Some of Buffalo’s struggles this season can be traced to their man games lost and the general lack of depth through the pipeline which enhanced the losses caused by various injuries.
That lack of depth has been pointed to as a side effect of Tim Murray’s efforts to add NHL talent to Buffalo roster. In some cases it’s being seen as a primary fault of the general manager. However, despite the number of bodies that moved out of the Sabres organization since last February, the overall impact those moves have had on the organization’s depth maybe isn’t as harmful as you may believe.
In acquiring Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian, Ryan O’Reilly and Jamie McGinn, Murray surrendered a pair of draft picks (a first and second in the 2015 draft), Tyler Myers, Nikita Zadorov, Mikhail Grigorenko, Joel Armia, Brendan Lemieux and JT Compher. Drew Stafford was also part of the trade with Winnipeg but as a pending unrestricted free agent who appeared to have no future in Buffalo, it’s hard to count him as a direct loss due to those trades.
Toss in an additional first round pick to acquire Robin Lehner and David Legwand at the draft – likely the most questionable trade of the bunch – and the Sabres brought in six NHL bodies (plus goaltending prospect Jason Kasdorf) while sending away a trio of picks, four NHL bodies and three prospects.
Lemieux almost deserves the same distinction as Stafford in a way as it was reported that he wasn’t going to sign his entry level contract with the Sabres, making him a prime trade chip. Armia’s development hadn’t yet reached the next level, leaving him a likely candidate for Rochester while Girgorenko likely would’ve been on the fence himself. Zadorov certainly would’ve started with the big club while Compher would have continued to play with the University of Michigan.
The obvious trump card for this argument is that without sending those assets away, O’Reilly and Kane aren’t here to help lead the team in scoring nor does McGinn emerge as either a valuable rental asset or even a key role player moving forward. Those three alone present enough value to the team this season and beyond to justify the moves. Waiting to see how Bogosian and Lehner shape up could alter the perception on the price paid even more.
Looking beyond the obvious contributions of the players Murray grabbed, Lemieux and Zadorov are really the only two bodies who would have been in a position to really provide the Sabres with any tangible results from a depth or futures perspective this season.
Myers, naturally, would have still filled a top four spot, but Armia’s development had stagnated to a point and Grigorenko seemed to be stuck in neutral himself. Given the play Buffalo has received from O’Reilly and Eichel – plus the ability to slide Girgensons, Reinhart and Larsson between wing and center – they’re hardly missing his contributions. Any depth the Sabres have needed this season really wouldn’t have been resolved had Murray tried to pull back the reins in terms of what he paid in last season’s moves.
I simply find it hard to believe that a player who received so much vitriol as Griogrenko and another who only managed to find his way into a singular game suddenly qualify as major losses for organizational depth. Just looking at the breakdown attached to this post shows this season’s organizational roster shows how little effect these deals would’ve had on Buffalo’s AHL depth.
Yes, Jake McCabe or Zadorov could have started in Rochester. Grigorenko, if he cleared waivers, along with Lemieux and Armia would have also been in the AHL. But aside from Zadorov and Lemieux would any of those players really created any serious buzz with the fanbase or the pundits who follow the team?
Perhaps the only serious damage that was done was to the long-term pipeline as Compher and two top-60 picks were shipped along. Compher, who happened to be one of my favorite players in the pipeline, certainly has a great deal of potential. However, even with those three significant pieces out of the picture, previous and future drafts should mitigate those losses. Buffalo holds 11 picks in this year’s draft alone, one of which is looking like it may be a lottery selection. That lottery pick alone will help to strengthen Buffalo’s pipeline from top-to-bottom.
There’s no doubt that the lack of contribution Buffalo has received from players not named Eichel, O’Reilly or Reinhart has played a role in their inability to climb out of the league basement – despite nearing their point total from last season. However, the players Murray moved out over the past year hardly would have been capable of turning the tide for the Sabres when they were in the depths of their injury doldrums.
I wouldn’t dare argue that Buffalo has needed more from the bottom half of their lineup.
Getting few contributions from the bottom six has had a larger effect due to Matt Moulson’s (really) down year and Tyler Ennis’ extended absence. Still, there’s too much to like about the team’s progression in key areas to think that the additions of players like Kane and O’Reilly somehow caused the Sabres more long term harm than benefit is foolhardy.
Regardless of the trades made over the past season, Buffalo was going to be short a body or two at the top of the lineup. There’s also still plenty of hockey to be played. The Sabres will finish with a larger chunk of points than they earned last year and may still even push above the bottom five of the league standings.