Ranking the Players the Buffalo Sabres Should Covet at the Trade Deadline
Wait, pieces the Buffalo Sabres should want to acquire at the deadline?
Yes, despite the Sabres' current position in 30th in the NHL, there is a real possibility they not only will be adding players at the deadline but players who will play a key role for them next season and beyond.
The traditional school of thought says the NHL draft is a far more suitable place to make seismic roster moves than the trade deadline, and with good reason. No one wants to completely implode the team and/or team chemistry to make the big move midseason.
Now, the trade that most notably brought the beleaguered Evander Kane to the Sabres could be just the result of the special circumstances revolving around Kane, but it's hard to believe Tim Murray is done.
So who should be in his crosshairs on or before March 2?
The Sabres are sellers at the deadline—there's no arguing that.
Sellers typically don't add NHL-ready bodies at the deadline but instead focus on draft picks and prospects to help them in the future.
In the Sabres case, it's a double-edged sword: They need to unload their current soon-to-be unrestricted free agents like Chris Stewart and Torrey Mitchell for something, but they already have a stocked prospect cupboard. Sure, the Kane trade relieved the prospect logjam a bit with Joel Armia and Brendan Lemieux moving on, but there is still a ton of highly regarded talent in the Sabres system.
With a high-end prospect all but assured in the first round, the Sabres may not necessarily need a third second-round selection, but they'll likely get at least one. What Murray decides to do with those extra picks may be the most important thing, be it picking more guys or swinging them in other trades.
Regardless, the Sabres are not in a position to let their UFAs with any value walk for nothing. Maybe there is such a thing as too many draft picks, but Murray will likely test that boundary this deadline.
2. Nail Yakupov, Right Wing, Edmonton Oilers
Cap Hit: $925,000 for this year (RFA after this season)
Nail Yakupov has been a divisive player since his arrival in Edmonton in 2012, and having another down year for most of this year has not helped that. This has led to many in the NHL speculating that he could be on his way out of Edmonton sooner rather than later.
So why would the Sabres want him? He's a young, talented right wing, and the team's depth at that position is about as shallow as it gets—and that is with Chris Stewart on the team.
Now, as it has been since the speculation began a few seasons ago, the chances of the Oilers moving Yakupov are slim, and the price would likely be pretty high. Yet this is the type of move Tim Murray would likely want to make, as he's not "buying" in the normal sense at the deadline but adding a piece that could go a long way for next season and beyond.
It's an unlikely move, but one that would make some sense for the Sabres.
3. Malcolm Subban, Goaltender, Boston Bruins
Cap Hit: $863,333 for two years (RFA after 2016-17 season)
You need to ignore the start against the St. Louis Blues on Friday night, because Malcolm Subban's play in Providence of the AHL has turned a lot of heads.
The biggest issue for him and the Boston Bruins is last year's Vezina Trophy winner Tuukka Rask─and the six years and $42 million he has left on his contract. Rask will need a capable backup over the years, but Subban may be too good and therefore too expensive eventually to be an option for the Bruins.
Enter the Sabres, who have a ton of questions moving forward at the goaltending position. Subban is not an easy trade for the Bruins to make, and any trade for him may have to wait until the draft, but a theoretical package involving Chris Stewart could land him.
Stewart alone is not going to get the job done, but Boston's pursuit of him has not been much of a secret, according to ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun, so maybe the general managers can figure something out so both teams could benefit.
If not Subban, the Sabres might have interest in others in a similar position to the Rask-Subban pecking order, including Zach Fucale in Montreal, Magnus Hellberg in Nashville and Oscar Dansk in Columbus. I'm not saying any of these guys will be moved, but they find themselves behind an established starter who is not going anywhere anytime soon.
4. Brandon Saad, Left Wing, Chicago Blackhawks
Cap Hit: $764,167 (RFA after this season)
Saad is not someone Murray will be able to scoop up at the deadline, but he's someone Buffalo should pay attention to come the offseason.
Saad is a bona fide top-six scoring forward who has had the pleasure of playing with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. He would instantly slot in as the Sabres' second-line left wing and become a running mate for Sam Reinhart for years to come.
So why him?
The Chicago Blackhawks are salary-cap strapped, to say the least. As it stands right now, they will have to sign or promote at least three forwards and three defensemen next year, and they have about $7 million in (estimated) salary cap to do it.
This is similar to the offseason after their first Stanley Cup where they had to trade guys like Kris Versteeg, Dustin Byfuglien and Ben Eager and lost Antti Niemi to an offer sheet from the San Jose Sharks.
Saad could be in a similar position. Murray would likely try to avoid signing Saad to an offer sheet to avoid the steep draft pick compensation, but it would be wise to talk to Hawks GM Stan Bowman to see what his plan for Saad is.
If Saad plays into the Blackhawks' plans moving forward, which is definitely a good possibility, other players on the roster may become possibilities instead, including Patrick Sharp, who carries a $5.9 million cap hit next season.
5. Ryan O'Reilly, Center, Colorado Avalanche
Cap Hit: One year at $6 million (UFA after 2015-16)
Ryan O'Reilly to the Sabres may have caused Twitter to blow up last week, and with good reason.
Murray has already shown he's willing to make the big move, so why not do it again?
O'Reilly is unlikely to remain with the Colorado Avalanche long-term, and with only year remaining on his deal after this season, his value is decreasing by the day. He is an excellent two-way center with Selke Trophy capability who also can play a mean left wing.
Pierre LeBrun of TSN threw fuel onto the O'Reilly fire for Sabres fans when he said that Murray was trying to get a deal done and would be willing to give up their other likely non-lottery first-round pick for him in a package.
Who else is included in that package is key, however. The Avs need a lot of help on defense, and the Sabres do have a good number of young defensemen who would interest them.
The inevitable sticking point? Murray is unlikely to part with Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov─yes, even despite his recent off-ice issues─and Mark Pysyk and Jake McCabe have done everything they can to make themselves tough to move.
Given the complexity of this purely speculated deal, especially given Murray's comment that he has not talked to Avs Vice President of Hockey Operations Joe Sakic since the world juniors, this would likely come in the offseason.
But Murray has surprised Sabres fans before.
6. Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel, Undrafted
Yes, these two cannot be acquired at the deadline in a direct sense, but what happens at the deadline could determine whether or not the Sabres do in fact end up with one of the two hyped prospects.
Chris Stewart, Torrey Mitchell and Michal Neuvirth are the three Sabres you will hear the most about in the next week, and there's a good chance both Stewart and Mitchell will be in a different sweater on March 3.
Stewart has played exponentially better in the past month and was one of the few bright spots on the winless Sabres in January. His true price has been debated, but it's almost a sure thing that he will move on by March 2.
Mitchell hasn't done much in terms of production, but a team that is looking to bolster its bottom six will take a hard look at him, especially if it's for the fourth line.
Neuvirth could be the future in net for the Sabres, but his strong play as of late, and his unrestricted free agent status after the season may make it hard for Murray to retain him. If a team is willing to part with a second-round pick for Neuvirth, Murray will have a hard decision to make.
Just considering these three, if two were to go, it would likely spell the end to any hope of the Sabres crawling out of the 30th spot and guarantee one of McDavid or Eichel—an addition that will accelerate the Sabres' rebuild by a lot.
All salary-cap information courtesy of Hockey Buzz's Cap Central.
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