Buffalo Sabres: Playing Fact or Fiction with Potential Roster Moves
And so has the season of the crazy rumors.
The Buffalo Sabres have found themselves squarely in the middle of a ton of rumors this offseason, whether or not they have any basis in fact.
But these rumors should be framed by comments made by the Sabres' general manager Tim Murray this offseason.
The first comments, made in an interview with Buffalo's WGR 550 during the scouting combine, detail Murray's intention to "stay the course" and not sacrifice his young talent for a veteran that has a small window but could help put the team in win-now mode.
The next comments that should be used to frame the discussion were made in Murray and new head coach Dan Bylsma's pre-draft press conference surrounding the 21st overall selection in Friday's NHL Entry Draft. There Murray stated he would consider a number of options with that pick, including trading up and trading for a "23- or 24-year old."
So what are the biggest rumors out there?
Fact or Fiction: Fiction. Like Harry Potter-level fiction.
Rick Nash is a dynamic player, there's no doubting that. He's had a bit of an offensive resurgence with the Rangers the past three seasons, but he has struggled in the last two playoff runs for the Rangers.
His playoff showings and streak-prone nature aside, Nash is just too old for Murray to spend a ton of assets on. When he was traded to the Rangers, Nash fetched the Columbus Blue Jackets a package of Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Tim Erixon and a first-round pick. This is not to say the Sabres would have to give up that much—Nash is three seasons older—but it certainly wouldn't be cheap.
So while he still has 40-goal potential, as evidenced by his 42 goals this past season, his window is closing, and Murray is likely not interested in him for that reason.
Nash is a 40-goal guy, and he would immediately make your top-six more interesting. If he can keep his current pace for three to five years, he could be making a contribution to a Stanley Cup contender. The only issue? There are others that can fill a similar role and do so without the team having to give up a few top-notch assets in exchange.
Rumor: The Sabres are extremely interested in acquiring Ryan O'Reilly away from the Colorado Avalanche in the event he is unable to agree to an extension with the team.
Fact or Fiction: Fact.
This O'Reilly-to-the-Sabres rumor has been around for a long time, and it's easy to see why. He is a 24-year old, two-way force that can change the game at both ends of the ice. He has mainly lined up as a center with the Avs, but he also played left wing in a top-six role.
He will likely command a steep price, but it's a price the Sabres can afford to pay. The same goes for any guy that they want to target, but it's all about what's coming back. It seems like O'Reilly fits exactly what Murray was describing as a potential target at his pre-draft press conference.
There are two big cons with O'Reilly. The biggest one is that he is only signed for one more year, and he doesn't have the best track record with contract negotiations. The other is that he is naturally a center and—despite his highest scoring season being when he was on the wing—may have the most value there. Also, if he did move to wing, he's a left wing where the Sabres are seemingly set in their top-six with Evander Kane and Matt Moulson.
Rumor: Patrick Sharp is likely to be moved by the Chicago Blackhawks per Bob McKenzie (h/t Today's Slapshot).
Fact or Fiction: Fiction.
First off, Sharp seems to be on the decline. He is a top-six winger for now, but it seems he does not have the finish he had even a year ago. And while that may be due to injuries, it's harder for a 33-year-old to shake those off.
Secondly, his reported price, via B.D. Gallof of The Fourth Period, is ridiculous. If true, the Blackhawks are looking at a top-six forward, a top prospect and a first-round pick for him, which could roughly translate to Tyler Ennis, Nikita Zadorov and the 21st overall pick on Friday. No thanks.
While that price will certainly come down, his price is likely too rich for Murray's blood, given his qualifications for a trade target. Especially with his $5.9 million salary cap hit.
The only real argument is the "rings in the room" one. Sharp has won the Stanley Cup three times with the Blackhawks and has been a contributor each time, but the reality is his window is seemingly closing faster than the Sabres would want.
Fact or Fiction: Fact.
Okposo has seen the offensive side of his game really blossom while playing alongside John Tavares on the Island, but Staple alludes to a potential contract dispute on the horizon as a good reason for the Isles to take what they can get for the right winger now.
Okposo would fill the top-six right-wing hole that the Sabres currently have, and the amount of power and jam a potential line of Evander Kane, Jack Eichel and Okposo would have could be too good to pass up. Okposo obviously has benefited from playing with Tavares, but Eichel is primed to become the Sabres' Tavares soon enough, so that also isn't a consideration.
Okposo will be due for a substantial raise over his current $2.8 million cap hit after this season. The thought of giving the Islanders back the 21st overall pick may rub some the wrong way, but it shouldn't. Getting Moulson, Okposo and the 51st overall pick for Thomas Vanek—and whatever else would be added to the Okposo trade—is quite the return.
Fact or Fiction: Fiction, but a fictionalized version of a true story.
Lehner is an extremely promising goalie, being only 23 years old and having parts of five seasons of experience in the NHL. However, there are some serious injury concerns right now with Lehner. He also could cost Murray a pretty penny to acquire. As it stands, Dreger is reporting that it will cost a young, top-six-projected forward and a draft pick to get Lehner right now.
That is way too much for a still-unproven netminder that has come down to earth a bit when given an increased workload the past few seasons. Especially when there are at least five quality goaltenders on—or rumored to be on—the market in Lehner, Craig Anderson, Cam Talbot, Martin Jones and Eddie Lack.
Lehner is a Murray draft pick from his time in Ottawa, and he may really like him to the point that he's willing to pay the price. It is possible that he is the best goalie on the market, as he is certainly the youngest. Lehner is one of many purportedly available goalies, and if the price were to come down a bit, he could be a great pickup.
Fact or Fiction: Fact.
It's been acknowledged that this is a buyer's market at the goaltending position right now, and the Sabres could use that to their fullest advantage by driving down the price on a guy like Lack. In 41 games last season, Lack played very well and showed he can handle an increased workload, much like Talbot did this year.
Again, Lack is the most realistic of the available goalies, given that the reported price to acquire him is so much lower than that of the other guys. If Vancouver GM Jim Benning only wants a second-round pick and the report on Tuesday from Dreger saying the Rangers were offered two second-rounders for Talbot and it wasn't enough is true (h/t Today's Slapshot), this is an easy call.
The anti-Lack argument basically boils down to being able to get another goalie on that "available" list cheaper than expected and liking that particular player better. This includes Lehner and Talbot.
Trading the 21st Overall Pick
Rumor: The Sabres are willing to part with their 21st overall pick on Friday in a number of scenarios, as per Murray on Buffalo's WGR550 (h/t John Vogl).
Fact or Fiction: Murray said it himself, so about as factual as it gets.
The Sabres have a ton of prospects, so right now it's a lot more about quality—like Jack Eichel—than quantity. So if Murray can flip pick No. 21 for a mid-teen pick and get something they have in their top-10, he might be apt to do it. If he can get a young player that someone is looking to move on from, he will do that, too.
The only thing to debate here is the package the 21st overall pick is included in—be it to move up or acquire a player. If it's trading up, there are a ton of high-level players to be had, and that seems a bit more likely than getting a young, NHL-ready player for it.
Trading the 31st Overall Pick
Rumor: Nothing specific, but the pick is essentially seen as a first-round selection, so it may be possible to use it as such.
Fact or Fiction: Again, nothing to analyze per se, but it has to be assumed that if the 21st pick is available, so is the 31st.
Last year in his post-first-round scrum, Murray said he would listen to any offers for the 31st overall pick, that there were years that the team he was with recouped after the first round and that they needed to get up to the 31st pick to take someone they wanted.
This year's draft has been touted as one of the deepest in a while, which makes it extremely likely that a team will go into Saturday morning with a player high on their board available to start the second round. Maybe they'd be willing to overpay to get said player?
The pick could also be moved in a package to move up, along with the 21st overall pick, or for a skater or goaltender.
Again, as it is with most draft picks that will not get you Jack Eichel, a draft pick has a fluid worth depending on the team and the situation. Unless it's packaged for a pick in the first round or a player prior/during the first round, Murray's interest in trading the pick will likely come down to who is left on the Sabres' board.
Follow me on Twitter for the latest NHL and Sabres news all offseason: @mattclouden.