Another Look at the Center Market

As the season was slipping away the general consensus was that the Sabres needed help at center to help reverse their slide down the standings.

That help never came, of course, with a number of potential targets swapped ahead of the deadline, leaving the Sabres to move for Brandon Montour and look ahead to 2019-20. As the deadline approached, I wrote this post to see just what was available around the league at center.

With whispers that Rasmus Ristolainen will be moved growing into a dull roar, I thought it might be wise to run down a similar list to see if anything has changed between January and now. Ironically, many of the same names I highlighted in January could conceivably still be acquired despite being moved prior to the deadline.

There aren’t too many centers around the league who fit the Sabres’ need on the second line, are on favorable contracts and who are truly available. That might make it more favorable for the Sabres to leverage their best trade chips to acquire a more skilled winger as opposed to taking a lesser center just because that happens to be on the to-do list. It’s tantamount to drafting the best player available or drafting for need.

If a center is what the Sabres hone in on between now and training camp, here is a look at which teams may be worth reaching out to and which players would make some sense.

Anaheim

This is where I wax poetic about Rickard Rakell and how much I love him as a player. He’s a winger more than a center, so if he was acquired it would be to play with Jack Eichel. But he has played some center. Either way, sign me up. As for centers, the Ducks don’t have much to really help the Sabres. Adam Henrique is a few years too old and Ryan Getzlaf isn’t going anywhere. Pretty much the status quo from January.

Arizona

The Coyotes have been pretty busy this summer and while I can’t see how they’d move forward without him, Derek Stepan sticks in the back of my head as someone who would be great for the Sabres. He has two years left on his deal, hits 31 when the deal expires and would fit perfectly between Eichel and Casey Mittelstadt. However, Barret Hayton isn’t ready for big NHL minutes and Nick Schmaltz and Carl Soderberg won’t be able to paper over Stepan’s role in the desert. He’d be great but I can’t see how Arizona could afford to move him.

woulda, coulda, shoulda

Boston

The Bruins have two notable RFA contracts to get done for Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo but will be very tight to the cap to get it done. Might Charlie Coyle provide enough cap relief to get the two defenders signed? Boston just acquired him and he had a terrific playoff (playing with Marcus Johansson no less), so it’s hard to imagine they’d be quick to move him. They also paid a fair price to get him, dealing Ryan Donato to the Wild. so I’m sure they’d be seeking a sizeable return for him. And I’m not certain the Sabres have the pieces to offer up for Coyle. His contract expires next summer, as well, and I’m not sure what the appetite would be for a season-long rental.

Calgary

It’s been reported that Nazem Kadri nixed a deal to Calgary which would’ve sent Mark Jankowski to Toronto. That was included in a report by Steve Simmons that noted Don Cherry wasn’t returning to Hockey Night in Canada. So that that with a hot dog sized grain of salt. But if Jankowski is indeed available, he’d be a curious candidate to research. His underlying numbers are underwhelming and his counting stats aren’t much better. He’s probably more of a third center and since his name isn’t Vlad or Johan, maybe he’s an upgrade behind Mittelstadt and Eichel. Could be worth it if the price was real low. But I wouldn’t want to see Buffalo go out of their way to get him as the best case scenario here is that he fills a third line role and probably doesn’t lessen the responsibilities Mittelstadt is taking on.

Chicago

Artem Anisimov is probably available, but boy is that an unsexy option. You could talk me into him if the Sabres are backed into the tightest of corners and he came over for next to nothing. Even then, I don’t like it.

Colorado

The Avs are loaded for bear and just improved their center position by acquiring Kadri. I’ve seen J.T. Compher’s name floated but I don’t think that’s a real option. Colorado is poised for a dominant run of success and while Compher may be considered excess goods, I think he’s still a core piece for the Avs.

Columbus

The Jackets are in a tough spot. They went all in at the deadline and shocked the Lightning as a result. So there was some success prior to the summer UFA exodus. Where do they stand now? Is there a push to recoup some futures or are they going to double down? Boone Jenner wears a letter for them and has a favorable contract. I can’t fathom Columbus moving Jenner, but he’d be a great fit for the Sabres. Alex Wennberg is another Blue Jacket who has been connected to the Sabres. His contract is pretty rough given his production. I’d be very interested in him if he wasn’t allergic to scoring. If you felt confident in his ability to produce (I don’t), he’d be a decent pickup who probably wouldn’t cost too much.

Dallas

Their good guys aren’t going anywhere and their bad guys aren’t going to help. Nothing to see here.

Detroit

In the midst of a rebuild there’s not a whole lot to love here. They aren’t trading futures and their vets won’t help the Sabres.

Edmonton

It used to be you couldn’t go three tweets on Sabres Twitter without seeing Risto-RNH conjecture. That’s really died down in recent months (blame Tampa) but Nugent-Hopkins would still scratch the Sabres right where they itch. The Oilers need help everywhere and losing RNH would thin them out at center, so while the Sabres could provide them with some help on D, the forward group in Edmonton would suffer. But even without Chiarelli there, I wouldn’t rule anything out.

Florida

I don’t think Vinny Trocheck is going anywhere and the same goes for Henrik Borgstrom. I’m sure it’s worth placing a call to Dale Tallon but I can’t see anything coming out of Sunrise.

Los Angeles

As in January, the Kings don’t have much to offer the Sabres. Unless Adrian Kempe can get pried out of there, they still aren’t a target.

Minnesota

An annoying comparison between what I wrote in January and what transpired is that every guy on the block, who could’ve helped the Sabres, got moved. That included a pair of centers in Minnesota. Now the only available forward worth considering on their roster is Jason Zucker. And he’s not a center.

Montreal

A lot of young pivots are set to play key roles for the Habs. I doubt they make any big changes at center.

Nashville

Kyle Turris is the player the Preds are purported to be shopping but between his age and contract, the Sabres should treat him like kryptonite. Even if the Preds offered to retain half his salary, he’s still not a player I’d want the Sabres to pursue. But his name will stay in rumors until the Preds solve their roster conundrum. So, keep your fear bunkers prepped just in case.

The two names on the Preds roster I’d like the Sabres to consider are Nick Bonino and Mikael Granlund. Bonino would be a firm third center who would provide some of the defensive cover the Sabres are in need of. That would elevate Casey Mittelstadt to the top six but given the cover he could provide, Bonino could still lighten Mittelstadt’s role. Granlund was someone I was on in January and while his time in Nashville was only so-so, and they shifted him to the wing, he played plenty of center for the Wild. He’d be a one-year rental, but as a quality offensive threat, he’d add solid scoring depth to Buffalo’s lineup.

New Jersey

The Devils have two number one picks set to anchor their top two lines for years to come. Add in Travis Zajac and they’re locked in at center. Pavel Zacha is probably attainable but his underlying and counting stats are both pretty grim.

NY Islanders

Mat Barzal is an untouchable and Anders Lee and Brock Nelson just signed two heavy contracts. I don’t see any worthwhile targets on the Isles roster.

NY Rangers

The Rangers rebuild hit hyperdrive when they won the second overall pick in the draft. Any hint of selling off a more steady presence from their roster evaporated when Kaapo Kakko fell into their laps. Ryan Strome could serve as a Bonino-Lite type of acquisition, filling third-line minutes and giving Mittelstadt the ability to enjoy easier deployment. But that’s pretty aspirational in terms of trying to fill their needs.

Ottawa

JG Pageau is still the only name in Ottawa that even registers for me and I’m not overly excited at that possibility. I suppose there’s a scenario in which Colin While manages to dictate terms despite being an RFA much like Jacob Trouba. Perhaps if he was forcing himself out the door, the Sabres could pounce. But he’s an untouchable for the Sens and the moment and even if that scenario did come to fruition, they’d want a mountain of assets for him.

Philadelphia

Sean Couturier isn’t going anywhere. Nolan Patrick doesn’t interest me in the least and they just signed Kevin Hayes. Not much to consider here.

Pittsburgh

Not unlike another team who grabbed a candidate off my January list, the Penguins could use a little cap relief ahead of the season. It seems that Bryan Rust is the most likely casualty should Jim Rutherford trim salary (he’d be a nice addition for the Sabres) but it’s Nick Bjugstad who I’d like to see the Sabres chase. His $4.1m salary would give the Pens a fair bit of breathing room and he’d give the Sabres two years of cover in the middle of their forward group. Bjugstad gives the Penguins a very good third center behind Crosby and Malkin, a significant luxury for them. While they’d have options to replace him, I’m sure the price would be steep. But the cap relief factor is worth watching.

San Jose

Call me if Timo Meier shakes free.

St. Louis

I will refrain from making any obvious jokes at this time.

Tampa Bay

Ristolainen’s already been traded here 100 times over. With J.T. Miller gone, Anthony Cirelli is the new favorite in trade conjecture. He’s a total pipe dream, in my opinion. He’d be a perfect player to target, but I don’t think it’s realistic. Others on their roster include Tyler Johnson and Yanni Gourde, both guys with fairly unfavorable contracts in my view. Cirelli would be the target here but that’s an NHL 19 trade if I’ve ever seen one.

Toronto

Moving on.

Vancouver

Just like with Cirelli in Tampa, the guy in Vancouver who would make the most sense for the Sabres – Bo Horvat – is unattainable. It is Jim Benning, so maybe you could trick him into trading you Miller, but anyone of value on the Canucks is locked in as core pieces as they look to climb back into playoff contention.

Vegas

Nikita Gusev isn’t a center but the Sabres should trade for him all the same. If he’s willing to sign here, tell Terry he’s from Kazakhstan and make the trade. As for centers, the Golden Knights got William Karlsson signed to a sweetheart deal and Erik Haula got shipped out, so trade for Gusev and call it a day.

Washington

Like with most of the league’s elite clubs, there aren’t too many fits here. Their best players aren’t going anywhere and the depth players aren’t going to give the Sabres the boost they need in the middle of the lineup.

Winnipeg

No centers worth considering but Nikolaj Ehlers would look great in blue and gold. They should trade for that guy.

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