Two in the Mailbox – What to do with Mittelstadt?

Two in the Mailbox, the weekly (week and a half this time) mailbag on the Sabres, goalie stuff, Buffalo and anything in between, is back. You can submit to the mailbag using #2ITBmailbag on Twitter or emailing 2intheboxbuffalo@gmail.com.

Jake/@Jvince11 – What do you think the chances are that when Mittelstadt’s season is over that he signs an ELC and at least plays in Rochester? Maybe Buffalo? A Clayton Keller move like he did with PHX last year.

This was posed to both Joe Yerdon and myself and I yoinked it for the mailbag because I’ve been thinking a lot about Mittelstadt lately. He’s very obviously an electric talent and has compiled quite the highlight reel since being drafted. His World Juniors was tremendous but he hasn’t set the world on fire with Minnesota. This is comparing apples to oranges in a way but Jack Eichel finished his freshman season with 71 points in 40 games while Mittelstadt has racked up 30 in 34 games. Minnesota has been fairly average this year and it’s been noted that Mittelstadt has been lacking finishers, so maybe his numbers would be a little more inflated with a stronger cast around him. Even with an inflated stat line, there’s plenty of room for growth in his game.

Mittelstadt’s skillset is undeniable but knowing if he’s pro ready is a little tougher to ascertain. What’s curious is that Mittelstadt has shown a knack for is playing up to the moment. He took the game by the throat when the US was trailing Canada late in the outdoor game. He singlehandedly tried to beat Slovakia, scoring the goal of the tournament in doing so. And just last weekend he was a dynamo in trying to carry his team past Penn State. He somehow has raised his game to the level of his competition at nearly every turn which offers promise for how he’d look making his debut in Buffalo.

But there’s a lot more emotion behind that evaluation than anything else, and that’s a dangerous spot to find yourself in. It’s easy to be intoxicated by the emotional side of the argument and I’m hopeful Jason Botterill and the Sabres are making their decision based on more hard data and evaluation than intangibles. I feel like a lot of the calls to get him in right away are based more on the latter as opposed to the former.

The question comes down to what choice will best serve Mittelstadt’s development? He’d be able to get into games with the Sabres and even jump into playoff games with the Amerks. If the Gophers don’t get into the tournament he’d be in a position to get an extended run in Buffalo and Rochester. So there would be plenty to be gained by getting him signed. Plus, his skillset is badly needed and a cameo this spring could set him up well for a full-time gig in the fall. I want to see the Sabres make the smart decision, but I also very badly want to see him get a handful of games this spring and then enjoy a run with the Amerks in the playoffs.

Scott/@scottymcmahon22 – You have the opportunity to sign a top line winger for Jack or top two d-man but only one. What would you choose?

The defenseman. Every time. I’m assuming we’re ruling out the draft lottery with this scenario but even with Rasmus Dahlin in the mix, I’d lock up the top-pair defender over a winger.

We’ve seen Eichel do impressive work with lesser talent, so finding adequate players to slot in alongside him doesn’t seem as daunting as filling out the blueline. As bad as the Sabres look up front, a lot of their warts would be covered by an effective d-corps. Also, if Buffalo’s lottery luck stays the same as it has been, they’re in a position to fall into players like Filip Zadina or Andrei Svenchnikov. Defense would be that much more of a need if the draft were to play out that way.

Liam/@liamcanadian21 – What’s the fascination with Nathan Beaulieu? Should the Sabres buy out Bogosian?

I’m not sure what the fascination is with being fascinated by Nathan Beaulieu.  Make no mistake, he hasn’t been close to good enough this year but the Sabres didn’t sell the farm to get the guy either. I almost wonder if expectations for him were a little higher than they should have been. He’s a former first round pick who had previously shown the ability to push pace and offense from the backend. The Sabres sorely lacked those things last year and if spending a pick with a 20% likelihood of becoming a serious NHLer was the price, I’m all for it. He’s fallen below even realistic expectations but we’re not talking about a vital piece of the puzzle either.

As for Bogo, there’s no right answer in the debate over sitting on dead money vs. taking your medicine. They’d free up some vital cap space by buying him out and the penalty never exceeds $2m in any of the four years they’d be on the hook for. The alternative is dealing with his $5,142,857 hit for the remaining two years after this one. Maybe he finally stays healthy and gives them some solid contribution to the top four, but that gamble gets tougher to make with each passing day. If they buy him out this summer they net $4m in cap space over the four year period the buyout penalties and with so many holes to fill, I think it might just be worth pursuing.

Brandon/@burrito1122 – What direction are the Sabres heading?

Believe it or not I don’t think they’re heading backwards. They’re just not heading forwards either. I think the 2016 draft has the potential to pay off well for them and the 2017 class seems to be trending in the right direction as well. Jason Botterill needs to make some smart hockey trades this summer, far easier said than done, to pull the Sabres out of this stagnant state and back into a positive trend.

Matt/@mattkopnak – Would pursuing John Tavares be smart for the Sabres? Is there a way to do it without ending up in cap jail?

I’m going to address the second part of this question first. The Sabres could fit John Tavares in under the cap (assuming he gets somewhere between $10-12m per season). They’d be very tight to the cap but they could pull it off. The easiest way to do it would while leaving cap flexibility would be by shedding the salaries of Ryan O’Reilly (trade) and Zach Bogosian (buyout). Those moves wouldn’t just create the space to sign Tavares but they’d have ample space to make other moves beyond the big free agent signing.

Would it be smart for the Sabres? No, I don’t think so. The Sabres are in a pickle with their current roster make up and I don’t think spending on another big UFA contract is the way out of it. They aren’t just going to draft their way out of this hole but I think saddling up another eight figure cap hit would cause more problems than it would solve.

That being said, in an NHL 18 fantasy world where O’Reilly is moved for help (and cap relief) now and in the future and Bogisian’s contract is bought out is one that would make for a fun summer. The Sabres could re-up their key free agents, hand Tavares a hefty contract and have the space to shore up other thin areas via trades or other free agent signings.

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