Two in the Mailbox – What would O’Reilly and Ristolainen Swaps Look Like?

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

Back at it post, post lottery. Let’s get to it.

Adam/@sharpndpensel – You’re Jason Botterill. You decided to reshape the roster, you want to move Ristolainen for a forward and Ryan O’Reilly for a defenseman. Who are your trade partners, and who are you targeting?

This is a topic I’ve been tossing around for a little while now. In this space, on Twitter and in private conversations. Given that this subject was submitted by a few people for this mailbag it seems like a good time to dig in deeper.

The first thing to consider is that trading two talents like O’Reilly and Ristolainen in the same summer would be fairly unlikely. That’s a lot of negotiating to consummate two deals of similar stature. But from a hypothetical standpoint, these two players offer the opportunity for the Sabres to flip their depth and shake up the locker room without becoming exposed at a key position. But the key word here is hypothetical.

O’Reilly probably carries a bit more value than Ristolainen at the moment and you could conceivably shop him to just about anyone around the league. There are three teams I feel are a better fit than the others for the centerman and they are the Hurricanes, Blues and Flames.

St. Louis was rumored to be interested in a center at the deadline – hoping to dangle the first round pick they got from Winnipeg as bait – but they never found a suitor. It was even said by some that O’Reilly was their target. A package that included that extra first round pick would be enticing as it would help back fill the Sabres’ pipeline. But the one player I think Botterill would demand in a package for O’Reilly would be Vince Dunn. He’s as young and quickly developing defenseman. St. Louis has a handful of quality defenders but Colton Parayko isn’t going anywhere and neither is Alex Pietrangelo. I guess Joel Edmundson would be a potential target but Dunn would be the true prize. But his profile makes him a difficult asset to come away with.

It’s a similar story in Calgary where the one defenseman who makes the most sense for the Sabres, Dougie Hamilton, also happens to be one of their best assets. I bring up Hamilton for a few reasons, the first being that in this hypothetical in which the Sabres are dealing O’Reilly and Ristolainen, replacing Ristolainen with another right handed defenseman keeps a decent right/left balance on the blueline. The other reason is that he’s a dynamic talent capable of pairing with Rasmus Dahlin for a number of years forward. He also happens to be the only defenseman on Calgary’s roster who even offers a bit of interest in terms of what the Sabres should be looking for. Mark Giordano is too old, TJ Brodie has been a little streaky (also a lefty), Travis Hamonic had a couple down years in a row and was just acquired last year. So Hamilton is kind of the only reasonable option. But he’d be expensive. The Sabres would need to add at least two pieces to a trade in order to land him and that includes Ryan O’Reilly.

The most attractive option is probably Carolina as they have a surplus of defenseman and their cheap, young, right handed possession driver has been pushed down the totem pole recently due to the emergence of Noah Hanifin, Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce. Justin Faulk carries a cap hit below $5m for two more seasons and will only be 28 when the deal expires. The Hurricanes aren’t exactly hurting at center but have been rumored to be on the hunt for help at forward and I can’t help but think the stars align nicely for a deal like this. Like Hamilton, Faulk has the chops to handle minutes alongside Dahlin and would keep the right/left balance on D. He’s been a minus player for five-straight years but Carolina would’ve been better served with a shooter tutor in net during that time in which he’s also maintained very impressive possession metrics. Dougie Hamilton would be a ton of fun but I think Faulk probably makes the most sense in the trade scenario you’ve laid out

Where this gets tricky is finding a suitor for Ristolainen. Not because there’s no market for right handed defensemen with good scoring numbers, but because the only way I think this scenario makes any sense is if the Sabres find cover for losing O’Reilly in a concurrent trade. As much as the Sabres could use a Larsson for Hall type trade to shore up their dearth of scoring on the wings, you’ve got to replace O’Reilly with another quality, 200-foot center.

So who does that leave? The Canucks would probably have interest but they don’t have the chips at forward to buy in. As much as I’d love to see the Sabres pry Radek Faksa from the defensively deficient Stars, that’s just not happening. He’s going to garner a lot of Selke buzz over the next few years. Colorado may have some passing interest but are you asking to get JT Compher back? Doesn’t feel like a fit. The Isles have a few names of interest (Brock Nelson and Anders Lee) but they’re not the 200-foot aces you’re looking for.

For the record, if there’s a deal that snagged Faksa from the Stars, I’d be all about it. I just feel that he’s someone they’re trying to build with, not shipping out to shore up their blueline.

That brings me to Edmonton who feels like a very attractive partner not because their GM is Peter Chiarelli but because they’re said to still be in the market for help on defense and they have a pretty darn good 200-foot center in Ryan Nugent-Hopkins whose been dangled in the rumor mill the last few years. You’d lose offense from what O’Reilly offers each year, but for the most part you’d be getting cover for losing a center with O’Reilly’s skillset.

So the end result here winds up being O’Reilly and Ristolainen for Faulk and Nugent-Hopkins in addition to whatever sweeteners would be included. I presume the Carolina swap would see the Sabres gian at least one or two futures in addition to Faulk whereas the Oilers trade would be pretty close as a one-for-one but you might see Edmonton toss in a mid-round pick as a sweetener.

They’ve been rumored as a partner for the Sabres by a few reporters already this spring and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins plays the two-way style well enough that you would still have three solid centers even if you wind up dealing O’Reilly. So the end result of the hypothetical would swap O’Reilly and Ristolainen for Faulk and Nugent-Hopkins plus whatever add ons happened to come along with each respective deal. That offers an opportunity to shake up the roster while ostensibly keeping the team’s strong points the same.

Joe/@joehockeysabres – Given that the Frozen Four is here next year, do you anticipate any Arena upgrades this off season or will a major upgrade come in the following off season?

As I understand it, any renovation project would be done in phases. I will be shocked if nothing is done prior to October, let alone next spring. The team has already taken steps to give more back to season ticket holders, clearly they’re paying attention to what’s going on. Maybe they opt for things they’d pay for “out of “pocket” like a new scoreboard as opposed to some of the bigger ticket items that they’re looking to get public dollars for. But if they’re unable to get anything done by the spring it will be a big miss.

Max/@markoLWOS – Would you be into Montreal selling the farm to the Sabres for ROR

The short answer is yes. If a team is going to sell out for O’Reilly (or pretty much any other player on the roster) you’re probably getting more than enough return to justify dealing him. Unfortunately that particular farm isn’t all that fertile.

I think the only way it would make sense to deal with Montreal for O’Reilly is if you’re getting either Victor Mete or Noah Juulsen (or both) as part of the package. Other than those two I don’t think Montreal has enough to offer that helps the Sabres get better. And that’s the key for me if you’re talking about moving O’Reilly. Is the package you’re getting going to make the team better long term? Mete and Juulsen would be nice boosts but I don’t think they have all that much more to offer. Aside from third overall and, c’mon, let’s be realistic. Is Nikita Scherbak catching your attention? Does Alex Galchenyuk still hold the value as the “centerpiece” of a trade? I just don’t feel the Canadiens and Sabres line up enough to make that type of deal.

Zach/@zcarr39 – Michael Grabner. Any interest there? LW and speed to burn. Areas of need on the Sabres roster.

My Instigator Podcast partner (and guy who writes stuff here sometimes) Tyler is a big fan of his and I think Grabner would be a great guy to target. I’m curious to see what kind of money he gets after two-straight years scoring over 25 goals. He’s also on the wrong side of 30 now and if his recent play inflates the offers he gets, will the Sabres want to invest more than a couple of seasons in him if there’s a risk his game will drop off? I think he’d be a major boost to their depth, I just think there’s some reason for caution as well given how the UFA market has been recently.

Brian/@brian_mulhern – What type of player is Lawrence Pilut and is he an NHLers now or is he going to need some time in the Minors?

This is a question best left for Kris Baker and his prospect expertise. I’ve seen Kris mention Pilut as a bottom pair player to start but with the opportunity to grow as he adjusts to the North American game. The good news here is the Sabres can get him on a multi-year ELC as opposed to a one-year deal like Viktor Antipin got. That means they can spend more time grooming him and perhaps let him begin his career with the Amerks before giving him a promotion to the big club.

Tim/@tim_witt I don’t think Risto should be a top pairing guy, ideally. Who could the Sabres target in a trade to play with Dahlin? Are there any upcoming UFAs that put up nice fancy stats to target for mid level money (I’m thinking of how TB got Stralman to play with Hedman)

I touched on this a little bit in the first entry but the inclusion of the UFA route caught my eye, especially since I already have a pet favorite in this year’s UFA class. Worth noting, in the event the Sabres opt to make a trade for a defenseman, getting a righty seems ideal. Dahlin played a lot on the off side with Frolunda, so they don’t need a righty, but it would help. The utopic answer here is Dougie Hamilton, but that’s a very, very tall order in terms of a trade. But if they got it done I’d learn how to do a backflip I’d be so excited.

On the free agent front Calvin de Haan is at the top of my Sabres wishlist. He’s had good relative numbers for most of his career aside from the past season when he battled some injuries, the Islanders decided defense was optional and all of their goaltenders were terrible. That being said, he’s been a steady performer for some time and would be a nice addition to the middle of Buffalo’s depth chart. He’s maybe not an answer for the top pair, but he would be a big step in the right direction.

@4everasabresfan – With Eichel, Dahlin, Mittelstadt, Okposo, Ristolainen, Reinhart, Nylander, and Guhle in the fold, do you think Tavares has interest in BUF

Maybe by winning the lottery they can offer a similar sales pitch they did to Okposo. In that they’ve just drafted a cornerstone talent, come be part of something special etc. Given that Tavares, should he hit market, is a cornerstone talent himself, the sales pitch would be a bit different but I presume that’s what they’d be using to hook him on Buffalo. The idea that the Sabres are ready for the next step and he’d be surrounded with great players would be the best thing they could sell him on.

However, I can’t see Tavares having interest in the Sabres. Even if they traded O’Reilly and maybe if they traded Ristolainen for help in other areas (see: winger) I  can’t see Tavares wanting to wait for the Sabres to become serious contenders. There is still a long way to go for them to catch up with the rest of the league. I think Tavares would rather find a team like San Jose who can offer a more direct route to a deep playoff run for the same money.

Very Bad Trades

The Very Bad Trades section needed to wait until the end of this week’s mailbag because it’s a very special edition. Not only is there a terrifically silly Sabres deal to breakdown, I’m also including a sampling of crazy Leafs fans who want to trade Auston Matthews. It’s really been a pretty great week.

The Sabres entry comes from Skyraider112 and part of me feels like this is a troll job. I mean, no one is this crazy right? Right??!?

We don’t need to look much further than the Dahlin trade which is woefully undervalued. Somehow. But the Mantha trade is the real gem here. Sure, this person is trading away one of the best defensive prospects to ever enter the league for just two bodies, but they’re going to deal multiple first and second round picks, plus Zach Bogosian who Detroit would definitely not want, for the rights to Anthony Mantha. All of this adds up to a team with a worse defense corps than the Sabres had this season and a club operating nearly $4m over the salary cap. So good work all around here.

Shifting our gaze north, it would seem Leafs fans have become unhinged after their playoff exit.

Things were going so well in Toronto. What happened? There’s another armchair GM out there in which the Sabres trade Dahlin for Willie Nylander, Nazem Kadri and a bunch of other stuff, but this one, in which Auston Matthews gets pawned off is just too good.

The Instigator Podcast 6.27 – Sabres Locker Clean Out Fallout & Thoughts on Humboldt

The typical weekly episode touches on the fallout from Sabres locker clean out day and the comments made by Chad Johnson, Johan Larsson and Ryan O’Reilly. We also discuss the tragedy that has struck the Humboldt Broncos along with the response from the hockey community at large. Our conversation regarding Humboldt begins at 48:00 if you wish to skip ahead to that portion of the show.


Two in the Mailbox – O’Reilly Availability and the Worst Trade You’ve Ever Seen

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

Joe/@jneumann522 – Let’s assume #90 is available, what teams would be interested and what would be a reasonable return?

O’Reilly is going to be a hot topic until he’s moved or until the season starts. He’s one of the few players who carries enough value to help the Sabres in a trade and his cap hit is big enough that a deal would be beneficial from a financial perspective as well.

You can put down just about any team with a semblance of need at center as a potential opening for O’Reilly but teams the Sabres would want to deal with would likely whittle that list down a fair bit. Carolina is an obvious candidate as they not only have a surplus of defensemen but are said to be searching for forward help. St. Louis was working on a center at the deadline after they flipped Paul Stastny. I wouldn’t even rule out Edmonton given their ongoing search for hockey players.

O’Reilly is also a divisive subject given that he’s been a steady contributor since being acquired and has plenty to offer. So the only way it makes sense to move him is if the deal addresses another area of need. Specifically the blueline. The Sabres would need to noticeably strengthen their blueline with either a current NHLer or fetch a package that includes a blue chip prospect who could step into a role on Buffalo’s D starting next year. That’s a mighty small target to hit but when you consider Buffalo’s needs and the value O’Reilly carries, it’s the only way moving him would help improve Buffalo’s roster.

Kernal/@pkilla_29 – Seriously wondering if Housley has an awful team he couldn’t do anything with or if he is actually a bad coach. Personnel decisions have been very suspect this year. But again look at the roster.

I give Housley credit for sticking with his guns. All year we’ve heard how firey he’s been at practice and how he’s still pushing pace. He could have easily folded on the fast-paced system he wanted, played a 1-3-1 and bored everyone to death (more than they already did) for the entire year. They would’ve grabbed a few more wins but little would’ve changed in terms of the big picture.

However, the power play tanked from the top unit in the league the year before and Housley traded in a lot of the same tired coaching practices we’ve seen in the past (constant line juggling for example). Plenty has been written and said about their level of effort and I don’t know exactly who deserves the most blame there. Is it the staff, a team lacking talent or even something more deep seated? Housley deserves plenty of heat, they simply weren’t good enough. But they certainly shouldn’t consider moving on from him at this point, that would create a bigger mess than they’re in already.

Bob/@buffalobobz – What do you think the season ticket renewal rate will be this year? 88-89%

Low. Really low. They didn’t publicize their numbers last year so it’s hard to know exactly how they’ve trended over the last few years. But it’s going to be bad. I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if they’re below 90%. Sub-85% isn’t out of the realm of possibility in my opinion.

Very Bad Trades

I was all set to feature an Armchair GM which sent Rasmus Ristolainen, Nick Baptiste, Zemgus Girgensons, Hudson Fasching and a 2019 2nd round pick to Ottawa in exchange for Erik Karlsson. It was a perfect candidate with an absolutely bonkers trade at the center. And then I found this warlock.















I’m not unconvinced that this isn’t a troll job. I checked Mr. GMTD’s other posts and they’re all equally bonkers. So it’s just as likely that this guy just trolls random fanbases as it is that he just posts really bad Armchair GMs.

There’s a lot to unpack here including giving almost every returning player four year, $1,000,000 extensions. Also extending Robin Lehner only to trade him is another head scratcher. Of course he assumes the Sharks are re-signing Evander Kane and he sends Jason Pominville back to Minnesota for…reasons.

The Nugent-Hopkins deal you see pictured is some kind of crazy. Risto for RNH makes enough sense in terms of addressing each team’s respective needs and the fact that Peter Chiarelli seems to love him some average defensemen. Including Okposo and Beaulieu for the low, low price of a first round pick wouldn’t even pass muster at 4am at The Pink.

But then there is the coup de grace. The greatest hypothetical trade ever. Jack Eichel for three lottery protected first round picks. Here’s what our GM of the day wrote about the trade.

“I am moving Eichel to make cap space for JT and help with the future of the team. I want to get rid of all losers on this team and he is the leader of the pack.”

It’s good to know this guy is in the locker room enough to know that Eichel is the “leader of the pack” of losers. That’s a key for anyone building a hockey team.

I have to give him credit for thinking that trading a 21-year-old on an eight-year contract in order to clear space for a 27-year-old unrestricted free agent is helping the future. Knowing what we know about player performance, Tavares will likely begin to decline with three or four years left on that deal. Spending $13m on a 36-year-old is definitely the way to build for the future.

Then of course you have the trade of Eichel itself which feels extremely light – unless you’re the one guy in the comments. Not sure why in a fantasy GM situation you wouldn’t bother to include any roster players and accept only lottery protected picks for the current cornerstone of the franchise. This feels familiar.

All of this to create a roster that’s equally top heavy to the one they have now but somehow with less depth.

Kevin/@ntrider825 – What happened to Nathan Beaulieu? At the start of the year he was a bit frustrating with turnovers but was putting up hugely positive shot and scoring numbers. That has since collapsed to about team average or a little below and the mistakes have continued.

Even while he was putting up good offensive numbers he was making some eye-popping errors. I’d be willing to guess that in working with the coaching staff to clean up his game the opportunities to freelance went away, leading to play that isn’t much better in terms of the eye test and worse in terms of underlying numbers.

Mark/@BVFA12 – What do you see as our Safe / Keep / Meh / Gone list from the organization?

Michael/@michaelparthum – How much #Sabres roster purging do you expect in the offseason, and who among the #Amerks is likely to fill any such voids?

Seeing as both of these questions are related it seems fair to roll them into one answer.  It’s also probably easier to list the locks to stick as opposed to the guys who will be shipped out. So I’ll start there. Eichel is obviously safe, Kyle Okposo’s contract is too hard to move and too toxic to buy out. It’s easier to hang onto Pominville for the final year of his deal than try to force something with him. Mittelstadt and Guhle aren’t going anywhere and I’d bet they want to hang onto Marco Scandella as well. Everyone else is up for grabs.

As refreshing as it might be, we won’t see 10 new faces again this fall. I’m counting on one truly significant trade and probably two or three other notable changes made whether through free agency or trade. I think it makes sense to move on from their middling contributors (guys like Larsson) in favor of injecting some new life into the roster and locker room. If Scott Wilson is a microcosm of what adding a bit more speed and success would do to the bottom six, I’m all for more of it.

The Amerks have some bodies to offer up but nothing too groundbreaking. Nick Baptiste is probably here to stay. Danny O’Regan might be a good candidate for bottom six deployment.  CJ Smith is a near lock for a promotion and we know Linus Ullmark will be here as well. Alex Nylander will probably have an opportunity to fight for a roster spot and Sean Malone will be among the first recalls come next season. So there’s some new blood in the pipeline, it’s just a matter of seeing what types of trades and free agents Botterill chases to really turn the roster over.

Scott/@scottymcmahon22 –  Is our defense core too young ? Do we need a veteran leader or is that Scandella as everyone else is under 25 and will be younger next year hopefully?

I don’t know if they’re too young, just maybe not talented enough. You see the issues they’re having with the third pair right now and even just plugging Jake McCabe and Zach Bogosian into those two slots would do them a world of good.

Assuming Antipin, Gorges and Falk are gone next year but the rest of the unit remains the same you’d have Scandella/Ristolainen, Guhle/Nelson, McCabe/Bogosian (Beaulieu) as the main set of defenders. You could swap the second and third pairs if you wanted but that’s just semantics at the moment. And this doesn’t account for any trades or free agent signings. But right there your group is better and it’s done without getting much older. Get more skill into the top six and you’re probably better off than trying to shoehorn a vet into a role he isn’t suited for.

The Instigator Podcast 6.26 – Development Benchmarks and Reshaping the Core

While some people are Mad Online that Alex Nylander has been recalled, it seems like a smart decision for an organization seeking answers throughout their pipeline. We dig into appropriate development benchmarks and how a potential three-game cameo can offer the Sabres an additional window into a player’s development. We also hit on Pierre LeBrun’s reports that Jason Botterill appears open to moving players out of the core and explore what types of moves he’d need to make in order to reshape the key contributors on his roster.

New Phone Wallpapers for the 2017-18 Season

With the 2017-18 Buffalo Sabres season rapidly approaching, I built out some new phone background for use as a lockscreen, wallpaper or both. I’ll add new players as the season goes on and if you have any requests, send them my way. Enjoy. Continue reading

2015-16 2ITB Sabres Awards

Once again the 2ITB Awards are back to celebrate another season of Sabres hockey. As always, some of these categories are serious and others are inserted for fun.

It was an interesting season given Buffalo’s surge from the basement to almost out of the basement. While they didn’t climb too high in the standings, they improved by nearly 30 points in the standings and injected an incredible amount of excitement into the fanbase thanks to the exploits detailed below.

I’m expecting an exciting offseason and probably a new set of expectations for next year which will be a little too high. Until then, enjoy some of the highlights from 2015-16. Continue reading