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Sabres have trade chips on the wings

May 10, 2013

It’s a time of turnover in Hockey Purgatory Heaven with Lindy Ruff getting his walking papers while Jordan Leopold, Jason Pominville and Robyn Regehr each were shipped out of town before the deadline. It appears as if this summer will bring about more change via the trade market for the Sabres as they continue their rebuild.

One key for the Sabres will be finding partners as they search for options to swap out certain players. There have been specific mentions of the need to find more offense from media members in Vancouver, Los Angeles, St. Louis and Nashville. These came from either interviews or game broadcasts on the NHL Network station on XM Radio. Obviously these aren’t confirmed rumors, but the need for more established offensive weapons on certain teams isn’t a difficult conclusion to draw.

Vancouver’s second-straight first round exit have some asking if they need offensive help.

Vancouver’s sweep at the hands of the Sharks has many asking if Alain Vigneault will be back for the 2013-14 season after his team again struggled to score in a first round series defeat. The Canucks aren’t short on elite talent. The Sedins’ production has begun to tail off lately but I’d say their struggles to find talent beyond their top line has been a major issue for them. Identifying more scoring help would immediately improve the overall depth of their forward ranks.

A similar situation has been illustrated with the Kings despite the acquisition of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter last season. The Kings top six is very impressive, yet they were tied to a number of scoring forwards during the year. While the roster is deep, they continue to win close, low-scoring games on the strength of their goaltender and defense. While I don’t see where they would place a top-six forward, I can certainly understand the connection drawn to improve their offensive potency.

The Blues and the Predators immediately spring to mind for me when I think of offensively challenged Western Conference teams. However, the Blues roster would indicate anything but that. Oshie, Schwartz, Berglund, Tarasenko. This list goes on for a while and forms a youthful, talented core which has the potential to be lethal. The Blues just happen to play a measured, defensive style and don’t allow too many shots. Perhaps they need a certain $6m goaltender. But probably not.

The Preds are actually a curious case. They have two big money players (Rinne and Weber) and made moves at the 2012 deadline to find more offense. However the second Kostitsyn and Alex Radulov didn’t do the trick and now they have retooled a bit with the acquisition of Filip Forsberg. Finding another piece to add to their top six would be extremely helpful towards finding more offense for the Preds; especially after missing the playoffs.

There is a market out west for scoring forwards, there is no denying it. Perhaps the e4s and #CONFIRMEDD tweets and blog posts aren’t flying yet, but media members are looking at the teams they cover and are saying they’re in need of offense.

It just so happens that the Sabres have pieces to offer in this scenario. Specifically Thomas Vanek, Drew Stafford and Tyler Ennis. That doesn’t mean all three should be traded, but they’d be at the top of my list of players I was trying to shop this summer. There are also other factors to consider when discussing moving such players, but in a vacuum there is good reason to consider moving all three.

Stafford has really fallen into ill favor with fans and probably some media members as well. He seems to go in and out in terms of interest and if there’s anyone on the roster who is in need of a change of scenery it is him.

There were rumors that he was shopped hard at the deadline although the trigger was never pulled. While most fans likely think he’d only be worth a bag of pucks, there is certainly a market for Stafford across the league. He is a big, talented forward who has 30-goal potential. Whether or not he can realize that potential in Buffalo seems unlikely at this point. Simply getting him out of town to remove a hole on the roster is enough reasoning for me. If a trade helps to reignite his career, then it will be a mutually beneficial split.

Vanek’s story is played out at this point. He’s not interested in sticking around for an elongated rebuild and has all but indicated that he’s interested in a change of scenery. He is a tough player to lose. Vanek is Buffalo’s most talented player and carried the team for long stretches this season. I’m comfortable saying that he would be exponentially more effective if he was able to stay healthy through and entire year and playing with a potent linemate on a consistent basis (think of the returns the HPV Line put up early in the year).

Offering Vanek up to a team like Vancouver or Nashville who would most definitely benefit from adding a pure scorer. Of course, both teams have cap issues (Vancouver in particular) but Vanek is certainly the type of player that a team looking to find offense would jump at. Just think of Vanek on the wing with the Sedin twins full time. I’d certainly think that would improve Vancouver’s offensive output.

Personally, I think Nashville would be a perfect landing spot for Vanek if they’re serious about upgrading their offense. As to who they’d send back is anyone’s guess.

The hiccup surrounding Vanek is his salary. Any cap-strapped team heading into the summer will struggle to fit him onto their roster below the cap. Another issue could be regarding the return required for him. If Jason Pominville can fetch a pair of high draft picks along with a pair of impressive prospects, Vanek could be expected to fetch at least that much.

While he may not be the first choice, Tyler Ennis may be one of Buffalo’s best trade options.

I don’t love the idea of moving Vanek. In fact I don’t love the idea of moving Vanek or Miller. However, if they’re not going to re-sign they best move them while there is some sort of market available.

For me, Ennis makes a lot of sense to shop to teams searching for help up front. While his talent is undeniable, a few decisions on his future need to be made. The first determination that needs to be made is if he is going to be a winger or center moving forward. Either way he is part of a burgeoning crop of forwards along the left side and at center. The second question that needs to be answered is if he is truly going to be part of this team moving forward. The answer to the second question probably can be answered by analyzing the first question.

Whether at wing or center there are a number of current a future options under contract. Thomas Vanek and Ville Leino are both viable options on the left side (no matter how questionable their future may be) and top prospects Zemgus Girgensons and Johan Larsson could end up on the wing as well. This doesn’t mean that Ennis isn’t an option, it just means that there may be other options besides Ennis in the organization.

The same goes for the center position. While Girgensons and Larsson are options on the wing, they’re natural centers. Add in Mikhail Grigorenko and Cody Hodgson (plus the assumed acquisition of a veteran) and center ice is suddenly crowded too. Like on the wing, this doesn’t mean that Ennis is the one that will be squeezed out, it just illustrates the options available and the potential conundrum facing the hockey department regarding his future.

Ennis has the talent to be a top six forward but if he doesn’t have a spot here moving forward then his skillset should be leveraged for more talent.  I’m sure any number of teams seeking scoring help would leap at the chance to acquire Ennis. In fact, his salary may make him more attractive than Stafford and Vanek.

The rebuild is just beginning and any one of these three players could kick the process into high gear if a willing trade partner is found. Exactly what would be coming back the other way is yet to be seen.

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