The 2016 NHL Trade Deadline is less than a week away, and, once again, the Buffalo Sabres are in a position to be sellers.
Though better than the putrid 2014-15 season, the Sabres are still near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. In fact, the only team in the conference they are better than as of February 23 is the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Buffalo has had quite a few bright spots this season — Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart, Ryan O’Reilly and Rasmus Ristolainen to name a few — but there just hasn’t been enough consistency to really make a run into playoff contention this year. Because of that, it’s expected that general manager Tim Murray is going to continue to move players out in order to acquire draft picks and prospects for the future.
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Currently, the Sabres have 11 picks in the 2016 NHL Draft, which just so happens to be in Buffalo. It wouldn’t be surprising to see more picks added, but it also wouldn’t be too big of a shock to see picks moved out by the deadline in order to bring in some players that have the potential to help the team win.
Murray has shown no fear in making the “big deal” in the past with the acquisition of the aforementioned O’Reilly at the Draft last June as well as Evander Kane near the trade deadline last season. There are some big names potentially available this time around, so everyone will have to just wait and see if Murray has any magic in him this year to make a deal that has the league talking.
When it comes to contracts, the Sabres have a number of deals that are expiring at the end of the season in the form of both restricted and unrestricted free agents.
Defenseman Mike Weber has already been dealt in exchange for a third-round pick in 2017, and it’s expected that he’ll be the first of many to be traded away by the time February 29th rolls around. Who else could be joining Weber on a flight out of Buffalo?
First, let’s look at the pending unrestricted free agents.
The team has Jamie McGinn, David Legwand, Carlo Colaiacovo and Chad Johnson coming off as UFAs at the end of the season. Of the four, McGinn is the one drawing the most interest because of his 14 goals and 13 assists on the season. Legwand and Colaiacovo aren’t likely to be going anywhere while Johnson could likely be dealt to a team needing goaltending depth for a late-round draft pick.
As far as the pending RFAs on the roster are concerned, Johan Larsson and Jake McCabe are the two that come to mind as legitimate trade candidates. The rest of the players — Ristolainen, Marcus Foligno, Nicolas Deslaurier, and Zemgus Girgensons — are likely to stick around, and be re-signed in the offseason.
What about players that still have term left? The players that have been talked about are Matt Moulson, Tyler Ennis and Josh Gorges. Of the three, Ennis would be the only one that could legitimately be moved. Moulson is owed to much for his lack of production, and Gorges can be thrown into the same boat. Teams may be scared of Ennis’ injury issues this year, especially his current concussion, but, when healthy, he’s a 20 goal scorer that comes at an affordable $4.6 million per year.
There is also a belief that defenseman Mark Pysyk could be on the block, but that’s more speculation than anything at this time.
Ok, so Buffalo may be trading away quite a few players. What comes back in return then?
Well, the Sabres have 11 picks so far this year and, after the trade of Weber, nine picks in 2017. It’s hard to really see Murray going heavy for more picks, though that’s likely what is going to ultimately happen. The benefit of having all these picks, as fans saw with the acquisitions of Kane, O’Reilly and Robin Lehner, is the fact that they can be used as premium currency to add NHL-level talent to the roster.
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The Sabres have shown interest in Arizona Coyotes forward Mikkel Boedker according to sources, and The Fourth Period has said that Murray has shown interest in Carolina Hurricanes forward Jeff Skinner. There are players out there to be had, it’s just whether Murray can make a deal that he views as fair for the future of his team.
No matter what happens, the 2016 NHL Trade Deadline is sure to be a busy one for the Sabres, the players, and their fans.
Featured photo by: Amy Irvin/The Hockey Writers
Michael is a former Managing Editor for The Hockey Writers. He’s covered the Buffalo Sabres, along with the NHL in general, for various outlets since 2009. His work has been featured on outlets such as Yahoo, Sports Illustrated and Fox Sports.