The 2014-15 trade deadline was much different for Tim Murray than the 2013-14 deadline when he was just a few months into his new job.
Entering last year’s deadline, Murray was tasked with finding a home for pending UFA goaltender Ryan Miller, pending UFA Steve Ott along with other pieces. Most notably, Matt Moulson, who was also set to enter free agency.
Last year’s deadline saw Murray make four separate deals and acquire a total of six players and four draft picks. He also claimed Cory Conacher on waivers on deadline day. Murray was not facing the same steep challenge at this year’s deadline. He did not have a franchise talent like Miller to deal, while sporting three pending UFAs who held varying levels of average value. The deadline closed with the Sabres having made four trades (again) while acquiring a goaltender, a prospect and four picks.
You certainly can’t give Murray a strong grade for this year’s deadline alone. None of the four deals he made were blockbusters and he wasn’t dealing from a position of power like in 2014. However, looking at the big picture, Murray has positioned himself very well to take the next big step in the rebuild of the Sabres franchise.
The big deal, of course, was the one that brought Zach Bogosian and Evander Kane to Buffalo. This was a deal for a young defensemen who still has plenty to offer in the long run and a potent scoring winger who will likely be paired with one of Buffalo’s promising centers. Ideally, he’ll have the opportunity to skate on a line with Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel, but that remains to be seen.
The trade for Kane and Bogosian certainly saw Murray pay a premium, but he also ensured that he got the best player in the deal when the dust settled. Murray gave up a number of significant assets in a deal that will set the tone in both the long and the short term for the Sabres. Kane’s scoring prowess in a top-six role with the likes of Girgensons, Reinhart, Ennis or potentially a player selected at the top of this year’s draft makes for a formidable offensive arsenal. He’s signed through the next few seasons as well, so this is no short term fix either.
On the other end, Bogosian is more or less a Tyler Myers clone, although he’s shown a penchant for a bit more physical play than the former Sabre and the potential for a change of scenery to help bring out his top-five draft pedigree provides more positive returns on a long-term outlook.
The trades that sent Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth out of town were little more than maneuvers to leverage a pair of pending free agents while simultaneously keep pace with the pair of western clubs who continue to offload assets. Enroth was coming down off a hot streak and needed to be moved early lest his value plummet. The same could be said of Neuvirth who caught fire as of late and became every tank enthusiast’s nightmare. The pair of goalies the two netted are hardly beacons of hope and the picks aren’t much to write home about. However, the Sabres now hold four third round selections in next year’s draft. A draft that happens to be hosted in Buffalo.
Based on previous draft day deals, I wouldn’t be surprised in the least to see a couple of those third round selections packaged together in an attempt to move up the draft order.
Murray’s decision to send not only Torrey Mitchell, but Brian Flynn as well, to Montreal is quizzical in the sense that Flynn had shown the ability to play a very serviceable game at the NHL level. He was never going to be a top-six forward, but he fits nicely in a bottom-six role while offering a bit of skill.
The return for the pair – a 2016 fifth, 2016 seventh and Jack Nevins – is hardly impressive and it’s highly unlikely that any of those three assets turn into much for the Sabres. However, with Mitchell set for free agency and Flynn poised to become a restricted free agent, finding any sort of return is better than getting nothing. Again, Flynn was the surprising deal given his play the last season but going off the assumption that Murray has an eye on other players in the pipeline, it’s understandable to see why he chose to move Flynn.
The day’s final trade was the one everyone expected. Chris Stewart was sent to Minnesota for a 2017 second round pick. The pick is some ways off and you hope that the Sabres will be in a position to use it in a trade as opposed to the 2017 Draft once it’s value is fully known. There isn’t much room for complaint regarding this trade simply because the original asking price for Stewart was widely agreed upon as far too much. That Murray was able to get a second round pick from anyone was more than impressive. Further, to get a second round pick that could easily be traded down the line means that this trade could still bear fruit for the Sabres before the 2017 Draft.
Murray is sure to catch heat from those who find it deplorable that the Sabres are pushing for the basement once again. The prize is McDavid or Eichel and the pair would represent the crown jewel of the rebuild. Murray maintained a steady course and built on the foundation of assets compiled by Darcy Regier and now Buffalo’s GM is poised to cash in on that foundation. He took the first step in finding a proven NHL talent to pair with one of his many prized prospects. More help will be coming to Rochester next season in the form of Justin Bailey and Nick Baptiste while the top of the draft could earn the Sabres an NHL ready talent the league hasn’t seen since Sidney Crosby was drafted in 2005.
Should those chips fall into place – and even if they don’t the world won’t end – the Sabres won’t be talking about what pieces they’ll be selling at next year’s deadline. They’ll be talking about what pieces they need to add at next year’s deadline. It’s shortsighted to say that the Sabres are still going in reverse or that the general manager, owner, fans, etc. are tearing down a proud franchise.
The end of Darcy’s suffering is near. Murray just made sure to put the final pieces in place. It’s going to be a fun summer.