Kakhonen could also be an option if it's apparent that Eric Comrie is not starting goaltending material. Kakhonen would be someone to throw into the 2023-24 goaltending mix. Craig Anderson is 41, and it's very likely he will retire after this season. I do also think the Sabres will approach Anderson at the deadline as a courtesy and ask if he wants to go somewhere else and chase a Stanley Cup.
The Sabres would be more prepared in goal for next season if Kahkonen is acquired to compete with UPL, and Eric Comrie, and with one more year left on his contract at an affordable cap hit of 2.75m, he wont block Devon Levi's path to the NHL either. Kahkonen is 26 years old, with a 35-27-6 record, a 2.92 gaa, and .907 spct.
A trade with the Sharks could provide several options to help the Sabres roster for the future. I would not be surprised however if the Sabres made a hard inquiry into Luke Kunin’s services before the deadline, or in the summer given his extensive history with coach Granato, and the team’s penchant for bringing in players who are familiar with him.
This leads me to deal number three:
Buffalo gets: F Zack Kassian
Arizona gets: 2023 5th round pick
For this deal, Buffalo adds a little grit and toughness to their fourth line. He’s signed for one more year after this season at a hit of 3.2m. Arizona acquires additional draft capital for 2023. They have more than seven picks in 2024 and 2025 with 11 picks in the first three rounds in ‘23. They could look to add more. Arizona does have tons of grit to spare here.
How do the forward lines look post-deadline?
Line 1: Skinner-Thompson-Tuch
- No reason to break this group up.
Line 2: Peterka- Cozens- Kunin
- I know many would put Quinn here over Kunin, but the reason why is because Kunin would be a nice physical gritty compliment along with Cozens to Peterka, and I’m not sure if it’s me, but it always seems like Peterka is taking a physical beating every game. Peterka at the lower levels has played with some physicality in his game, and that part will only improve as his career goes on and he gets more experience, and becomes physically stronger. As of right now, I think this would be an annoying line to play against.
Line 3- Quinn-Krebs-Okposo
- A benefit of having Quinn here is you get to spread out the skill and place him with Krebs. Both players right now are averaging 12 minutes of ice time a game. With both Mittelstadt and Olafsson gone, middle six minutes open up and both can play around 15-17 minutes per night. The Captain, Kyle Okposo is here on this line to be a veteran, stabilizing, calming presence and mentor to the young kids who will take on a bigger role. Tyson Jost and Rasmus Asplund could also be in the mix for this line as well, meaning, Krebs may have competition.
Line 4- Girgensons-Asplund-Jost/Hinostroza/Kassian
Girgensons and Asplund should be nightly locks to make the lineup, but the wildcard will be the third spot, with Jost, and Vinnie Hinostroza.
An alternative middle six of lines could be: Peterka-Cozens-Quinn on the second line, followed by Girgensons/Asplund-Krebs-Kunin on the third line or you go with Krebs on the third line left with Kunin at center, and Okposo on the right side.