Two in the Mailbox: Finding Help Down the Middle after Berglund Departure

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

At this rate the mailbag is going to be monthly rather than sometimes weekly. Either way, a lot has happened since the last iteration with Patrik Berglund’s contract termination being the most recent and the biggest headline.

We discussed Berglund for the first half of this week’s podcast and the one thing that I think will be misconstrued with his contract being terminated is that the Sabres can or should exercise the option on any player they please. Kyle Okposo, Zach Bogosian, Marco Scandella are just a few of the guys I imagine fans are going to flood the mentions of writers with once Berglund’s termination is official.

The fact of the matter is that these scenarios are extremely unique and require a concrete violation in most cases (Jake Dotchin or Mike Richards, for example) for the team to have solid ground to stand on. So while you may want the Sabres to have the liberty to cut bait with Okposo with no questions asked, it’s just not in the cards. So why waste your time hoping for it?

Okposo certainly needs to find his offense again as he makes too much to not be a regular contributor. But he’s hardly been a black hole as many fans want to believe (it’s usually easier to be hyperbolic than reasonable when it comes to an underperforming player). Bear this in mind: Okposo wears a letter for the Sabres and appears to have sway in the room. He’s clearly held in high regard by the organization so there’s no chance he’s going to be bought out let alone meet the terms required for a contract termination.

If you’re that desperate to see the Sabres get out from under his deal, there are three avenues which they’ll likely follow. The first being to find a trade partner, in which the Sabres would likely need to retain salary and still take a low return. The second being an amnesty buyout should they even be an option after a lockout. We also don’t know how lengthy or painful a lockout may be, which could affect buyouts as well. The last option would be paying Seattle to select him in the expansion draft.

There’s no clear path, which is the reality for about 90% of contracts in the NHL. I think that’s important to keep in mind. This isn’t an unmined resource GMs haven’t been taking advantage of. It takes a special set of circumstances to trigger and while the benefits to the Sabres are obvious, there isn’t a laundry list of players in line for contract termination as well.

Now, for some questions.

Eric/@realsharpie – Scott Wilson gonna slide into Berglund’s roster spot?

For now I think things stay pretty much the same. Lack of secondary scoring aside, things are pretty well set at forward and there aren’t any players screaming to spend a few nights in the pressbox. Berglund’s contract termination puts the Sabres at 22 players on the active roster and with Jake McCabe and Lawrence Pilut looking like the two closest to returning, I’d assume one of them takes his spot once they’re off IR. Brendan Guhle will eventually be sent down to account for the other and at that point is when things get tricky.

Is Remi Elie waived to make room for Wilson? Do they send down a defenseman? Pilut doesn’t need waivers and I suspect Hunwick would pass through unclaimed. So there are options available to them. I’m beginning to wonder if Pilut is going to stick around for the entire year, so if they manage to get two players through waivers – assume Elie and Hunwick – then they’d have that bonus roster spot opened by Berglund once again.

Ajay/@akmatta – Is there a 2nd line center that you would like to see Botterill take a run at? Mine would be RNH but Oilers are doing well now.

Botterill has come out a few times in the last week and stated that he’s not looking for rentals but young players who can grow with their young core. RNH is young and still has term on his deal, so he’d fit that mold perfectly. But as mentioned, the Oilers have gotten back on track and RNH is a big part of their forward group. But he’s a perfect example of guys I’d hope the Sabres are targeting.

I don’t know if they truly had the ammo to make a competitive offer, but I really wish the Sabres had been in the Nick Schmaltz derby because he would’ve been an absolutely perfect fit. Young centers with term are in short supply, especially from teams who may be selling. There’s a pretty short list of players they can pursue. When it comes down to it you’re left with Charlie Coyle (affordable hit at 26 years old) or paying big for Kevin Hayes as a rental.There aren’t too many other obvious candidates around the league at the moment. Even Coyle’s inclusion in trade rumors seems a little shaky.

Since there aren’t very many names out there at the moment, I’ll include a couple out of the box ideas. The first being Brayden Schenn, who would cost a fair bit to pry out of St. Louis. And the second being Radek Faksa, who the Stars reportedly love but would definitely be an upgrade over Vladimir Sobotka on that third line and would ease some responsibility off Casey Mittelstadt.

Alex/@alexcasilio – What are the biggest objectives Buffalo should have this upcoming off-season to take this roster up an even higher notch?

They definitely need some more skill at center. I don’t think that means paying Kevin Hayes as an unrestricted free agent but with so few obvious trade candidates it will be hard for Botterill to find the young skilled players he covets. But that shouldn’t change center from being number one on their shopping list. Botterill may need to pull another blockbuster out of his hat to shore up the middle of his lineup.

The other thing that will be big next summer is identifying who to bring back and who to part ways with. This will come into better focus in the coming weeks and months but there are six restricted and unrestricted free agents who will require a long look. They include Jason Pominville, Johan Larsson, Zemgus Girgensons and Jake McCabe. Figuring out who of that group to keep and how to replace them (promotions from Rochester or an outside acquisition) will be a key undertaking.  They may not have the same amount of turnover from the last two years, but there’s a good chance that there’s upwards of six new faces after the summer.

Patrick/@patrickpijan16 – What do you feel would be a reasonable asking price for Colton Parayko utilizing pieces the Sabres have?

That first round pick is the obvious one to include. St. Louis will want it back and they’d be asking for a first from any other team that came calling for Parayko. The rest depends on just how the Blues assess their roster. If they’re resetting, they’ll want a prospect or two. If they’re looking to get more depth to stay competitive now, you might be able to entice them with a couple of roster players along with that pick. I think the Sabres best bet is dangling that first round pick along with players like Alex Nylander or Brendan Guhle and building from there. Whether that helps the Blues is another question. But I think that would be a good start.

Josh/@eskimokeleher – If you are the Sabres. Do you hope that the Blues let you have their pick this year, or would you rather have next year’s pick hoping that pick will be better? This is also assuming the Blues go full rebuild.

I’m a little impatient in this regard so I’m hoping they wind up with both of their extra picks in this year’s draft. Whether they pick three players or deal one of the picks, I want the help sooner rather than later. I’m also not overly confident that the Blues will be a bottom five team next year. They desperately need a goaltender but there’s still a lot of talent on their roster. So I’m betting on some improvement from the Blues next year, not falling into a top-10 pick.

If the Blues completely strip it down and decide to rebuild, then give me the 2020 pick. But otherwise I’d prefer to have two extra picks to work with in trade negotiations and in refilling the pipeline. The more first round talent the Sabres have in the pipeline, the better. That extra pick (whether fifth or fifteenth) should go a long way in stocking the pipeline.

@effietw – If we actually get most of the D healthy, it seems like they will need to move a defenseman to make room for Pilut (assuming they think he’s done enough to earn a spot in the top six). What move/trade makes the most sense?

If they’re making any moves on defense it will be something relatively minor for a mid- or late-round pick. And that’s if they don’t just opt for the safe roster management decision of sending Pilut down without the need for waivers. Although I’m starting to wonder if Pilut is forcing them to keep him up.

We know Rasmus Dahlin and Rasmus Ristolainen are untouchable. Zach Bogosian’s cap hit isn’t going to be attractive to suitors and as a member of the leadership group, I presume the Sabres are going to be loyal to him.

Jake McCabe probably has the most value thanks to his age, contract and recent play. Though that recent play would be awfully hard to part with. That leaves Nathan Beaulieu, Casey Nelson and Marco Scandella. Scandella is kind of expensive but offers the type of steady veteran value a lot of teams covet. Beaulieu and Nelson are younger guys with upside but none of those three are garnering much more than a fourth if not a lower pick.

Ron/@ehlanded – When will Nylander or Olofsson be called up to help secondary scoring?

Outside of injury-related recalls I’m not expecting any sort of addition from Rochester until at least February, if at all. They may decide to send Remi Elie down, in addition to a defenseman, to make some more space on the NHL roster. If they made that move, they’d have another spot to use for some experimentation. But I’m not sure they’re in any rush to do that sort of juggling. Not until they’re fully healthy, at least.

As for who to call up. I’d love to see CJ Smith get an extended look, especially if he’s going to be floating between the second, third and fourth lines. He’s speedy, offensively minded and should better fit the two-way game they’d need from him as opposed to Olofsson or Nylander who are really better suited for true top-six minutes.

Jayson/@jaysoncanfield – Does the organization owe it to guys like Bailey and Baptiste to try to move them somewhere where they might get a shot since it’s becoming clear that ship has sailed here?

I think so, yeah. For his shortcomings, Tim Murray got praise for treating his players with respect and finding them the right places to play. You saw that with Baptiste this year when Botterill sent him to Nashville for Jack Dougherty. You could apply similar logic to the Hudson Fasching trade too.

It’s a two-way street for sure. On one hand you want to do right by the young players who are stuck in their development. On the other, you need to make sure you’re maximizing your assets and not just serving charity cases. Some guys who get stuck in the pipeline just won’t have a qualifying offer extended and they’ll walk as free agents. But when the opportunity presents itself, finding a new home for those players can suit both parties well. Using Baptiste as the example, sending him somewhere that he’ll have a better opportunity while adding a lotto ticket at a position of need is the perfect way to go about it.

Austin/@austinhancock91 – Any KeyBank Center rumors?

Things have really cooled off there. The good news is that in hiring a stadium consultant, the Pegulas are serious about doing work on the arena. It’s disappointing that they didn’t get any work done ahead of either the World Juniors or Frozen Four, but they’re one step closer to confirming that changes are coming. So maybe things are actually heating up? In typical Buffalo fashion, we’re still probably a few years from seeing the results of the work.


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