An Oilers/Sabres Deal? I'll Take a Stab at It
We all know the NHL team in Toronto is the Buffalo Sabres.
Now that I've made a funny, I'll comment on Eklund's rumor that the Oilers and Sabres could make a deal.
What did Eklund say: Oilers were offering up a "young star" Top 6 center and a 3rd line prospect player who has Top 6 potential. The Sabres in return would send a "significant" defenseman and an additional prospect (perhaps Enroth). Hmmm.
K, let's start with the Oilers end of things, because I know more about them than the Sabres. As I've been saying for a while now, there are six "untouchables" on the Oilers roster: Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, Nail Yakupov, Justin Schultz and Oscar Klefbom. Everyone else is available for the right return.
Going further, the Oilers have an issue of sorts with their current Top 6: Jordan Eberle is clearly the #1 RW, and Yakupov will be an amazing #2. In order for Ales Hemsky to have a roster spot in the Top 6, he'll need to shift to the left wing. However, people over-estimate the significance of this, as Hemsky was playing well at the end of last season on the left wing on a line with Nuge and Ebs.
There has been plenty of talk out of Edmonton this summer that the team needs to pick a direction with Magnus Paajarvi. Worded another way, they either need to open up a Top 6 roster spot for him, or they need to deal him. According to the people I've spoken to, the Oilers are more interested in opening a roster spot for Paajarvi than moving him. If Hemsky is the 1st line LW, and Paajarvi is #2, what happens to Taylor Hall? Simple. He gets moved to center, and Sam Gagner gets dealt.
Oilers management made it fairly obvious that Gagner was being shopped when they signed him to a one-year deal. I think Lowe and MacTavish's memories work real well; they remember how Messier was in many ways the "anti-Gretzky" at center. Gretzky was skill, flare, and brilliance. Messier was muscle, will, and force. Everyone thinks Hall is the next Messier, and Nuge does a great Gretzky impression every time he touches the puck. Oilers management want it to be 1984 again. Gagner, sadly for him, just doesn't fit. Too small and flashy to be the 3rd line center, not skilled enough to kick Hall or Nuge out of a Top 6 job.
I think at one time the Oilers wanted to move Hemsky over Gagner, but keep two things in mind: 1. There is no market for Hemsky because of his injury history and big (for his recent offensive numbers) contract, and 2. Kevin Lowe is a huge Hemsky supporter and he believes the winger can return to 60-70pts per season form. Oilers management really, really doesn't want to move Ales Hemsky. Rumors even exist suggesting Hemsky was promised by Lowe not to be dealt in 2012/2013.
Wow, that was plenty of rambling.
I'll get back to discussing a possible Oilers/Sabres deal. We've established Gagner is one of the Oilers players who could be going. Who would be the other? I don't think it will be Paajarvi, Anton Lander, Tyler Pitlick or Teemu Hartikainen. The Oilers believe too much in all of these guys. Who do I think the Oilers want to move? Ben Eager. They were hugely disappointed with Eager last season, as he didn't bring the toughness, goals, or aggression the Oilers were looking for when they signed him. Moving Eager opens up a roster spot for Hartikainen.
Getting to the Sabres end of things, I received about 100 Twitter messages asking me if the Oilers were trying to acquire Tyler Myers. You know how the Oilers have untouchables? Well, the Sabres have them too, and Myers is one of them. Forget about Myers going to the Oilers...not gonna happen.
The really obvious player coming Edmonton's direction is defenseman Andrej Sekera. Aside from the fact it's been rumored for months that the Sabres are okay with moving Sekera, a log jam is occurring in Buffalo on D. Sooner or later, the Sabres need to make room for the NHL-ready Mark Pysyk. Including Sekera, the Sabres have six defensemen getting paid $2mil per season or more...not exactly easy on the cap number. They have two or three guys, including Pysyk, that could fit on D at a price one third of what they pay Sekera.
Everyone wants the other player the Oilers get to be goaltender Jhonas Enroth, but I can't see it. Why? Because Enroth is good enough to be an NHL starter now, and Ryan Miller didn't look great for much of last season. I suspect the Sabres will deal Miller for a huge return before parting with Enroth. I'm actually somewhat surprised a Miller-for-Partick Kane deal hasn't happened yet this summer.
The other name people brought up to me on Twitter was Mikhail Grigorenko. Absolutely no chance of that happening either. Gagner and Eager for Sekera and Grigorenko? Sabres management might be dumb, but they're not stupid.
Perhaps the prospect coming with Sekera in a deal is 24 year old center Bryan Flynn. Flynn, a standout with the University of Maine, had one assist in five games with the Rochester Americans of the AHL last season. More impressively, he was a 1st line all-star in 2011/2012 with Hockey East, scoring 48pts in 40 games.
So, Gagner and Eager for Sekera and Flynn.
This deal would be the Sabres acquiring a 2nd line center with 50-60pts potential and a big, NHL-ready winger with some skill and toughness (when he pays attention) for a 3/4 defenseman and a older prospect that may or may not turn into something. The deal makes sense for both teams, especially if the plan in Edmonton is to move Hall to center. Some might think this is a overpayment for Sekera, but keep in mind the Oilers have been trying for the last 16 months to acquire a Top 4 defenseman, and fetch has yet to happen.