Staal Trade Sets the Table for an Interesting Stretch Run

Spring cleaning started in earnest for Kevyn Adams and the Sabres with Friday’s trade of Eric Staal. There’s almost certainly more to come for the four-plus UFAs expected to be shopped ahead of the April 12 deadline.

The Staal move works on a number of levels for the Sabres. The most obvious being the return on an expiring contract and a player who hadn’t performed to expectation this season. Getting a 3rd and 5th round picks for Staal feels appropriate given his play this season, but perhaps slightly underwhelming given the player he’d been for the Wild over the last few seasons.

Buffalo has had some poor results at recent deadlines, particularly in seasons where they had opportunities to sell expiring assets. Tim Murray notably made zero moves in what would be his final deadline and Jason Botterill only made one move at his first deadline; trading Evander Kane to San Jose in a year the Sabres finished dead last.

Botterill’s subsequent deadlines featured a mix of buying and selling, meaning this year might be the first the Sabres sell on a number of players for the first time since 2015. An odd consideration given their results in the interim but the sad reality the organization is facing.

I suppose Jonas Johansson was really the first domino to fall but Staal is one of Buffalo’s three big(ish) tickets for this year’s deadline. Taylor Hall is the big prize while Brandon Montour is rumored to be on the block as well.

We’ll see if Kevyn Adams sticks to draft picks as return at the deadline or tries to acquire a body or two who can contribute in the near term. Buffalo badly needs to stockpile more draft capital, in order to restock their prospect pipeline but to also provide a foundation of assets to trade from in the future. Despite being mid-round picks, the Staal return helps the Sabres in a fairly significant way as it reestablished a full complement of picks for the upcoming draft.

Additional trades will allow Adams to build on that arsenal, which currently stands at eight picks but only one each in the top 100. Assuming Adams succeeds in dealing Hall, Montour and perhaps Riley Sheahan and Toby Rieder, that number will swell.

One side storyline in Buffalo’s sell-off is the money they’re shaving off the cap. After Terry Pegula’s mandate to streamline the organization, the team still spent up to the salary cap. Acquiring Staal in the first place gave the Sabres some salary flexibility and even at 50% retained, Staal and Johansson coming off the books accounts for about $2.3 million in cap savings. That’s in addition to the real salary savings, of course, something which I assume is of some relief to ownership.

The next two weeks ought to be fairly straightforward for the club. There’s no risk of a winning streak affecting their plans (there’s no risk of a winning streak, period) and the relaxation of the Canadian quarantine rules ought to help facilitate a few more trades prior to the 12th. I’m hopeful that the departures allow the club to evaluate some of the young talent they have waiting in Rochester.

This has been a fairly constant desire and if they ultimately move on from four or more players, we all may actually get a chance to see some notable recalls from Rochester. Names like Arrtu Ruotsalainen, Andrew Oglevie, Oskari Laaksonen, even Brandon Biro, could all get a short cameo over the stretch run, injecting some fresh faces into an incredible stale lineup. That result would be a faint silver lining in an abject horror show of a season considering how often prospects are left to overcook in Rochester.

Look no further than Will Borgen, a player who needed a pandemic and injury crisis to get into the lineup. How many more times will we watch a player burn his age 21 through 26 seasons without even a sniff of NHL games? CJ Smith has been hanging out on the taxi squad for weeks and it would be nice, for once, if we could see some of these players for longer than the odd game or two. You’d think the organization would like to see if any of these players they’ve invested in can give them more than the same cast of characters who underachieve year after year.

If this deadline aids in unearthing a hidden gem from their prospect ranks, I’m not going to be bent out of shape that they backed into the discovery. They may not learn their lesson from it, but I doubt the organization will be either.

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