Two in the Mailbox – Arena Thoughts, Very Bad Trades and Offseason Targets for the Sabres

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

The mailbag is back post-Asplund and pre-draft. Before jumping into the questions for this edition, I thought I’d share some thoughts on the arena as it’s been in the news quite a bit recently.

The evolving arena renovations news has been very interesting to follow and it’s something I have a lot of interest in. I re-posted my arena renovations wish list last week to share my thoughts with anyone who may have missed it the first time around. Obviously that list is pretty pie in the sky in terms of some of the stuff I’m hoping for.

However, things on this front haven’t quieted down. It doesn’t appear that any work has started at One SHK III Plaza, which isn’t exactly ideal, but it’s very clear this is at the front of mind for a lot of people. Kim Pegula’s recent comments caused quite a stir and as a result a few people submitted questions regarding potential renovations for this week. This is me addressing those questions but also adding my two cents on the current status with the arena.

The idea of the Sabres building a new area is extremely intoxicating. Although KeyBank Center was built right in the middle of a big boom in new facilities around the NHL, it seems to lack a lot of the flexibility other arenas offer. I feel that the atrium gets over looked for how unique the space is, but beyond that, it’s a very utilitarian structure. There wasn’t a lot of thought given to common areas, nor is there much flexibility to create that type of space either. Add in other factors like the tall roof and there’s plenty of reasons that a mulligan would be preferable.

I struggle to see a new arena making sense given the amount of hype and investment made with HarborCenter. There is a lot of boasting about having the only “three rink” facility in the NHL. Even if that claim is a little creative, the layout of the two buildings certainly plays a role in keeping the Combine and potentially landing other key arena-focused events. A new building, even if it was built just down the block on the surface lots, eliminates that convenience.

That being said, Mike Harrington noted that current projections have the current renovation budget at about $50 million and, frankly, that number seems extremely low to me. If the target is to bring KeyBank Center up to par with the rest of the league, that cost would need to exceed $100 million. And if they’re in line to spend $100 or even upwards of $200 million on renovations which they’ll be somewhat handcuffed on – due to the building’s current layout – does it make more sense to bump the budget closer to $500 million and get the state-of-the-art arena of your dreams?

When it comes to spending other people’s money, I’m something of an expert. It would be incredibly exciting to get a shiny new arena downtown. Just look at what the Red Wings did with Little Caesars Arena for an idea of some of the trends in new arena design. But if the Pegulas are going to require a large public buy-in, I wouldn’t be nearly as excited at the prospect. That factor really poisons the well for me and pushes my preferences towards a renovation since the requirement for public money would be that much less (plus the other issues I mentioned above). But in a vacuum? Give me the new toy and let’s see how cool they can make it.

Now, on to your questions.

@kindofawriter: Where the depth scoring at?

This list has to start with CJ Smith right? He’ll be a factor in the training camp battle at left wing. Alex Nylander will be in there as well. But even with those two in the mix, the Sabres wing talent is lacking.

I’m warming to the idea that Jason Botterill needs to be about as active in acquiring forwards this summer as he was with acquiring defensemen last year. That isn’t to say he doesn’t need to keep adding on the blueline because reader, he does. But adding Dahlin is obviously a massive coup for the beleaguered defensive corps and there probably isn’t as much need to swing for the fences on defensemen as there would have been if Buffalo slid in the draft order as a result of the lottery.

So, you have Smith and Nylander as the current leaders to snag a roster spot next year and guys like Nick Baptiste and Justin Bailey are going to be looked at to fill the bottom six with a bit more skill. But if Botterill is able to find himself a quality top-six winger who could push some bodies down the depth chart, suddenly CJ Smith is in a prime position to step onto the third line and get some more favorable deployment and, ideally, inject some much needed offense into Buffalo’s middle or bottom six.

Very Bad Trades

Every time I think I’ve found a good option for Very Bad Trades I stumble across an entry from Shibbal18 on Cap Friendly which blows everything else out of the water. Just like this one.

Kicking off with the Arizona move, why you’d ship your most valuable asset for a guy who hasn’t gotten out of the AHL yet and another player just beyond prospect status who has regressed badly from his rookie year seems like bad business. Using one of those questionable pieces in another trade is good by me, even though that package isn’t getting you Jason Zucker’s jersey, let alone the actual player. Not to mention, I like Zucker but not enough to re-acquire Enzo Sauce.

Moving on. A third round pick isn’t nearly enough to convince anyone to get worse and more expensive in goal. As for the kicker here, are we talking about the same Jesper Fast I think we’re talking about? He of a career high 13 goals and 33 points? You’re going to give up your best non-Dahlin defensive prospect, the rights to a quality bottom six player AND a second round pick?

Folks, this isn’t great.

Zach/@4everasabresfan: Who would you take 32nd overall or would you trade up into the 1st round? Also chances Olofsson, Pilut, & Nylander make the team

Dominik Bokk seems to be the name I see most when it comes to the bottom of the first round or the top of the second. He’d be a terrific pick as he has loads of offensive traits. The guy I like the most at 32 is Akil Thomas but I’m not too confident that he’ll fall out of the first round. The same goes for Filip Hallander who maybe has a better chance to slip to 32 than Thomas does, but has a profile befitting of a first round pick. If the chips fall the right way though, Thomas or Hallander are the guys I’d like best there. I wouldn’t chase a pick up into the first round though. The Sabres don’t have much draft capital to begin with and quite a few people have noted there is very little variation from pick 15 into the 30s and 40s (both this year and historically).

As for the second half of this question, Nylander has the best chance to make the team simply by necessity. I’m not sure where he starts if a few trades go down, but he probably has an inside look at a spot with the big club. The other two will almost certainly start in Rochester with only Pilut having a chance to see NHL minutes at this point.

Bob (I think)/@Buffalobobz: I know it might be unpopular, but my favorite stadium idea is to keep it where it is, renovate it, and add a roof. % chance that there’s a new roof on a renovated/new stadium?

If a new stadium is built – and I’m very confident that is both plan A and plan B – I think there is a 90% chance a roof is on it. Probably 99% chance if we’re being honest, but let’s round down for now.

As for putting a roof on the current stadium, I think that would be a massive undertaking. If they go the Lambeau/Arrowhead/Solider Field route and do a transformation renovation I’d presume there’s no roof and they keep the stadium as-is since it has some cachet as a football cathedral (although I think that’s BS since the place was built in the 70s. It’s hardly a vestige of football history).

But I digress! Not unlike my KeyBank Center point, if we’re talking in a vacuum, I’m opting for a new building and putting it downtown. What I’d love to see done with the current building, should new digs be built, would be to remove the upper deck so that only the lower bowl remains, put a nifty roof over the seats to create a sort of quasi-soccer/multi-use stadium with a smallish capacity which could be used for a host of sports and other events. Then build out the space between the stadium and fieldhouse so the team could host training camp in Buffalo (which it sounds like Sean McDermott prefers) with upgraded facilities as part of the offering.

Andrew/@amerkshieldguy: What is a realistic expectation for the #Sabres in 2018-2019 in terms of points in the standings and place in the division?

It wouldn’t shock me to see a similar bump that they got after drafting Eichel. A pretty decent jump in the standings that lands them in the 10 to 13 range in the conference. If they make a couple of blockbuster trades and catch lightning in a bottle maybe they’re a playoff team. But I’m betting they closer to like 80 points and well off the wild card pace.

Mike/@Mikelasky27: With Kessel reportedly on the block, does JB have any interest assuming the cost is a bag of pucks? $6.8 cap hit for 4 years.

My first instinct is yes. He’s still a scoring dynamo and assuming the cost would be next to nothing due to Pittsburgh’s cap structure, the price would be right. But I’d prefer to see Botterill say thanks but no thanks on a Kessel deal. Likewise for splashing cash for Michael Grabner or anyone else who will be on the wrong side of 30 when their big money deals run out. I don’t want to see Botterill try to go too fast with his portion of the rebuild, that wound up biting Tim Murray in the ass and I’d prefer not to see the Sabres make the same mistakes. Even though Kessel would check off about every box the Sabres need filled at the moment.

Seth/@13_sethgVV; Who do Sabres go after in free agency as it looks like Tavares will stay in NY and who from Rochester will be a full time Sabre next year?

I’ve alluded to it above but I’m hoping Botterill is quiet in free agency. Calvin de Haan is at the top of my wish list and I think he should be one of the few priorities the Sabres should have in the UFA market. Obviously goaltender is on that list but the forward crop is pretty thin and short of getting Rick Nash on a sweetheart deal (unlikely), there are very few names out there I’d like to see the Sabres go after.

Other than de Haan, who I’ve been a big fan of for a long time, I think Riley Nash would be a nice depth addition who would be a great upgrade as a bottom six center and I wouldn’t be opposed to throwing a low term offer at Rick Nash or Thomas Vanek to see what came back. That is assuming Botterill doesn’t track down a better option for a top six winger via the trade market.

2 thoughts on “Two in the Mailbox – Arena Thoughts, Very Bad Trades and Offseason Targets for the Sabres

    • Chris Ostrander June 1, 2018 / 3:17 pm

      They don’t need to chase the Little Caesars model though. There are plenty of terrific new buildings which are a more right-size fit for the region. Rodgers Place, PPG Paints and T-Mobile all came in under $500m and would be more than adequate. Little Caesars also incorporated a bunch of mixed use buildings within its footprint which makes it very unique in that way. I see that as more of an outlier when it comes to NHL arena templates.


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