The trade deadline is always a hectic event for teams around the National Hockey League. Bottom dwellers look to move veterans on expiring contracts. Stanley Cup-contending teams look to trade mid-round draft picks in exchange for these players to gear up for a strong playoff run. For some teams, the deadline marks the transition from pretender to contender. For others, it’s an annual salary dump.
One team that has been very active at the trade deadline in recent years is the Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres have used recent trade deadlines to deal beloved veterans in exchange for draft picks and prospects. While moves made at the beginning of the team’s recent rebuild are just starting to pay off, there’s no doubt that the Sabres have effectively used the deadline to pull off some magic in the past.
With this year’s trade deadline less than one month away, there’s no better time to look back at some of the great trades the Sabres have made at this time of year. Here’s a list, in no particular order, of the Buffalo Sabres’ best deadline-day deals.
2003: Chris Gratton for Daniel Briere
In a 2002-03 season in which the Sabres finished 27-37-10-8, perhaps the team’s only highlight of the year was the acquisition of Daniel Briere.
When the player exchange was made at the 2003 deadline, it wasn’t a headline grabber. The swap, which saw Daniel Briere and a 2004 third round pick going to Buffalo from Phoenix in exchange for center Chris Gratton and 2004 fourth rounder, flew under the radar. Briere had strung together a couple of solid seasons for the Phoenix Coyotes, but the under-sized center had yet to establish himself as a consistent NHL player. Gratton wasn’t an awful player, but his name certainly didn’t jump out on a page. At the time of the deal, it was looked at as inconsequential. Just a few years later, it was looked at as anything but.
Briere took the opportunity presented to him in Buffalo and ran with it. Looked at as the team’s top offensive weapon, the French-Canadian quickly became one of the best forwards in the league. In the final 14 games of the 2002-03 season, Briere finished with 12 points. In his first full season with the Sabres, the 5-foot-9 center finished with 65 points. An injury-shortened 2005-06 season limited Briere to just 48 games, yet he still managed to finish with 58 points.
The 2006-07 season really cemented Briere’s place as one of the best in the NHL. Co-captaining the team with Chris Drury, Briere finished the season with 91 points, leading the Sabres to the Presidents’ Trophy. The former first round pick led his team to the Eastern Conference Final, their second consecutive appearance.
Briere eventually left the team that acquired him at the 2003 trade deadline, signing a massive eight-year, $52 million contract with the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2007 offseason. However, the trade continued to help the Sabres. With the pick acquired in the deal, the team selected defenseman Andrej Sekera. The Slovakian played parts of seven seasons in Buffalo before being traded at the 2013 NHL draft.
Gratton played just one full season with the Coyotes before continuing on with his journey-man career. The pick the Coyotes acquired in the trade was eventually traded to the Edmonton Oilers, who selected Liam Reddox. Reddox played just 100 games in the NHL before moving to the Vaxjo Lakers in Sweden.
2013: Pominville for Assets
Sabres fans were devastated at the 2013 trade deadline when news broke that long-time Sabre Jason Pominville had been dealt to the Minnesota Wild. The move was expected. The Sabres’ captain was in the penultimate year of his contract, and while the Quebec-native hadn’t given any indication that he wasn’t going to re-sign in Buffalo, the possibility didn’t look promising.
Instead of playing a waiting game, the Sabres traded Pominville at the 2013 deadline, kicking off their rebuild. The team traded Pominville and a 2014 fourth round pick to the Wild in exchange for goaltender Matt Hackett, forward Johan Larsson, Minnesota’s 2013 first round pick, and the Wild’s second rounder in 2014.
While Pominville is still a solid player for the Wild, it is now clear that the Sabres won this exchange. Hackett, who was once looked at as a promising goaltender for the Sabres, never really panned out in Buffalo. The Canadian played less than 20 games in Buffalo before moving to the AHL’s San Diego Gulls.
Johan Larsson has been a solid player since becoming a full-time roster member in 2015. The Swede has 48 points in 178 NHL games, and has developed into a valuable two-way forward for the Sabres.
The crown-jewel of the trade was the Wild’s 2013 first round pick, which the Sabres used to select Nikita Zadorov. The tall defenseman established himself as a capable NHL defender while in Buffalo. However, he didn’t spend much time in the Queen City. Zadorov served as a crucial part of the deal that brought Ryan O’Reilly to Buffalo at the 2015 NHL Draft. O’Reilly has become one of Buffalo’s leaders on a talented young roster, something that wouldn’t have happened had they never traded Jason Pominville to the Minnesota Wild.
2012: Gaustad for a 2012 First Round Pick
Throughout his time in Buffalo, Paul Gaustad was a solid player. The 6-foot-5 center was a great bottom-six forward who earned his place in the hearts of Sabres’ fans. Being on an expiring contract, fans expected that Gaustad would be traded at the 2012 deadline, but they didn’t know what the team would receive in return.
Nobody was expecting a first round draft pick.
The Nashville Predators were desperate for offensive depth to fuel their hopeful Cup run. Luckily, the Sabres were in the right place at the right time. The Sabres traded Gaustad and a fourth round pick in exchange for Nashville’s first round pick. The team eventually dealt Nashville’s pick as well as a 2012 second round pick to Calgary in exchange for the 14th pick in the 2012 draft, a pick they used to select Zemgus Girgensons.
After a solid rookie season in which the Latvian scored 22 points in 70 games, Girgensons had a breakout 2014-15 season. The center finished his sophomore campaign with 30 points in 61 games, earning a spot in the NHL All-Star Game. While Girgensons hasn’t been able to match that type of production since, he is still a solid forward in the Sabres’ current lineup.
Gaustad went on to play four more seasons with the Predators before retiring after the 2015-16 season. Girgensons’ two-way style of play has given him a similar role to Gaustad’s in Buffalo’s offense, making them the true winner of the swap.
The trade deadline is always an exciting and nerve-racking time for hockey fans. Luckily for Buffalo fans, the Sabres have a pretty good track record at making solid deals at the deadline, a trend they will look to continue on March 1.