Two in the Mailbox – What would O’Reilly and Ristolainen Swaps Look Like?

Two in the Mailbox, the (sometimes) weekly 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

Back at it post, post lottery. Let’s get to it.

Adam/@sharpndpensel – You’re Jason Botterill. You decided to reshape the roster, you want to move Ristolainen for a forward and Ryan O’Reilly for a defenseman. Who are your trade partners, and who are you targeting?

This is a topic I’ve been tossing around for a little while now. In this space, on Twitter and in private conversations. Given that this subject was submitted by a few people for this mailbag it seems like a good time to dig in deeper.

The first thing to consider is that trading two talents like O’Reilly and Ristolainen in the same summer would be fairly unlikely. That’s a lot of negotiating to consummate two deals of similar stature. But from a hypothetical standpoint, these two players offer the opportunity for the Sabres to flip their depth and shake up the locker room without becoming exposed at a key position. But the key word here is hypothetical.

O’Reilly probably carries a bit more value than Ristolainen at the moment and you could conceivably shop him to just about anyone around the league. There are three teams I feel are a better fit than the others for the centerman and they are the Hurricanes, Blues and Flames.

St. Louis was rumored to be interested in a center at the deadline – hoping to dangle the first round pick they got from Winnipeg as bait – but they never found a suitor. It was even said by some that O’Reilly was their target. A package that included that extra first round pick would be enticing as it would help back fill the Sabres’ pipeline. But the one player I think Botterill would demand in a package for O’Reilly would be Vince Dunn. He’s as young and quickly developing defenseman. St. Louis has a handful of quality defenders but Colton Parayko isn’t going anywhere and neither is Alex Pietrangelo. I guess Joel Edmundson would be a potential target but Dunn would be the true prize. But his profile makes him a difficult asset to come away with.

It’s a similar story in Calgary where the one defenseman who makes the most sense for the Sabres, Dougie Hamilton, also happens to be one of their best assets. I bring up Hamilton for a few reasons, the first being that in this hypothetical in which the Sabres are dealing O’Reilly and Ristolainen, replacing Ristolainen with another right handed defenseman keeps a decent right/left balance on the blueline. The other reason is that he’s a dynamic talent capable of pairing with Rasmus Dahlin for a number of years forward. He also happens to be the only defenseman on Calgary’s roster who even offers a bit of interest in terms of what the Sabres should be looking for. Mark Giordano is too old, TJ Brodie has been a little streaky (also a lefty), Travis Hamonic had a couple down years in a row and was just acquired last year. So Hamilton is kind of the only reasonable option. But he’d be expensive. The Sabres would need to add at least two pieces to a trade in order to land him and that includes Ryan O’Reilly.

The most attractive option is probably Carolina as they have a surplus of defenseman and their cheap, young, right handed possession driver has been pushed down the totem pole recently due to the emergence of Noah Hanifin, Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce. Justin Faulk carries a cap hit below $5m for two more seasons and will only be 28 when the deal expires. The Hurricanes aren’t exactly hurting at center but have been rumored to be on the hunt for help at forward and I can’t help but think the stars align nicely for a deal like this. Like Hamilton, Faulk has the chops to handle minutes alongside Dahlin and would keep the right/left balance on D. He’s been a minus player for five-straight years but Carolina would’ve been better served with a shooter tutor in net during that time in which he’s also maintained very impressive possession metrics. Dougie Hamilton would be a ton of fun but I think Faulk probably makes the most sense in the trade scenario you’ve laid out.

Where this gets tricky is finding a suitor for Ristolainen. Not because there’s no market for right handed defensemen with good scoring numbers, but because the only way I think this scenario makes any sense is if the Sabres find cover for losing O’Reilly in a concurrent trade. As much as the Sabres could use a Larsson for Hall type trade to shore up their dearth of scoring on the wings, you’ve got to replace O’Reilly with another quality, 200-foot center.

So who does that leave? The Canucks would probably have interest but they don’t have the chips at forward to buy in. As much as I’d love to see the Sabres pry Radek Faksa from the defensively deficient Stars, that’s just not happening. He’s going to garner a lot of Selke buzz over the next few years. Colorado may have some passing interest but are you asking to get JT Compher back? Doesn’t feel like a fit. The Isles have a few names of interest (Brock Nelson and Anders Lee) but they’re not the 200-foot aces you’re looking for.

For the record, if there’s a deal that snagged Faksa from the Stars, I’d be all about it. I just feel that he’s someone they’re trying to build with, not shipping out to shore up their blueline.

That brings me to Edmonton who feels like a very attractive partner not because their GM is Peter Chiarelli but because they’re said to still be in the market for help on defense and they have a pretty darn good 200-foot center in Ryan Nugent-Hopkins whose been dangled in the rumor mill the last few years. You’d lose offense from what O’Reilly offers each year, but for the most part you’d be getting cover for losing a center with O’Reilly’s skillset.

So the end result here winds up being O’Reilly and Ristolainen for Faulk and Nugent-Hopkins in addition to whatever sweeteners would be included. I presume the Carolina swap would see the Sabres gian at least one or two futures in addition to Faulk whereas the Oilers trade would be pretty close as a one-for-one but you might see Edmonton toss in a mid-round pick as a sweetener.

They’ve been rumored as a partner for the Sabres by a few reporters already this spring and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins plays the two-way style well enough that you would still have three solid centers even if you wind up dealing O’Reilly. So the end result of the hypothetical would swap O’Reilly and Ristolainen for Faulk and Nugent-Hopkins plus whatever add ons happened to come along with each respective deal. That offers an opportunity to shake up the roster while ostensibly keeping the team’s strong points the same.

Joe/@joehockeysabres – Given that the Frozen Four is here next year, do you anticipate any Arena upgrades this off season or will a major upgrade come in the following off season?

As I understand it, any renovation project would be done in phases. I will be shocked if nothing is done prior to October, let alone next spring. The team has already taken steps to give more back to season ticket holders, clearly they’re paying attention to what’s going on. Maybe they opt for things they’d pay for “out of “pocket” like a new scoreboard as opposed to some of the bigger ticket items that they’re looking to get public dollars for. But if they’re unable to get anything done by the spring it will be a big miss.

Max/@markoLWOS – Would you be into Montreal selling the farm to the Sabres for ROR

The short answer is yes. If a team is going to sell out for O’Reilly (or pretty much any other player on the roster) you’re probably getting more than enough return to justify dealing him. Unfortunately that particular farm isn’t all that fertile.

I think the only way it would make sense to deal with Montreal for O’Reilly is if you’re getting either Victor Mete or Noah Juulsen (or both) as part of the package. Other than those two I don’t think Montreal has enough to offer that helps the Sabres get better. And that’s the key for me if you’re talking about moving O’Reilly. Is the package you’re getting going to make the team better long term? Mete and Juulsen would be nice boosts but I don’t think they have all that much more to offer. Aside from third overall and, c’mon, let’s be realistic. Is Nikita Scherbak catching your attention? Does Alex Galchenyuk still hold the value as the “centerpiece” of a trade? I just don’t feel the Canadiens and Sabres line up enough to make that type of deal.

Zach/@zcarr39 – Michael Grabner. Any interest there? LW and speed to burn. Areas of need on the Sabres roster.

My Instigator Podcast partner (and guy who writes stuff here sometimes) Tyler is a big fan of his and I think Grabner would be a great guy to target. I’m curious to see what kind of money he gets after two-straight years scoring over 25 goals. He’s also on the wrong side of 30 now and if his recent play inflates the offers he gets, will the Sabres want to invest more than a couple of seasons in him if there’s a risk his game will drop off? I think he’d be a major boost to their depth, I just think there’s some reason for caution as well given how the UFA market has been recently.

Brian/@brian_mulhern – What type of player is Lawrence Pilut and is he an NHLers now or is he going to need some time in the Minors?

This is a question best left for Kris Baker and his prospect expertise. I’ve seen Kris mention Pilut as a bottom pair player to start but with the opportunity to grow as he adjusts to the North American game. The good news here is the Sabres can get him on a multi-year ELC as opposed to a one-year deal like Viktor Antipin got. That means they can spend more time grooming him and perhaps let him begin his career with the Amerks before giving him a promotion to the big club.

Tim/@tim_witt I don’t think Risto should be a top pairing guy, ideally. Who could the Sabres target in a trade to play with Dahlin? Are there any upcoming UFAs that put up nice fancy stats to target for mid level money (I’m thinking of how TB got Stralman to play with Hedman)

I touched on this a little bit in the first entry but the inclusion of the UFA route caught my eye, especially since I already have a pet favorite in this year’s UFA class. Worth noting, in the event the Sabres opt to make a trade for a defenseman, getting a righty seems ideal. Dahlin played a lot on the off side with Frolunda, so they don’t need a righty, but it would help. The utopic answer here is Dougie Hamilton, but that’s a very, very tall order in terms of a trade. But if they got it done I’d learn how to do a backflip I’d be so excited.

On the free agent front Calvin de Haan is at the top of my Sabres wishlist. He’s had good relative numbers for most of his career aside from the past season when he battled some injuries, the Islanders decided defense was optional and all of their goaltenders were terrible. That being said, he’s been a steady performer for some time and would be a nice addition to the middle of Buffalo’s depth chart. He’s maybe not an answer for the top pair, but he would be a big step in the right direction.

@4everasabresfan – With Eichel, Dahlin, Mittelstadt, Okposo, Ristolainen, Reinhart, Nylander, and Guhle in the fold, do you think Tavares has interest in BUF

Maybe by winning the lottery they can offer a similar sales pitch they did to Okposo. In that they’ve just drafted a cornerstone talent, come be part of something special etc. Given that Tavares, should he hit market, is a cornerstone talent himself, the sales pitch would be a bit different but I presume that’s what they’d be using to hook him on Buffalo. The idea that the Sabres are ready for the next step and he’d be surrounded with great players would be the best thing they could sell him on.

However, I can’t see Tavares having interest in the Sabres. Even if they traded O’Reilly and maybe if they traded Ristolainen for help in other areas (see: winger) I  can’t see Tavares wanting to wait for the Sabres to become serious contenders. There is still a long way to go for them to catch up with the rest of the league. I think Tavares would rather find a team like San Jose who can offer a more direct route to a deep playoff run for the same money.

Very Bad Trades

The Very Bad Trades section needed to wait until the end of this week’s mailbag because it’s a very special edition. Not only is there a terrifically silly Sabres deal to breakdown, I’m also including a sampling of crazy Leafs fans who want to trade Auston Matthews. It’s really been a pretty great week.

The Sabres entry comes from Skyraider112 and part of me feels like this is a troll job. I mean, no one is this crazy right? Right??!?

We don’t need to look much further than the Dahlin trade which is woefully undervalued. Somehow. But the Mantha trade is the real gem here. Sure, this person is trading away one of the best defensive prospects to ever enter the league for just two bodies, but they’re going to deal multiple first and second round picks, plus Zach Bogosian who Detroit would definitely not want, for the rights to Anthony Mantha. All of this adds up to a team with a worse defense corps than the Sabres had this season and a club operating nearly $4m over the salary cap. So good work all around here.

Shifting our gaze north, it would seem Leafs fans have become unhinged after their playoff exit.

Things were going so well in Toronto. What happened? There’s another armchair GM out there in which the Sabres trade Dahlin for Willie Nylander, Nazem Kadri and a bunch of other stuff, but this one, in which Auston Matthews gets pawned off is just too good.

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