When it comes to the Buffalo Sabres there’s a lot to like about the future. Another part of that future centers around what they can do at the trade deadline on March 21. What the Sabres lack in marquee names to deal, they make up for it with quantity. The Sabres did their blockbuster trades already, so don’t get your hopes too high.
With the deadline coming up a week ahead of the Academy Awards, let’s break down who the Sabres nominees to play elsewhere will be.
And the envelope please…
Actors in a leading role
Colin Miller, Vinnie Hinostroza, Robert Hagg, Cody Eakin
There’s some irony here because these players aren’t who you’d think of having leading roles on a team and yet they’re leading the list for being the best candidates to be traded.
All four players are due to be unrestricted free agents at the end of the season and that makes them prime candidates to be moved. Ah, but there is a catch. Perhaps you may have heard, but health has been a bit of an issue this season. Two of the top candidates to be dealt are currently on injured reserve with Miller (upper body) and Hinostroza (lower body) on the shelf. Both are due back before the deadline, so they’ll ideally get the opportunity to show they’re back and healthy.
With Miller being a right-handed defenseman with a hard shot and speedy skating, it makes him the favorite to bring back the best return in a trade. He’s not likely going to fetch a first-round pick (he’s not the illustrious Ben Chiarot after all) but it would be wise for them to aim high for a return. Shoot for the moon like you’re Tom Hanks in Apollo 13. On second thought, don’t do that.
Hinostroza has shown some sparks this season and has been a useful player. He’s a solid complementary piece for a contending team seeking better forward depth. He has 17 points in 36 games which ain’t bad at all. His fancy stats aren’t terribly impressive, but he’s been a third liner on the Sabres, what did you expect? Not everyone can be Johan Larsson.
Hagg and Eakin are two sides of the same coin. Both are relied upon for specialty skills (Hagg for being a defensive defenseman, Eakin for faceoffs and penalty killing) but the Sabres must hope teams don’t look up their fancy stats. Eakin also has extra playoff experience from his time in Vegas. Take that to go along with them being known as solid guys in the locker room and the intangibles that go with being a gritty player and you got yourself a sales pitch for a deal.
One issue that could make things uncomfortable for the Sabres would be dealing defensemen when injuries have been such a problem. Will Butcher is just working his way back into action after injury and Rasmus Dahlin just missed a game with a slight injury. Buffalo doesn’t have a lot of depth in Rochester that is either very helpful or ready. Ethan Prow didn’t wow. Oskari Laaksonen is an intriguing prospect who puts up points, but actual defense has been an issue. Jimmy Schuldt and Brandon Davidson are the others on NHL contracts with the Americans. The choices aren’t dazzling. Is it more valuable to Buffalo to not rush and move all the defensemen or is short-term stress for long-term gain more worthwhile?
Actors in a supporting role
Craig Anderson, Will Butcher, Mark Pysyk
Let’s discuss Anderson first, shall we?
The 40-year-old veteran goalie missed a chunk of this season due to an upper-body injury he sustained early in the season. In a season befouled by terrible goaltending, Anderson stood out the most because of his consistency and how he wasn’t letting in routine stinkers. His numbers are OK. His .909 save percentage would put him in the top-30. Curiously enough, .909 is what old friend Linus Ullmark has this season. As a No. 1 goalie those numbers are underwhelming, but a team acquiring Anderson wouldn’t need him to be their starter – he’d be their insurance against a goalie injury or COVID apocalypse down the stretch or in the playoffs. Anderson could be able to fetch a good return in a trade and it would allow Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen to return to Buffalo and, ideally, continue to play well at the NHL level.
However, young Luukkonen presents a reason to keep Anderson the rest of the way. One of the contributing factors to why the Sabres signed Anderson was the expectation he could be a mentor for the Finnish prospect. It stands to reason Luukkonen will be back in Buffalo at some point this season and having a longtime veteran there to guide him would be good. Then again… maybe that’s not what Anderson wants to do and the shot at being on a Stanley Cup contender would be more to his liking. It’s a real pickle if you want to do right by the guy.
As for Butcher and Pysyk, the defensive quandary was already laid out just a few paragraphs ago. It’s abundantly clear Pysyk has been an excellent addition to provide stability in the room and on the blue line. “Everyone loves Pysyk” holds true now with the players as it always had with fans when he came up with the team years ago. The best thing is to sign him to an extension, but if you send him somewhere to go maybe win a Cup and then bring him back in the offseason, that would be the best of both worlds for everyone. That is always risky, but if you love someone – set them free, and if they come back, they’re yours.
In Butcher’s case, if someone wants to add him badly enough then make the deal. If you need him to steady the blue line corps after making other deals, that’s OK too.
Victor Olofsson, 2022 first-round picks
OK, so there wasn’t a good Oscars pun for possible surprises. The Academy regrets the error, but we’ll plow ahead like it’s nothing. Frank Seravalli shared on the Daily Faceoff recently that Olofsson could be someone on the move from Buffalo. The intrigue of doing this is sky high.
Olofsson is having his worst season in the NHL so far and his perceived value is at its lowest so trading him means not getting what you’d ideally want. However, he’s a restricted free agent after this season and is arbitration eligible which would make him likely due for a raise. His potential future salary would likely only be a big problem for whoever acquires him because the Sabres are very far from having salary cap issues. Salary floor issues are far more likely and Olofsson getting a slight raise shouldn’t be enough to even scare the suddenly stingy Pegulas.
Trading Olofsson isn’t a sacrilegious idea in the grand scheme of things but trading him now wouldn’t be an ideal maximization of his worth. That said, if the Sabres project his trade value to continue sliding (the 5-on-5 play this season has not been great; goals have been harder to come by) then moving him now would make sense. Then again, if the Sabres staff gets that good at projecting players, then that would be neat and beneficial.
An Olofsson deal makes sense if he is used to acquire a very good right-shot defenseman. The Sabres have Henri Jokiharju playing with Dahlin on the top pairing and that’s not Jokiharju’s ideal usage moving ahead. If the Sabres are going to get better in shorter order, acquiring a top-four right-shot defenseman is an absolute must. With Owen Power on the way, they’ll need more and better on the right side.
To that end, and it’s something to ponder closer to the NHL Draft, using either the Vegas or Florida first-round picks to get that kind of player would be a superb idea. Those picks are looking like they’ll be very late in the round and while getting top prospects is obviously a good idea always… they do need some help with the main roster.
The trade deadline is going to be a different kind of exciting for Sabres fans. You’re spared having to see another blockbuster blow up part of the roster and any deals made are done so with next season and beyond in mind. General manager Kevyn Adams has shown so far he’s adept at making a good deal and he and the rest of the Sabres brain trust now feed on deeper levels of information to make those decisions. For him to be the best director he’s just got to stick to the screenplay they’ve written up.