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To Trade or Not To Trade?

Sabres forward Victor Olofsson is headed back to restricted free agency after this season. Buffalo has a decision to make.

NHL: New York Islanders at Buffalo Sabres Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

With the trade deadline approaching, the Buffalo Sabres find themselves with a very interesting problem developing in front of their eyes.

Forward Victor Olofsson is currently playing out the final year of two-year deal signed back on October 29, 2020.

At the time, Buffalo found themselves getting a young talent locked up on a bridge deal while giving Olofsson the opportunity to prove his worth to the franchise that drafted him back in 2014.

While Olofsson’s scoring tailed off during the 2020-21 NHL season, many would find themselves hard pressed to be upset about a player scoring 13 goals and tallying 32 points in 56 games for the league’s worst offensive team.

Coming into the “contract year” of Olofsson’s deal, it was evident that the 2021-22 NHL season would be paramount in determining how the Sabres will proceed financially with Olofsson.

While Buffalo could simply decide to play Olofsson’s contract situation safely, offer him a classic one-year “prove it” deal, pushing a decision a little further down the road, what if the Sabres decided to take a different look at Olofsson’s situation?

Instead of looking at how much you might want to pay the forward annually, you look at how much someone might be willing to pay for a player who has proven an ability to play comfortably in the middle six of a lineup.

Before moving forward though, it makes sense to take a quick look back at how we got here with Victor Olofsson.

The Buffalo Sabres found themselves a diamond in the rough late in the 2014 NHL Entry Level Draft, selecting Victor Olofsson out of Sweden with the 181st overall pick.

Following his selection, it did ultimately take Olofsson a few years to finally come over to North America, due to contractual obligations, but Olofsson brought his much-publicized booming shot along with him.

In Olofsson’s first professional season with the Rochester Americans, he showed everyone throughout the Buffalo Sabres organization that he was indeed ready for the bright lights of the National Hockey League.

The pro-ready shot of Olofsson quickly elevated his stock from late-round draft flyer to top prospect over the stretch of a handful of years.

In his first AHL season, Olofsson put up 63 points (30 goals, 33 assists) in 66 games. Olofsson also would make his NHL debut during his first year in North America, posting four points (two goals, two assists) in six games. Both goals came on the power play – which turns out to be an important distinction.

From there, Olofsson appeared to have a leg up on a roster spot moving forward with the Sabres.

Olofsson would go on to set a NHL record in 2019-20, scoring his first six goals on the man-advantage. That pushed Olofsson’s total to his first eight career goals on the power play, which still remains a league record.

In his first full NHL season, Olofsson would go on to score 11 power play goals.

In the 2020-21 season, Olofsson would score seven of his 13 goals on the power play.

For those keeping track, 20 of Olofsson’s first 35 career goals came on the power play. A very impressive start to his career and a very important distinction for a franchise that has long since struggled to find adequate scoring depth.

This season though, working through inefficiency and injury, Olofsson’s numbers have dipped.

In 42 games, Olofsson has tallied only seven goals. That includes two goals in one game recently against the New York Islanders, snapping a 30-game goalless drought. Olofsson does currently have 17 assists and is currently projected to amass 27 assists this season, which would be a career-high.

It remains important to note that after the red-hot start to his career on the power play, only one of Olofsson’s goals this season has come on the power play.

With the Buffalo Sabres roster currently in a state of self-evaluation prior to the trade deadline, unrestricted free agents make sense for obvious reasons but players like Victor Olofsson raise some interest because of his impending restricted free agent status.

Olofsson’s cap hit of 3,050,000 million is something that is not hard for Buffalo to swallow. A potential raise from that cap hit could get interesting, which was recently pointed out by the Daily Faceoff’s Frank Seravalli.

If Buffalo is not comfortable with a potential raise in Olofsson’s cap hit, there could be a reason to try and collect as much as one can for the pending restricted free agent.

Although, it defies standard trading logic to attempt to trade a player when his value has diminished.

Throughout the past handful of games, it seems that whatever issues Olofsson was playing through or adjusting to have subsided. It appears that his shot has started to improve, and he appears to be more comfortable on the ice.

The one red flag that continues to raise itself up the flag – is Olofsson’s shot hampered by injury or is there something else bigger going on?

These are the tough judgment calls the Buffalo Sabres front office will be making in the coming weeks. For a player who has tallied 102 points (42 goals, 60 assists) in 158 games, it is clear there is talent there. The question remains though – does the Buffalo Sabres front office see a long-term fit for Olofsson in Buffalo?