NHL Trade Deadline Primer: Sabres look to finish the job, selling to finish the rebuild and get to last
The day has finally arrived, and it is time for Tim Murray to work his magic one last time this season.
It's been a tough two years for Sabres fans. The hoards have been left to argue on Twitter, the radio and in the comments section of this very site about the ethics of manipulating your roster in the attempt to lose, about setting up the team for the future with top draft picks.
Fan favorites have been sent packing. Players like Ryan Miller, Steve Ott, Thomas Vanek, Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford, Jhonas Enroth, all shipped away with the future in mind. The continual trading of the team's top players, often free agents, at the deadline is beginning to come to a close. The players the Sabres are obviously planning to move are mediocre, and that's a good sign. The extreme selling is over. The build-up begins.
Of course, Sabres fans have also learned to expect the unexpected from GM Tim Murray. Just when it looks like he's simply moving expiring contracts, he trades Brayden McNabb and two picks for Hudson Fasching and Nicolas Deslauriers, or swings for the fences with the blockbuster Evander Kane earlier this year.
Now, it would take a lot to top the Kane trade. We've likely seen Murray's biggest fireworks display, but who knows? Maybe he has something surprising up his sleeve today.
The trade deadline is at 3 pm eastern this afternoon, but as we learned during the Cody Hodgson and Zack Kassian trade some moves often aren't officially released until after the top of the hour. We'll have updates throughout the day, both on our Twitter and on the site. Be sure to check out the deadline open thread to discuss all the moves with the rest of the community.
Here is a breakdown of the pieces Murray is most likely to move, and some that would be a more surprising deal.
Murray has stated over and over again that he doesn't want his unrestricted free agents walking away for nothing. So, odds are his most likely moves will be trading players that the Sabres don't have under contract next season. Some seem coveted, and have been in the rumor mill for months. Others- it may be tough for Murray to get any return for them.
61 GP, 11 G, 14 A
There were Stewart rumors an hour after he exchanged his Blues sweater for a Sabres one. Buffalo decided not to move him at last year's deadline or in free agency in hopes that his stock would rise for this deadline. After having a very slow start to the season Stewart has upped his production thanks to getting more of an opportunity on the top lines. The asking price is reportedly a 2nd-round pick and a B prospect. Despite the price being rather high, the Sabres could get a good return for Stewart based on most of the forwards on the market being gone already.
Boston has been the team tied to Stewart for a majority of this season. Ottawa was in the conversation last season, but with the state of their team this season there's no need for the Senators to acquire a player who could leave at the end of the season.
51 GP, 6 G, 7 A
In a game preview on the Sabres website earlier this year the writer referred to Mitchell as one of the Sabres most versatile forwards. That's probably true, and incredibly telling of the state of this roster currently.
Mitchell's name has been brought up a couple of times in rumors, but nothing incredibly notable. The only prevalent rumor is that the Sabres do plan on trading him, which isn't exactly the most surprising rumor in the world.
27 GP, 6 W, 17 L, .918 S%, 2.99 GAA
This one may be a bit unlikely, but if Murray really wants to assure the team's spot in 30th he could move Neuvirth in order to play Matt Hackett or Anders Lindback. Hackett needs to play seven games in order to avoid becoming an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year. That could give the Sabres a bit more of an incentive to move their current starter.
Neuvirth's record is awful, and he played rather poorly up until Jhonas Enroth was moved. Since, he's posted incredible numbers, often around a .950 save percentage. He's not going to keep that up, which means two things. Teams may not be incredibly interested based on the rest of his numbers, or if the Sabres keep him it likely won't hurt their chances of 30th too much.
San Jose and Edmonton are reportedly both looking for goalies, but they each would prefer a goalie with term left on his contract.
Andre Benoit and Andrej Meszaros
Benoit- 43 GP, 1 G, 5 A; Meszaros- 43 GP, 3 G, 6 A
It seemed fitting to just put these two together, as they are likely of very similar worth, in a rather similar position. Neither will get much return. There's a possibility neither will even be in the NHL next season, though Benoit has been playing much better as of late. Will Murray find a suitor for either defenseman, or ship them off for anything just to get a return?
If one keeps a tanking mindset, one must also factor in whether or not the team would benefit from losing a player like Meszaros. The team will likely be better if Meszaros is traded, allowing one of the younger blueliners like Mark Pysyk to get a permanent spot.
Roster Players with Term
59 GP, 4 G, 7 A
Hodgson has had a dismal season when it comes to points, his worst in the NHL. As someone who is known as a defensive liability, he'll need to produce more to make up for his weakness. If Die By The Blade had a betting pool, Hodgson would likely have the best odds to move when it came to players signed past this year.
However, Hodgson has scored two goals in his past three games now that he's being put in more favorable positions. Ted Nolan is giving him powerplay time again, which accounted eight goals and nine assists last season, nearly half of his points.
Does Murray believe that he can salvage Hodgson with a new coach? Do other teams believe he's salvageable as well?
61 GP, 15 G, 18 A
This one is an interesting case. Ennis leads the team in scoring, and Murray himself signed him to a contract extension last off-season. Odds are he probably likes him. But Ennis is likely the best chip the Sabres have that doesn't fall in the untradeable category, guys like Sam Reinhart, Rasmus Ristolainen and Zemgus Girgensons.
His contract is incredibly tradeable. Ennis is signed for four more years with a reasonable $4.6 million cap hit, and the big year of getting paid more than $7 million has past us.
With Sam Reinhart already in the fold, and the team hoping to get either Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel, Ennis doesn't fit at the center position anymore. But he hasn't for most of this season anyways, as he usually was on Girgensons' wing. Now it is about whether or not Murray projects Ennis as being talented enough to be a top-six winger on a playoff competitive team.
12 GP, 1 G, 1 A
Grigorenko has had a strong season in the AHL, now that he can finally play with the Americans. His 31 points rank fourth on the team. However, he has yet to make the jump at the NHL level, and his skating weakness makes some worry about his potential. He could fit in as part of a bigger package if Murray is looking to make a splash.
43 GP, 3 G, 11 A
The only reason Zadorov's name is involved in any rumors is probably due to his off-the-ice antics that have led to two suspensions by the team. But all signs point to the Sabres believing these is just youthful mistakes, and that Zadorov will be a very strong top-pair defenseman. If he gets moved tomorrow or in the off-season it almost certainly would be in a package deal for a player like Ryan O'Reilly. Even with that scenario it will be difficult for Murray to part with the young Russian.
19 GP, 1 G, 1 A
Larsson is another player who has done well for himself in the AHL, scoring 37 points in 41 games, who hasn't exactly hit his stride while up in Buffalo. Larsson may need to be in a top-six role to produce. His fancy stats have been favorable, he's struggled to be noticeable production-wise while playing with linemates like Patrick Kaleta, Matt Ellis, and Deslauriers.
With the way the Sabres are setting themselves up, will there be a spot for Larsson going forward? Although he may not be in a top-six roles, he may be able to get more production once the lower lines are filled with more talent.
"I like the serendipitous surprises of reality." - Lawrence Wright
At its core, the trade deadline is a day for surprises. No one knows who Murray will move or get in return, if he'll only do what is expected or something outlandish. Perhaps the Sabres GM doesn't even know what this day has in store. We'll all just hope it's not a snooze-fest after all the moves leading up to today. Welcome to the 2015 NHL Trade Deadline.