The trade dam finally broke at One Seymour H Knox III Plaza. It took a couple of months, but Jason Botterill sprung to action this week and flipped one of his defensemen for help at forward.
Botterill grabbed the pick needed to acquire Michael Frolik by shipping Marco Scandella to the Canadiens on Thursday evening. Effectively laundering a defense for forward swap through a third party. It’s a relatively minor trade that sees the Sabres use an area of strength to address a weakness. Why it took this long to execute is another question altogether, but fans can take some solace in seeing the GM spring into action.
A big move is still yet to come. It may not come in-season, either, given the Sabres frustrating injury luck and their precarious spot in the standings. A big move is also what seems to be necessary to lift their forward group to the next level.
At the very least, Botterill has a minimum of two trades to make in order to honor the trade requests of Evan Rodrigues and Zach Bogosian. I suspect he’ll have at least one more addition up his sleeve either in addition to dealing the two wantaway players, or as part of the trade for one. My guess is we see something along the lines of the Brandon Montour trade at last year’s deadline; a deal that brings in a younger player who can fit in with the core and be in Buffalo beyond this year. It may not be as big of a deal as the Sabres only have one first round pick to work with, but there are a few pieces Botterill has at his disposal which I think could (or should) be on the table.
Botterill already shed himself of one player on this list, shipping Marco Scandella off to Montreal. Others to consider are Bogosian, Rodrigues and Colin Miller. I also think Zemgus Girgensons is a player who could be moved and while he’s be steady this year, I wouldn’t rule out a deal for Rasmus Ristolainen simply given all of the chatter for the summer. The only way Ristolainen is moved is in a blockbuster, so I think the odds are slim. Never say never and all that but unless something big from the summer was revisited, I wouldn’t count on him moving.
Moving Bogosian and Rodrigues seems like a formality at this point, just a matter of finding a team willing to offer some sort of return for minimal or no salary retention. I think Rodrigues could be plugged into a slightly larger package that brings back more than a mid-round draft pick, but at this point the cap savings might be the most valuable to the Sabres.
Miller’s name has been floated on Twitter a bit and The Fourth Period lists him as being available on their deadline list. It would be disappointing to see Miller moved so soon after acquiring him, but like with any trade, if the return is right, I’m happy to see what the Sabres can pull off. The one caveat with a Miller trade is that it feels like you almost need this to be a hockey trade. It’s okay to swap Bogosian or Rodrigues for picks in an effort to clear the decks, but Miller has some actual value that I’d hope results in another body coming back to Buffalo.
As for Girgensons, I think we’re long past the point where the Sabres have other players capable of doing his job. His salary is fairly minimal, but on a club where every penny counts, dumping his salary would provide some valuable cap relief. He’s not going to fetch much, but their cap crunch is serious and it wouldn’t kill them to get another new face in this lineup.
2020 1st Round Pick
This would’ve been a much better idea a couple of weeks ago, but the injuries to Jeff Skinner and Victor Olofsson probably derail any possibility of dealing the 2020 first rounder.
Before their recent slide, the Sabres were firmly in the Atlantic division playoff race, but as they’ve dropped off by a few points, things have begun to look bleak. It’s not out of the question that the Sabres could still steal third in the division, or even sneak into the wild card, but this pick is looking more like a top-10 lottery selection than one which will fall between 12 and 17.
If the Sabres remain in the race (and get healthy) it still doesn’t seem like a bad idea to shop this pick. Assuming they’re still in the thick of the race, grabbing a young core piece who would be in Buffalo long-term offers just as much, if not more, return than a pick in the teens would project to offer. There are two other factors at play should the Sabres use their first round pick in a trade. First, you’re only offering this for a younger player with term. The Sabres aren’t a rental team yet so they’re not spending their first JG Pageau. Secondly, this pick could be especially valuable to teams on the rebuild bubble. The Rangers, Red Wings and Senators are all pick hoarding and they’re worthy trade partners, but teams like the Sharks (who lack a first) or the Ducks who are having down years and possess aging cores could be ripe for the taking as they evaluate their next steps.
But the ground has really shifted on the Sabres over these last few weeks. They’ve been short on wins and two of their key goal scorers are on the shelf. This will probably be a pick they need to keep, but if it’s the price required to snag another core piece, I wouldn’t mind seeing Botterill pull the trigger.
Buffalo’s NHL blueline isn’t the only piece of their pipeline that’s brimming with bodies. Botterill has taken a cadre of defensemen in the draft over the past three years, systematically rebuilding their pipeline of defense prospects. Now they’re in a situation where four of their NHL righties are in their 20s and under team control beyond this year while the left side boasts a franchise cornerstone and another mid-20s prospect with legitimate NHL talent. So where does that leave Will Borgen, Jacob Bryson, Ryan Johnson, Oskari Laaksonen and Mattias Samuelsson?
A lot is made of the Sabres not having anything to offer in trades, but above and beyond offering a first round pick, the Sabres have a few high quality defensive prospects that could be inserted into a trade offer. Johnson and Samuelsson are both top-40 selections, Bryson and Borgen are both trending towards NHL duty and Laaksonen has been viewed as a mid-round gem. Talent abounds in Buffalo’s pipeline and there’s only so many NHL jobs available to these players. Botterill could afford to insert one, if not two of these guys into deals and be no worse off in terms of the outlook on the blueline. While the Sabres may not have the extra picks to deal at the trade table, there are defensemen in the system who will carry value. Namely Johnson and Samuelsson, though I’d wager Borgen would gain attention as well.
There may not be an Erik Brannstrom in this group, but the Sabres could very easily boost a deal for a quality forward by forking over a defensive prospect. Perhaps pairing one of these players with a second or third round pick could fetch the Sabres a quality roster player?
Buffalo’s pipeline at forward isn’t quite as impressive as the blueline. Casey Mittelstadt is the only marquee name who could even possibly be considered as trade fodder and Dylan Cozens is pretty close to untouchable
Beyond Mittelstadt and Cozens, things get thin pretty quickly. Marcus Davidsson has a strong draft pedigree and Matej Pekar has probably done a fair bit for his stock over the past two years, but that’s about it.
That leaves you with Linus Weissbach, who has produced well at the NCAA level, 2019 fourth round pick Aaron Huglen and former college free agents Andrew Oglevie and CJ Smith. Toss Filip Cederqvist in there for good measure, but he an Huglen really don’t offer much at this point. From a prospect perspective, Davidsson, Pekar, Oglevie and Smith are really the only ones who would provide any sort of substance in trade negotiations.
Davidsson is probably the most interesting name of the group and mainly because his draft pedigree offers some historical perspective in terms of comparing trade packages. The Sabres are woefully short on talent at center, so they can’t necessarily afford to throw too much of it away. However, if the Sabres are building a package for a player who will be here down the road, Davidsson is the type of player who ought to be able to juice the offer a bit. Kind of along the lines of the package Tampa sent to the Rangers for Ryan McDonagh and JT Miller where the Bolts insterted Libor Hajek and Brett Howden into the deal. Neither were blue chip prospects but they were strong enough to boost the trade. You could also use Cliff Pu as an example if you want a Buffalo tie-in.
Overall, the Sabres aren’t dealing from a loaded deck. But they’re not without worthwhile pieces to offer to other teams. It won’t be quite as easy as last year, when Botterill had two extra first round picks to play with, but he has the currency to make a few offers. Now we wait and see if he gets something done.