The NHL Draft is upon us and free agency is right around the corner. That means Tim Murray is going to be busy shoring up the Sabres roster in hopes of pushing into a playoff position. As the flurry of moves are set to begin, Tyler and I got together once again to discuss which direction we would go in shaping the Sabres roster.
As always, this is written from the perspective of any conversation you have with your buddies at the bar. All trades are evaluated to ideally provide equal value both ways and at no point will you find us swapping Sidney Crosby for a sixth round pick. We’re working on our own opinions on moves we’d make if we were in Tim Murray’s shoes. You may not agree with our moves, you may not agree with the prices we’d be paying; we encourage you to let us know how stupid (or smart!) you think we are.
That being said, I’ll leave it to Tyler to get us rolling as Tim Murray’s candor on previous radio appearances this offseason has painted a pretty clear picture as to his targets this offseason: a winger to play in the top-six (presumably with Jack Eichel) and a possession driving defenseman who can quarterback the powerplay. Is that how your shopping list looks Tyler or are you thinking differently?
Tyler: Well those two areas are certainly at the top of my list. The Sabres’ play last year, while drastically improved from the previous two years, showed that the team could use some added scoring punch in the top six, as well as some reinforcements on the blue line. I’d also work to add younger, cost controlled talent. With the salary cap barely budging and an expansion draft looming I think the market is perfect for an aggressive GM like Murray.
Chris: As usual it would seem like we’re thinking along the same lines. I personally would make addressing the blueline my primary focus ever so slightly over the forward group as I wholeheartedly agree with Murray’s stance that a puck moving defenseman is a vital addition. If I can grab a left handed puck mover, even better. But if the right deal comes along, I won’t scoff if a righty is the central piece.
You bring up the need to add some additional cost-controlled talent and that interests me because while I certainly want to see at least one player acquired for the top-six, I also think the Sabres absolutely need at least one player who can not only serve well on the third line but someone who could really thrive there. I say this because while the line of Foligno-Larsson-Gionta did some impressive things last year, finding one or two wingers who could still fill that role but provide a bit more consistent offense would go a long way for the Sabres.
It’s now Friday morning, who are you calling first?
Tyler: my first call is going to Bob Murray and the Anaheim Ducks.
The Ducks already handed out an extension to Sami Vatanen and Hampus Lindholm’s will come soon as well. With Shea Theodore ready for the NHL there may not be enough money to keep Cam Fowler on the books. Fowler fits the bill of left handed powerplay quarterback that Tim Murray is looking for. Fowler is only 24 and is a good bet to chip in 35-45 points from the blue line every year.
When it comes to price my first offer would be a 2016 second round pick and a player like Marcus Foligno. The Ducks primary focus in this deal is shedding salary, so the pick fits nicely, and Foligno could replace Jamie McGinn on the third line.
Who’s first on your speed dial?
Chris: I’m also calling Murray first. The big names we’ve seen come up are Cam Fowler, Kevin Shattenkirk and Fowler’s teammates Sami Vatanen and Hampus Lindholm. However, Vatanen’s extension from over the weekend likely rules him out of any future trade talk and it’s expected that Lindholm will follow suit. Not to mention Lindholm would likely be prohibitively expensive from a trade standpoint.
So, as you pointed out, Fowler certainly seems to be on a platter for whichever team cares to bid on his services. Should Shattenkirk indeed be available, he’d be worth a long look, but I feel that Fowler would likely be a slightly more affordable option. My guess is that you’re not pulling Shattenkirk without offering up a first round pick of some sort. Maybe it’s Buffalo’s 2017 1st, maybe it’s a low first in this year’s draft which could be achieved by cobbling together some of Buffalo’s second and third round picks. That’s without considering the bodies St. Louis may come calling for as well.
Given that cost and that he fits many of the needs Tim Murray has pointed out, I think Fowler fits nicely here. I think you probably need to give the Ducks a bit more than just Foligno and a second, however. I’d offer Tyler Ennis, the 69th pick (nice!) and a mid-tier prospect like Valclav Karabacek or even Eric Cornel. The Ducks wind up adding cap in the deal which raises a challenge but they do get a left shooting forward with scoring touch – which Bob Murray just said is his target this past weekend. There is also some money coming off their books next summer, so I don’t think that the extra 600K Ennis would add hamstrings them at all heading into the summer. Since the Ducks are short on picks this year I’d hope 69th along with Ennis’ value negates the need to offer a second since his talent ought to balance the third round pick’s value. Including Karabacek or Cornel gives the Ducks a cost-controlled prospect to build with as they sort out their cap.
Now lets see if we can’t come up with a few different deals to spitball as we progress through the draft and free agency. My next move is to maneuver for some pieces up front – two for the top/middle six, to be precise.
Tyler: Assuming you can pry Fowler out of Orange County, the next item on my to-do list is definitely reinforcing the forward ranks.
When thinking of where to get that top 6 forward from, I can’t help but direct my attention towards Alberta. Peter Chiarelli took a year to evaluate his roster and he made it abundantly clear that the only real untouchable is Connor McDavid.
With that in mind I’m checking in with him to see what the asking price is on Taylor Hall. I can’t help but think there’s a deal to be made between the two clubs, even if Hall isn’t involved, but he’s my prime target. The Oilers are still woeful on the blue line and have way too many skilled forwards to keep.
There are varying opinions on what it might take to get the Oilers to part with a proven scorer like Hall, but two names that might grease the rails are Mark Pysyk and Zach Bogosian. Pysyk would (should) probably be requested by Edmonton given his combination of skill, age, and cheap contract, but I’m trying to push Bogosian if I’m Tim Murray. His play improved greatly over the second half of last season, but I still think Pysyk is a better all around defenseman.
What gets added to Bogosian or Pysyk to get a deal done is where it could get tricky. I do everything in my power to try and keep hold of 8th overall, and add 38th overall, a 2017 3rd round pick, and Zemgus Girgemsons to my offer to try to get Hall and maybe a defensive project like Sam Reinhart’s brother Griffin in return.
Murray still has plenty of assets to play with, even after a potential Fowler deal. Who are you looking to spend them on?
Chris: I would love to see Hall in a Sabres jersey and I think putting a quality RHD at the base of any trade with the Oilers makes a lot of sense. I get an inkling that even with including an additional pick and Girgensons that the Oilers would still want a first in the deal. That’s my two cents on the matter but when it comes to securing true top-six talent, Hall has to be at the top of the list.
I too have Hall on my shortlist but I don’t think I will wind up pursuing that in this particular exercise. Rather, I’m affixing a great deal of my attention on the free agent market in that regard. Kyle Okposo, Jimmy Vesey and even to a lesser extent, bringing Jamie McGinn back. But we’ll get into that a bit more later on.
There are a handful of players who have either made the round in the rumor mill, could be cap casualties or may simply wind up being available duet to future expansion draft concerns. Cam Atkinson, Jason Zucker, Tanner Pearson and Teemu Pulkkinen are among those who I’d be taking a closer look at.
Pulkkinen may be the easiest to snatch as he’s been attached to Pavel Datsyuk’s contract much in the same way that Tuevo Teravainen was attached to Bryan Bickell’s. The Sabres have the space and assets to acquire both Datsyuk’s hit and Pulkkinen as ransom for helping the Wings. Considering Datsyuk’s deal is far more expensive than Bickell’s so I think it would be easy to give the Red Wings less for doing them the honor of taking that contract off their books. So I’d be sending a 2017 2nd and the 99th pick to the Wings in exchange for Datsyuk and Pulkkinen.
I’d explore the possibility of what Jason Zucker or Cam Atkinson would cost but as I have some other plans for the forward corps, I’ll settle with grabbing the two-time 30-goal scorer with Grand Rapids and set my sights on a shake up on the draft floor.
Tyler: Okposo and Vesey certainly pique my interest on the free agent market, and I’m certainly targeting the soon to be former Islander as well. I’d be cautiously optimistic about the prospects of signing Jimmy Vesey, given his relationship with Jack Eichel. Jamie McGinn is an interesting case; he fit in well in Buffalo and made it clear he wanted to stay here at the deadline last season. If the money is right I might consider bringing him back, but he will likely be priced out of my plan.
I think it would be tough to get Cam Atkinson from Columbus without taking one of their many bad contracts with him, which is a shame because he’s a player I’ve liked for some time.
Another player I would make a call on that may be easier to acquire than many believe is Valeri Nichushkin in Dallas. He’s had some injury trouble that has set him back at bit, and spent his fair share of time in Lindy Ruff’s doghouse. Knowing how difficult it is for a player to get back Lindy’s good graces, and with the Stars having to make tough expansion draft decisions in the near future, it may be a good time to strike a deal. A second or third round selection could get Jim Nill thinking. If I could parlay a 3rd round pick it’s something I’d do in a heartbeat; If the asking price is a 2nd I think I hold off.
With the Leafs soon to be at the podium, I’ve added Cam Fowler, Taylor Hall, and Griffin Reinhart, and I still have some assets to move if I so chose before free agency hits.
Chris: My last move is perhaps the biggest one (and therefore most likely to be shot down). After spending the hours leading to the first pick acquiring Cam Fowler, Teemu Pulkkinen, I will follow the rumor breadcrumbs to the fourth pick. While some of the crazier rumors connect the Sabres not only to the fourth pick but to Taylor Hall as well, I think it will be a more feasible deal to simply chase the fourth pick. Although I’d try to get there in a slightly different manner.
The offer I’d table to the Oilers would be the eighth overall selection this year, Zach Bogosian, Zemgus Girgensons and the 86th selection in the 2016 draft in exchange for fourth overall, 32nd overall and Griffin Reinhart. My thinking is as follows; eighth and Bogosian for fourth is a large overpayment from Buffalo’s end (it also lessens the return on the Kane/Myers trade from Winnipeg). So, I ask for an additional pick since I’m putting in a quality NHL body the Oilers are said to value. By pushing for such a valuable second round pick I’d offer up Zemgus Girgensons as well, a very valuable player in his own right but someone who may be an odd man out as my fantasy roster shapes up. Lastly, I toss in that fourth round pick as a makeweight for taking Griffin Reinhart who seems to be becoming a forgotten man and could serve as the final makeweight in this deal.
I’d then have the option of combining the 32nd and 38th picks along with my remaining third round selections to jump back into the first round if there’s a player I still covet moving into the mid-to-late teens. Of course, I’d also own the fourth overall selection which I would use to select Matthew Tkachuk.
We head to part two with each of us tossing out a blockbuster with the Oilers but also sliding slightly similar offers towards the Ducks to address Buffalo’s need on the blueline. Part two will touch on our post-draft plans in free agency and beyond.