Quiet Deadline Won’t Affect Sabres Rebuild

The NHL trade deadline has come and gone. The Buffalo Sabres and general manager Tim Murray decided to not make any moves for the first since 2003. The news came as a surprise to many when the club announced they made no trades shortly after the 3:00 PM EST deadline. Murray is known for his willingness to make a trade at any time as long as he can find a dance partner. He didn’t find anyone to tango with him this time around.

Pending unrestricted free agents like Cody Franson, Dmitry Kulikov and Brian Gionta will finish out the season with the Sabres and their futures with the team will be decided in the summer. Although Murray didn’t get assets for his pieces that are on the way out, it doesn’t affect the plan and long-term future of the Sabres.

No Deal

(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Heading into March 1, both Franson and Kulikov seemed to be certainties to be on the move to another club. At the end of the day, the interest just didn’t seem to be there for Franson around the league. The 29-year old defenseman is known for his offensive upside he brings from the blueline, but it’s no secret that he struggles with speed. His skill set seemed to fit the need of a team looking for depth help with their defense and an addition to the second power-play unit in a playoff run.

Kulikov seemed to garner a little bit more interest than Franson on the market, but a few factors prevented a deal from being completed. The first issue is the fact the 26-year-old has really struggled when he has been on the ice this season. He hasn’t been the player the Sabres hoped they were getting when they acquired him from the Florida Panthers at the draft this past summer.

Problem number two, though, can directly affect the first problem, injuries. In the preseason, Kulikov took a hit into a bench door that was open, causing a back injury. He’s battled with the injury throughout the season and it has hampered his play. Murray indicated in his press conference after the deadline that the injury held some teams back from making the move to acquire the Russian defender even though they had interest.

The final big free agent on the Sabres’ trade block was the team captain, Gionta. Unlike with the aforementioned defensemen, Murray appeared to have a deal lined up for the 38-year-old veteran. He called Gionta to gauge his interest in the trade, but he again voiced his desire to remain with the Sabres. Murray granted the request and the rest is history. The Sabres’ general manager made the correct move in the way he handled the situation. It may not help the team right this moment, but other veterans around the league note that type of respect for the players.

Long-Term Effect

Realistically, not making any trades at the deadline will have very little effect on the Sabres’ rebuild moving forward. The returns for Gionta, Kulikov and Franson would have been nothing more than middle-round or high-round draft picks – players that very rarely turn out to be NHL caliber or help you acquire top end talent. Murray described the day as a “speed bump” in the rebuilding process.

Murray, of course, seemed frustrated by the fact he couldn’t get a deal done, but at the same time understood that this didn’t do anything to harm his long-term plan for the club. You never like to lose players for nothing and see them walk as free agents. At the same time, Kulikov and Gionta both have the potential to be part of the mix next season. In a radio interview with WGR 550 in Buffalo, he spoke of being open to the idea of bringing back both Gionta and Kulikov if the deal was right.

The real work to improve the team will be done in the offseason. Big deals are rarely completed this time of the year, as we saw with Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog not being traded out of Colorado. The summer ahead for the Sabres’ general manager will be his biggest in the three years he’s been rebuilding the team.

At this point, the organization is staring another non-playoff season in the face. Murray has a lot of work ahead of him after this season as the pressure will be turned all the way up next season for the Sabres to get themselves back into the playoffs for the first time since 2011, assuming they don’t make it this season.