Once again, the Sabres will be sellers at the deadline. While they aren’t overflowing with pending UFAs or highly sought after talent, there will be a few faces missing from Buffalo’s lineup after Monday.
It’s hard to say exactly how many of Buffalo’s trade chips will find their way out the door, but I’ll be surprised if Kevyn Adams doesn’t make at least one or two moves. The Sabres have nine unrestricted free agents who could arguably be available via trade. But the more realistic number is five, maybe six players who are truly available. That list includes Craig Anderson, Cody Eakin, Robert Hagg, Vinny Hinostroza, Colin Miller and possibly Will Butcher. That doesn’t mean all of those players will be on the move, but they each have a profile of a deadline rental.
Players with term or RFA status could also be shipped out, but aside from some whispers about Victor Olofsson’s availability, it doesn’t sound like there would be any imminent moves from the non-UFAs on Buffalo’s roster.
What’s interesting is that while Adams could easily trade away five players on Monday, Buffalo’s roster might not look all that different. The injury bug that ran through Buffalo’s roster shifted the lineup to the point that the Sabres are only now sending players back to Rochester, with Mark Jankowski returned on Wednesday. So, while Hagg and Miller could both gone on Monday, Hagg is the only one of the two with a roster spot that would need to be filled. With Anders Bjork a healthy scratch and Zemgus Girgensons ready to return, the same could be said of Cody Eakin and Vinny Hinostroza.
I think the initial reaction to the Sabres potentially shipping out three or more players would mean a distinct impact to their competitiveness. But things might look pretty similar to how they look now. Right now, the Sabres are +200 underdogs against the Oilers at Betway. Not the greatest odds, but I don’t think you’ll be seeing much longer odds for the club once their work at the deadline is complete.
There are still a lot of moving parts to consider. Especially should Anderson be moved. But I think closer inspection shows that while there will be holes to fill, there won’t be an abundance of openings on Buffalo’s roster come Tuesday.
For example, let’s assume that Eakin, Hagg, Hinostroza and Miller are all traded. That’s probably a high estimate for what the Sabres will do, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see any one of them dealt. Based on how the Sabres lined up at the Heritage Classic, here’s how the lineup would be affected.
Fewer moves on Monday would naturally mean fewer holes to fill. But those openings aren’t screaming for half dozen players from the Amerks to come up to the big club. Maybe Jack Quinn gets a look with Cozens once he’s healthy. And JJ Peterka probably gets a few games in the stretch run. But I don’t think the Sabres will be desperate for reinforcements after the deadline.
In fact, Owen Power will likely be signing his entry level contract within the next two-to-three weeks and Ryan Johnson could follow suit shortly thereafter. Same goes for Devon Levi, but I’m not sure any moves the Sabres would make in goal would affect how they’re going to introduce him to the pro game once he signs.
Using the hypothetical as above, and bearing in mind that both Power and Johnson could be in Buffalo in early April, here’s a look at one way the Sabres roster could shake out.
Don Granato doesn’t seem to be in love with using Girgensons at center, though I think it’s reasonable to assume some sort of rotation between he and Asplund as the fourth center would be the solution to moving Eakin. I question how much rope the staff would give to a line of Krebs, Cozens and Quinn. But I’m sure the Sabres want to get Quinn back (once they feel he’s fully healthy) and a short run with Cozens and Krebs would make for a nice debut for three of Buffalo’s most important core forwards. Alternatively, the Sabres could reward Sean Malone with a recall, bump Okposo to the Cozens line and run Asplund and Olofsson on either side of Casey Mittelstadt.
Power slotting in with a steady vet like Pysyk isn’t just logical from a partner standpoint, it’s probably going to happen by default. Not only given the handedness of Buffalo’s d-corps, but the apparent preference in partners for both Rasmus Dahlin and Mattias Samuelsson.
I slot Johnson in as an extra defenseman for this purpose, but I’d assume some sort of similar rotation may continue to help get him a few games. The Sabres could also negotiate with Johnson to delay his contract to the 2022-23 season, and send him to Rochester on a tryout deal. Either option works, though I suspect the Sabres may ultimately dangle NHL games to help get the contract sealed.
This particular layout only plugs two new faces into Buffalo’s lineup. But they’re two awfully notable names in Quinn and Power. That alone would make for an extremely exciting stretch run for fans to follow along with.
The first step is seeing how many players are moved off Buffalo’s roster at the deadline and seeing just what openings are available to be filled in the wake of those decisions.