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In part 1
I discussed at length some players the Buffalo Sabres should consider moving on from by deadline day. The list of potential candidates includes pending unrestricted free agents like Conor Sheary, Johan Larsson and Jimmy Vesey, and players with term like Brandon Montour and Rasmus Ristolainen. Now in part 2, I’ll examine what type of assets the Sabres could pursue with their trade bait and whether or not it makes sense for them moving forward.
This is perhaps the least exciting move but when you’re a seller it’s difficult to escape the classic trade deadline move of flipping pending free agents for draft picks. While it’s always good to get something back for assets that have one foot out the door, it’s important to put into context the value of these picks. There are different models out there on the true value of each pick but a general consensus among all of them is that once you are out of the first round you are essentially holding a lottery ticket that might pan out, but probably won’t.
When it comes to dealing guys like Sheary or say Michael Frolik, this is an inevitability you’d be okay with. You’re not interested in bringing these players back and the lottery ticket is nice to have for your troubles. However, if the Sabres do in fact plan on moving players with term, they may be better served staying away from big deals involving picks and narrowing their search to value that is a little more concrete. A recent example of this type of move is the Tyler Toffoli trade between the LA Kings and Vancouver Canucks. Though Toffoli is an unrestricted free agent, the Kings opted to take a deal that was built around Northeastern University star Tyler Madden (former 3rd round pick) rather than a first rounder.
This is tidy business from the Kings because even though the on-paper value doesn’t jump off the page like a deal involving a first-round pick does, Madden has had a terrific sophomore year in the NCAA (4th in EV strength goals) and likely isn’t far away from beginning his pro career. The odds of even a draft pick falling in the 15-20 range having the type of season Madden is having are lower than you’d expect. If the Sabres end up moving a player like Ristolainen, Montour or Colin Miller, they should be taking a risk on established players/prospects rather than first round picks, even if it does lower the overall return of the deal.
You probably guessed this was coming next but for the Sabres in the spot that they are, acquiring young cost-controlled talent is of the utmost importance. This sounds painfully obvious but I’m not referring to house hold names in this category. A harsh reality is that the Sabres simply don’t have the assets to pull off trades for those types of players. Instead, they’ll have to do the next best thing, searching out players whose true value haven’t really been discovered.
This time last season Valeri Nichushkin was goal-less and being labeled a bust. The Dallas Stars eventually bought him out and he went on to sign a 1-year deal with the Colorado Avalanche. The move cost the Avalanche nothing but gave them a fringe 2nd/3rd liner with serious defensive upside and as it turns out, a bit of an offensive game too. If you knew all this about Nichushkin last February, you might have bought low on him at the deadline.
If the Sabres want to give themselves a bit of an edge heading into next season, this is the type of player they need to look for (note that I don’t mean literally a defensive forward like Nichushkin but in terms of general value). These moves aren’t without risk given the low cost associated but they’re the type of calculated gamble that can pay off much better than most overpriced free agent signings.
Generally speaking, there’s no better way to get the fans back on your side than acquiring roster players that pay immediate dividends in your lineup. However, the Sabres would be wise to steer clear of any major roster additions until the off season. It’s not as if they don’t need them, but when you’re a rebuilding/retooling team that’s been on the wrong end of “value” moves lately, the last thing you need is to get caught in a bidding war for a roster player, whose equivalent production you can acquire in the summer at a more reasonable rate.
There will be a lot of pressure on Jason Botterill to make a move like the one he made for Montour last year, but he wound up paying well above market value, as he himself discovered when he managed to land two right shot defensemen of similar or better value in the summer for considerably less.
Back in 2018 the Ottawa Senators sent Derrick Brassard to the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for picks and prospects but before he made his way to Pittsburgh, his cap hit made a brief stop in Las Vegas. As part of a three-team trade, the Golden Knights agreed to take Brassard first and retain 40% of his contract before sending him to the cap strapped Penguins, in exchange for Ryan Reaves and a fourth-round pick.
With many of their forwards on expiring contracts and a few of them rumoured to be on the move, the Sabres have a similar opportunity to do what Vegas did back in 2018. Their trade deadline cap space sits at 7.391 million having off loaded Bogosian’s deal and the number will only get bigger as players are dealt off the roster. There are plenty of contenders tight against the cap desperate to keep up with each other in this arms race before the February 24th 3 PM deadline and the Sabres can use that to grab themselves some extra lottery tickets.
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