I don’t know about the rest of you, but I just don’t feel quite confident with the prospects of the 2016-2017 Buffalo Sabres being a playoff team. Yet.
Considering the recent arrest of Evander Kane, missing out on Jimmy Vesey, and Rasmus Ristolainen still lacking a contract, there are more than enough possible impediments to Tim Murray’s club breaking its four season playoff drought. Its time for something positive to happen, and what better way to get the team on the right track than to make a trade. I think the Kyle Okposo signing will yield highly positive dividends for Sabres, and his acquisition cements a very formidable top six going into next season (and a scary good top six going into the future), but I do believe that more will be required to make that extra push.
Of course, the biggest need that the Sabres have yet to fill is a puck moving defenseman on the back-end, the most notable names on the table being Tyson Barrie, Cam Fowler, and Kevin Shattenkirk. All three of these players have great ability on the power play, and to make that good first pass out of the zone to spring the explosive ability that Buffalo contains in its top six. After the Mark Pysyk/Dmitry Kulikov trade, the Sabres back-end has become balanced, which gives Tim Murray more flexibility to target both right-handed and left-handed defensemen.
The biggest roadblock until this point has been an inability for the General Managers of the Ducks, Avs, and Blues to find a buyer who offers up a package that considers the premium that top four, puck moving defensemen are receiving nowadays. From the Sabres’ standpoint, there are multiple factors that indicate that the greatest bargaining chip that Tim Murray has to spend would be his first round pick in next year’s entry draft.
The value of a first round pick should be noted and recognized. A first round pick almost always turns into at least an NHL caliber player. In this day in age, young players on entry-level contracts who can adequately fill roles in the bottom six and bottom pair, are necessities. When you have star players, such as Jack Eichel and Ryan O’Reilly, set to take up large portions of the cap, you need to find bargains elsewhere.
The Sabres have picked so high and with such great volume over the last five draft years, as evidenced by going to the podium a whopping 16 times in the first two rounds over that time, that the cost of losing next years first round draft choice will sting significantly less due to the depth and abundance of NHL ‘doorstep’ talent (Bailey, Guhle, Baptiste, etc.). If all goes well for the young 2016-2017 Sabres, the pick should be in the late teens or maybe even the early twenties.
But, as I said before, in order to maintain long-term success like the Kings or Blackhawks, it is important to keep your farm system stacked with players that can contribute on entry-level contracts. In fact, with the salary cap ceiling continuing to rise and a fixed maximum cap hit for entry-level deals, the relative value for contributing young players is only getting greater!
That being said, having depth prospects that are seemingly locks to get a look at the NHL level are essential. In Buffalo, Rasmus Asplund is that kind of prospect that gives Tim Murray flexibility. Right after Buffalo selected the 5′ 11″ Swedish forward from Farjestad BK of the Swedish Elite League, GMTM stated that the scouting department had a first round grade on Asplund. Kris Baker of Sabresprospects.com seems to agree.
Asplund provides great skating ability, and fantastic hockey sense. Those two characteristics combined yields what seems to be a good, two-way bottom six center at the very least when he steps into the NHL. It is very reasonable to assume that he and Nylander will be NHL ready within two years, further bolstering an already solid group of forwards. The presence of Rasmus Asplund, especially with an extra year of seasoning under his belt, makes the idea of using a first round selection on a forward in next years draft a bit redundant, and the selection itself expendable.
The Sabres are also the owners of two second and two third round picks in the 2017 Draft, so the possibility of packaging those picks and moving back into the late first round is certainly possible. Especially if there is a name that the scouting department is really in love with. After all, as Murray said it himself, you don’t have enough contracts to give per the CBA to keep drafting that kind of volume.
The Sabres are in a position of strength where they have the ability to trade quantity of assets for quality, and still end up with numerous quality players. On top the teams mentioned before (Avs, Ducks, and Blues) there are some other teams to look out for as potential trade partners with Tim Murray. Teams that seem to be stuck with poor contracts and an aging core such as Minnesota, Detroit and Boston are teams who stick out and may be hurdling towards a rebuild.
As Buffalo fans know, teams entering a rebuild really covet those first round picks and would be more than willing to part with quality players to acquire more future assets. The focus should still remain on finding more defense, but expect the front office has to do its due diligence on a number of positions and playing styles.
The acquisition of a player like Barrie, Shattenkirk, and maybe Fowler would almost definitely necessitate more in the package than just the first round pick, but if I am Tim Murray, that is the first thing that I am putting down on the table. Lottery protection of the pick is also another option that gives the team the best of both worlds, but it does lower the worth of the pick in trade talks.
Buffalo should be all hands on deck to make it into the postseason, and using that pick would not yield dividends for years to come. The Blue and Gold should know that it is time to reap the rewards of years of horrendous play. The presence of a deep prospect pool with many players on the doorstep to the NHL and the instant impact of a top four defenseman, should allow Tim Murray to not shy away from moving that first round selection.