NHL Trade Speculation: The Buffalo Sabres' Possible Salary-Dump Options
After darting out of the gates at the start of the offseason, the Buffalo Sabres have slowed down a bit in recent weeks. With essentially no moves being made in the NHL at the moment, that is to be expected. Few teams did more to improve than the Sabres this offseason, as they traded for defenseman Robyn Regehr, and signed defenseman Christian Ehrhoff and forward Ville Leino.
Going from a penny-pinching organization under previous owner Tom Golisano to a free-spending one under current owner Terry Pegula certainly comes with its rewards. At the same time, the Sabres have a completely new set of problems to deal with, the foremost being the salary cap.
As the team with the league’s highest payroll, the Sabres are currently in a situation they’ve never been in before. At slightly more than $3 million over the cap, Buffalo will have to make some moves in order to get under the $64 million salary ceiling. The obvious transactions to accomplish that would be burying the combined $5 million of forward Ales Kotalik and defenseman Shaone Morrisonn in AHL Rochester.
This would ensure that neither Kotalik nor Morrisonn count against the cap, and it would mean the Sabres wouldn’t necessarily have to make any other cost-cutting moves. Of course, Buffalo will want to have some available cap space next season so they have the flexibility to make an impact deal at the trade deadline should they be in contention as expected. This would necessitate Buffalo possibly executing a salary-dump trade.
The Sabres have no shortage of higher-salary players who might be attractive to other teams, so a trade is most likely there if they want it. The question is whether or not Buffalo values cap flexibility over roster depth.
Here are five potential salary-dump trades should the Sabres decide to go that route.
Trading defenseman Shaone Morrisonn wouldn’t exactly save the Sabres any extra money than sending him to the minors would, but it would save Terry Pegula $2.075 million. Every indication is that Pegula has absolutely no issue spending money where needed, but I’m sure he would rather save the $2 million and get something for Morrisonn if at all possible.
Truth be told, Morrisonn really isn’t a bad defenseman, but he became a whipping boy of sorts among Sabres fans last season. Morrisonn was traditionally a strong defensive defenseman for the Washington Capitals and never had a minus season before last year when he was just a minus two. He is also a physical blueliner who led Washington in hits and blocked shots on multiple occasions.
Mostly due to injury, Morrisonn was unable to replicate his physical play in Buffalo. He showed some flashes, but he failed to make the impact many had hoped. One of the main reasons for the fans’ disdain is the fact that Morrisonn was passed off as a huge addition by the previous ownership; in actuality, he was nothing more than a nice depth signing.
With just one year and slightly more than $2 million left on his contract, Morrisonn is actually a pretty movable commodity. Obviously Buffalo shouldn’t expect to get a huge return for him, but it would be better to get something for him than allow him to rot in Rochester.
The New York Islanders seem like a logical trade partner, as they have $23 million in cap space and an unsettled depth chart on defense. Morrisonn for a fifth-round pick would probably do the trick.
The Sabres may have recently signed Andrej Sekera to a four-year, $11 million contract, but I wouldn’t rule him out as possible trade bait yet.
From the perspective of a Sabres fan, signing Sekera to such a long-term deal is a bit perplexing. There is no doubt he has great potential as an offensive defenseman, but he is prone to far too many defensive breakdowns.
The emergence of Marc-Andre Gragnani late last season and in the playoffs prompted many to think Sekera’s days in Buffalo could be numbered. Sekera filing for arbitration only furthered that perception, but he was ultimately rewarded with a new contract. It’s tough to believe Gragnani will be used as the seventh defenseman this season with how well he played last year, so something has to give.
In a lot of ways Sekera may be the most valuable and tradable commodity on Buffalo’s roster. His contract isn’t crippling, and offensive defensemen are highly sought after across the league. Add in the fact that he’s just 25 years old and entering his prime, and it’s easy to see why he would likely garner plenty of interest.
One team that seems to like Sekera is the Columbus Blue Jackets. With more than $7 million in cap space, Columbus would have no issue taking on his contract. They have publicly expressed a desire to add another offensive-minded defenseman, and Sekera would definitely fit the bill. Since the Sabres wouldn’t want to take any salary back, a second and fourth-round draft pick would probably be enough to get Sekera.
In all likelihood, however, Sekera will stay with the Sabres for now. He could very well be an integral piece of a deal to bring an elite center to Buffalo down the line, though.
There may be no more polarizing figure on the Buffalo Sabres’ roster than forward Jason Pominville.
Pominville is an interesting player in that he usually puts up a respectable points total, but his $5.3 million contract seems to far exceed his production. Pominville may not be the most explosive player, but he’s solid on the penalty kill and has scored at least 20 goals in five consecutive seasons.
The more radical fans seem willing to trade Pominville for a bag of pucks if possible, however. They point to his slow skating, penchant for whiffing on shots and lack of physical play when criticizing him.
While Pominville is far from the perfect player, he fills a role many fans seem to overlook. His contract may be about $2 million too high, but after scoring 80 points in 2007-2008, the organization felt as though he had to be locked up.
One thing that clouds Pominville’s situation is the freak injury he suffered in the playoffs last season when a skate cut him just above the Achilles’ tendon. This type of injury typically takes a long time to heal, and while Pominville seems to be on pace to be healthy in time for training camp, there are no guarantees. This could affect any possible trades, but if a team wants him enough they’ll still trade for him.
I think it’s incredibly unlikely Buffalo will deal Pominville, but if they do, it would obviously open up a great deal of cap space. A team like the Toronto Maple Leafs seems to be enamored with former Sabre forwards. Seeing as how Toronto’s corps of forwards is quite weak, they might be inclined to go out on a limb and deal for Pominville. In return, the Sabres might have to take back a bit of salary, but if the term is shorter than Pominville’s three-year contract, they might be willing to do that.
Again, I don’t think a Pominville trade is likely, but if the Sabres decided they wanted to move him they would probably be able to, contrary to popular belief.
Make no mistake, when forward Jochen Hecht plays and play well, the Sabres are a better team.
Unfortunately for the Sabres, Hecht struggled to stay healthy last season, and his absence left a hole in the team’s bottom six forwards. Hecht is starting to get up there in years, and with just one year left on his contract, Buffalo may see him as an expendable commodity.
Hecht is capable of being an excellent two-way forward who can feasibly score 20 goals while contributing on the penalty kill. That type of player can be very valuable and would likely have some suitors on the trade market. With that said, Hecht may have more value to the Sabres than he could for any other team.
Most pundits are already penciling in Luke Adam as Buffalo’s third-line center this season, but I think it’s far more likely Hecht fills that role. Adam has yet to show he’s ready for the big leagues, and there is internal debate regarding whether or not he can actually play center at the next level. Hecht, on the other hand, is a very versatile player who is capable of playing wing or center. A third line of Hecht, Nathan Gerbe and Brad Boyes seems much more likely at this point.
If the Sabres do decide Adam is ready, however, Hecht may be the odd man out. If that becomes the case, the Sabres might be able to trade an unneeded piece and create cap space in the process. Hecht would be a nice addition for any contender or borderline contender in need of a third-line center or winger.
The Carolina Hurricanes seem to make sense since they just barely missed the playoffs last season and could use an upgrade to their suspect group of forwards. A fourth-rounder for Hecht would be a fair deal.
Upon acquiring forward Brad Boyes from the St. Louis Blues prior to last season’s trade deadline, most Sabres fans felt as though Buffalo had made a significant improvement to their team. Boyes paid immediate dividends as well and seemed to be a missing piece to the puzzle.
Injuries eventually forced Boyes to play center, however, and that became his downfall.
Boyes tailed off near the end of the season and was a virtual non-factor against the Philadelphia Flyers in the playoffs. This has caused many of the Sabre faithful to call for his head, although he should still be able to contribute this season, provided he remains at his natural position of right wing.
When it comes down to it, though, Boyes is more of a luxury than a necessity on Buffalo’s roster.
Provided no significant injuries strike the top-six forwards, it’s unlikely Boyes will play anywhere other than the third line. He isn’t your prototypical third-liner, but he should allow the Sabres to roll with three capable scoring lines. Despite his potential value, Boyes’ $4 million cap hit is a drain on Buffalo’s payroll. Seeing as his contract expires at the end of the season, Boyes wouldn’t be particularly difficult to trade, though.
While Boyes could very well be an important player for the Sabres this season, he is clearly one of the prime candidates to go if cap relief is deemed necessary. Plenty of teams are in search of some scoring punch, and Boyes can certainly provide that. The Nashville Predators would be a good fit, as they have $22 million in cap space and a pretty poor group of forwards. Trading a second or third-round pick for Boyes could go a long way in getting them back to the postseason.