We’re nearly a month away from the trade deadline and the rumor mill is really beginning to heat up. The Sabres are expected to sell off a number of players on expiring deals as Drew Stafford, Chris Stewart, Torrey Mitchell and likely one of the team’s two goaltenders will be shipped out by March 2.
Tim Murray, however, is in a very interesting position. While Buffalo is firmly a seller this year, he also holds a bucket of picks and prospects that have helped make the Sabres system the envy of the league. Given the sheer number of players in the system, it’s very unlikely that all of the assets the Sabres have stockpiled wind up wearing blue and gold. In fact, Murray has admitted that not every player they’ve acquired or drafted will wind up as an NHL player and it’s up to the Sabres to determine who they need to hold on to. This tells me a few things.
First, Murray is very tapped into the assets he has and likely has a very good idea about who he sees as a fit in the near future. Second, he knows that he’s very close to the point of being over-saturated with futures and he needs to start dealing for NHL-ready talent in order to maximize the team’s elite talent and to speed up his rebuild.
As the deadline approaches, how do you think Murray will operate? Should his plan of attack be to continue acquiring picks and prospects or is it time to make some hockey trades?
Tyler: You may see a bit of both, I think. Certain players that are on the block and will almost certainly be dealt (think Chris Stewart) will likely only net you a draft pick. While Murray has a ton of picks in the first two rounds this year, I’d be shocked if they use them all. Judging by his previous comments, I’d imagine there will be more picks along the lines of the trade that sent Brayden McNabb to LA, but this time the Sabres would be looking to add an NHL player.
Chris: There’s a few obvious transactions that will occur between now and March 2. Turning Stewart, Stafford, a goalie and potentially Torrey Mitchell into picks seems to be the most obvious. But at what point do we need to start talking about packaging picks rather than just using them? The Sabres have five of the first 60 picks in the draft and could potentially add a sixth pick to that collection at the deadline. That adds six more players to a pipeline that is already brimming with first and second round talent.
Should Murray just maintain the status quo, he’ll have nearly 20 players who hold first or second round status. At what point does Murray start to deal from what is an increasingly loaded deck? Considering he could be looking at about 10 roster openings on the big club and a major haul at the draft, I have to think he knows the time has come to start bringing in multiple NHL bodies.
Tyler: I think it’s safe to say the organization is at the point where they’ve pretty much hit the ceiling in terms of sheer number of prospects. The potential amount of roster spots to fill just reinforces that feeling. Judging by how Murray and the front office in Ottawa operated during his time there, I think Murray would prefer to give the majority of prospects a season or two in the AHL, as evidenced by what the team has done with Mark Pysyk.
As we found out a while ago when we broke down recent Stanley Cup Final participants, every team that made it featured a key player or two that was acquired via trade years before the team reached the finals. Murray knows he is dealing from a position of strength in regards to the number and quality of prospects he has at his disposal. While he hasn’t been afraid to make a deal in his short tenure as general manager, I think it would be in his best interest to wait until draft time to make a so-called “hockey deal.”
Chris: Should that be the case, the question will soon center around which player – or type of player – Murray should be targeting in a hockey trade. Additionally, which assets is he willing to sacrifice when making these trades?
When I look at the pipeline (pictured below) I see a full set of forward lines just in the form of first and second round assets. Based on the typical odds against any player making the NHL and the likelihood that Murray will be bringing in more NHL ready players via trades or free agency, it’s very unlikely that all of these tremendous players see serious time with the Sabres. Coupled with the typical asking price for a difference making talent, it seems inevitable that at least one or two of those bodies are moved. Should that be the case, who would you feel comfortable sacrificing in a “hockey trade”?
Tyler: When it comes to potential targets, I think Murray would be best served by looking at younger NHL talent, preferably with some RFA eligibility left. Teams with salary cap trouble, whether it be from the league mandated cap or self imposed, would made ideal trade partners. In terms of position, I am a big believer in building a team through the middle of the ice; a solid team needs at least two high quality centers, a quality group of four defensemen, and at least an above average goaltender. Regardless of how you think Sam Reinhart fits into the equation, if Murray were able to acquire another talented center already in the NHL it would really help speed up the rebuild.
When looking at the list of players in the system that are under contract there are a few names that come to mind. Names such as Mikhail Grigorenko, Johan Larsson and Joel Armia are all moveable if the return is viewed as worthwhile. I feel that each player could become a quality NHLer (I’m partcularly high on Larsson), and am by no means shipping all three of them out. But moving one or two of them make help speed up the Sabres’ way back to respectability.
I’d also say that I don’t consider any of the three players I mentioned to be a blue chip prospect. There are the likes of McCabe, Pysyk, and the crop of current CHL and NCAA players who the Sabres have yet to sign to contracts who have shown incredible promise. Would you be willing to part with a player such as Hudson Fasching, JT Compher, or even Sam Reinhart to get a high quality NHLer, or are the Sabres not quite there yet?
Chris: That’s a pretty precarious scenario to lay out considering the “suffering” the team went through to acquire some of these players. But if there’s a young NHL player with star quality on the table, very few assets should be considered untouchable.
A deal I keep coming back to is the trade that sent Tyler Seguin to Dallas. The reason this resonates with me is because the Stars went out and poached a phenomenal goal scorer to help bolster the youth and talent while giving up a hefty package of players and prospects. A move like that, coupled with the potential of drafting a franchise changing talent like Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel would go a long way towards pushing the Sabres well out of the basement in short order. If it took one of their top prospects to do this, I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment.
Does that mean I’d be willing to throw away Sam Reinhart at a moment’s notice? No. The Sabres are very close to reaching the apex of this turnaround and they’ll blow past that point should they win the draft lottery. If Reinhart is the player who can get a true star talent in blue and gold, you have to consider the deal.
Frankly, I’d be far more comfortable sending away one or two of Buffalo’s blue chip prospects who haven’t been selected in the first round. Given how crowded the pipeline is, what kind of deal would you need to see in order to ship out a pair of Buffalo’s blue chips? Because Bailey, Cornel, Compher, Fasching or Karabacek could go a long way in roping in NHL ready talent without giving up a potential cornerstone like Reinhart.
Tyler: I think the Seguin deal is a rarity. Star centers are nearly impossible to find, let alone when they are only 22; if a deal like that came along I would jump at the opportunity to acquire a player of Seguin’s caliber. Some of the names you mentioned (Cornel, Bailey, Compher, Karabacek) I would be willing to part with given the return was worth it.
I know I’m kind of beating a dead horse when I say this, but a player like Ryan O’Reilly is someone I would be willing to give up a blue chip prospect for. I understand the questions surrounding his salary and pending free agency, but at 23 he would be a perfect fit for the Buffalo organization. Assuming that Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel end up in blue and gold, O’Reilly would look great on the wing with either of them.
Another name I’m been thinking about is one that hasn’t been brought up at all: Brandon Saad. The Blackhawks have nearly $65 million committed to players next year and Saad is due for a payday as he is a restricted free agent. While I think it’s more than likely that Saad stays put, I wonder if a package could be pieced together to pry the 22 year old away from Chicago.
Other players who could potentially become available that I’d be willing to deal away a top prospect for two for include Taylor Hall and Oliver Ekman-Larsson. The lone caveat I would have with dealing for Ekman-Larsson would be that Tyler Myers would have to be dealt. Adding another young defenseman to the likes of Zadorov, Ristolainen, and Myers on top of Mark Pysyk and Jake McCabe in Rochester would further complicate an already complicated blue line situation.
Chris: When I mention the Seguin trade I’m speaking of a deal of that ilk, not so much a carbon copy. Especially with Reinhart in the system with Girgensons and the potential to add McDavid or Eichel to the mix, there isn’t an overarching need for another elite center. Although it’s not always bad to have such a player.
My thought process is along the lines of finding elite, or near-elite talent. Someone who, when paired with one of Buffalo’s promising center prospects could combine to create a lethal one-two. Taylor Hall is an easy example to use thanks to his youth, recent inclusion in trade rumors (whispers as they were) and is a proven scorer at the NHL level.
I love the example of Saad especially considering the Blackhawks could be looking at a serious cap crunch come summertime and he’s not a player who would command a complete king’s ransom to acquire. While it would still take a strong offer to land Saad, he certainly wouldn’t command what it took to score Seguin or the expected return if a team were to push for Hall.
The one other name you floated was Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Don Maloney mentioned that OEL could be had but for a hefty price tag. I assume that means at least a roster player, blue chip prospect a 1st round pick and perhaps even another valuable draft pick in an upcoming draft. That may not even get the job done.
My thought, however, would be if the Sabres were to pursue such a deal, it would make a player like Tyler Myers expendable via a separate trade. While the Sabres would need to send out a boatload to bring in a player like OEL, Murray could recoup a fair amount if he were to turn around and sell Myers separately. Clearly that is a massive pipe dream, but buying and selling simultaneously is the type of practice I see as a massive asset to this rebuild.
Maybe that doesn’t make sense. Am I a crazy person?
Tyler: The concept of buying and selling at the same time, however odd it sounds, is not crazy at all. Obviously, the Sabres will be selling off assets as the deadline approaches, but they will simultaneously be acquiring more draft picks and possibly another prospect or two that can help them be buyers as well.
When I think of the trade deadline, I think of two separate dates for Tim Murray. Obviously the March 2 trade deadline will be the one fans will be focused on in the coming weeks as Murray tries to deal his crop of pending UFA’s, but the second date, that of the NHL Draft, may provide to be more busy for the Sabres’ general manager. I think Murray may have more action on his biggest trade chip in Tyler Myers, and will have significantly better odds of acquiring the type of high-end, impact player that we’ve discussed. Either way, the next five months should be fun for Sabres fans.
The one last thing to keep in mind heading into this year’s deadline is Murray’s willingness to pull the trigger early. He executed the biggest deal of last year’s deadline season by moving Ryan Miller to St. Louis in the days ahead of the deadline. While that doesn’t necessarily indicate that he’ll be pulling the trigger on another blockbuster at the end of February, don’t be surprised to see him attempt to make his initial moves ahead of deadline day.
Myers, Stewart, Stafford, Mitchell, Enroth and Neuvirth are the biggest names to watch, but don’t be surprised to see additional assets moved by the general manager in the near future.