So I couldn’t help but notice that there seems to be two favorite trade candidates for the Sabres with most fans. The first one is obvious, and it’s Victor Olafsson. The second one however, is quite frustrating to me, and it’s Casey Mittelstadt. I get where people are coming from, and I get that people are interested in packaging him for a more established forward or defenseman. I mean, we have four young centers: Mittelstadt, Krebs, Cozens, and Thompson. Thompson is as close to untouchable for us as it gets. Krebs just got here, and Cozens had a really productive season. Mittelstadt almost seems like the odd man out.
He’s shown flashes, especially under Granato, but he just hasn’t put it all together yet consistently. Dare I say, he’s a year younger than Tage Thompson. However, Thompson is an anomaly because, he literally came out of nowhere and broke out, and did it as a center. Mittelstadt still has a stench on him because we forget at one point, he was literally the number three prospect in hockey, and he was expected to fill in for Ryan O’Reilly, which was a big mistake to expect it so soon. He’s shown the flashes under Don Granato, after being left for dead by Ralph Kreuger, but still has lacked the consistently.
He was poised for a breakout last year. He was literally the best player in camp. He was the default number one center. But injuries proved to be a major setback, and we never got to see if he could put it all together, and as a result, Tage Thompson after an off-season of putting the work in, rose to the occasion and seized the job. We often forget that these guys compete with one another. Mittelstadt going into this off-season has to understand this, and now he has two other young centers with him competing for critical ice time.
The point of what I am saying up to this point is one thing: Mittelstadt and his value. And for those who want to trade him, I have to be the bearer of bad news.
What’s the bad news you say?
The bad news is that Mittelstadt has value, but he does NOT have the value that you think he has. If Mittelstadt were to go to the trade market, there would be a lot of suitors. But the problem is, you wouldn’t get anything extraordinary. His stand alone value right now is probably a second round pick at best. Now many will say that you can package him for something of greater value. Well ok sure? Maybe.
And chances are, you’re going to want a young established forward with term, under 26 to 28 at the oldest. Well, those guys are generally not cheap. Now if you’re taking rental player, than there’s surely something to be done here. But that likely wouldn’t be the case here. If we are looking to make an upgrade on the blueline or even upfront for a young player with term in the top six or top four, you’re those teams are not going to want Casey Mittelstadt in that package. Those teams are going to want Dylan Cozens, Peyton Krebs, and Jack Quinn, and Mittelstadt is well behind those guys in terms of trade value.
Mittelstadt does have value, and would have a ton of interest. I am certain that Sabres GM Kevyn Adams gets calls on Mittelstadt all the time. But the problem is, the teams that would want to trade him for him, would trade for him for the same reason we should keep him. He’s a cheap asset, who’s young, and still has a lot to prove, but a team trading for the him is doing so, hoping they can fleece Buffalo. They are hoping that they can get a good young top six center on the cheap for a second or third round pick.
Packaging him in any deal, for a young top six or top four defenseman with term, could also be bad asset management over the long term if he breaks out elsewhere, and again, for those types of deals, many teams are not going to be interested in Mittelstadt as the prospect for those deals.
The bottom line is that Casey Mittelstadt has much more value to the Sabres to keep him and continue to develop him hoping for him to take a step forward and breakout and to use him as a throw in. He just simply doesn’t have that kind of stand alone trade value right now, and it’s not worth dumping him off.
Before we started the year, we had literally two "potential" top nine centers in Mittelstadt, and Dylan Cozens, who were both at the top by default. He was one of the Sabres best players in camp, and then injuries derailed him, opening a big door for Tage Thompson. And now we have four. We have four good centers with potential
Keep in mind, three of those centers have a lot to prove. We don’t know what the ceiling is of Dylan Cozens. 40 points and the third line could be it, or he could break out into a 90 point center. We don’t know if Krebs will pan out and be a success, or a giant bust. The same is true for Mittelstadt.
If there is one thing that we have learned over and over again through a variety of players such as Tim Connolly, Sam Reinhart, and most recently Tage Thompson, you must never assume a players development curve to be a success or bust automatically. And as a result, we must not assume that Peyton Krebs and Dylan Cozens will automatically be good high quality NHL centers. Assumptions like that end up dangerous because then you get you comfortable trading Mittelstadt, and then he goes off to become a top line center putting up 80-90 points, developing his two-way game, and winning accolades, while the other two either don’t pan out, or maybe are decent players, but not what you hoped for.
I personally am hopeful for the development of all the Sabres young centers under this coaching staff with Cozens, Krebs, and Mittelstadt. And more importantly, I think we have a gift from the hockey gods. We have depth down the middle that many teams could only dream of. Remember when he started the tank? We were doing it to try to get the franchise centerman. We wanted to become an organization that was better at that spot than Derek Roy as your number one center. We then landed our guy in Jack Eichel, drafted Sam Reinhart but never played him at his natural position because it didn’t work out initally, and then traded for Ryan O’Reilly. Then we slowly blew it all up, and were left with Cozens and Mittelstadt, which did not make people sleep easy at night.
While I think we should look at making a trade, I don’t want to move any of my centers. Heck, I’ve been a pro-trade Olafsson for a while now, but even then after giving it some thought, maybe I should keep him for the same reasons? We need goal scorers and he’s one of them. He may be a one trick pony, but man that is still a pretty nice trick. Either way, it’s a little easier there because, Olafsson doesn’t play the premium position at center, and we have Jack Quinn. You guys remember that Jack Quinn guy right? The same guy who we experimented with at center because our depth and long term outlook was so grim?
Now if the Sabres win a top three spot in the lottery, then maybe this opens up the discussion more and I’d be more comfortable for sure. We have filled that center hole very quickly and now we have four. It’s a gift from the hockey gods. It’s also good to have the depth, especially at a premium position, and for how bad the position looked to start the year, I’d much rather keep what I have and see which one of my young centers can take the step, and go from there.