Grading the Sabres’ 2020-21 Trades

The Buffalo Sabres completed four trades during the 2020-21 season, ranging from depth moves to moving out a star player. It’s been a few months since the trade deadline, and with some time past, it is time to grade these trades based on the Sabres’ end. Did they receive enough value in the Taylor Hall trade? Should they be credited for getting a draft pick in exchange for Jonas Johansson? This type of methodology will be in the criteria for evaluating their moves.

For most of these deals, the Sabres are the kids that need to hide their report cards from their parents. There is a lot of negative feedback, and Kevyn Adams will have some explaining to do. In a season where most of their star players underperformed, it minimized the potential value that could have been acquired. In addition, certain factors such as no-trade clauses really hampered their ability to acquire valuable assets in return.

It’s time to start with a minor move that ended up being bigger than realized at the time.

March 20th: Sabres Trade G Jonas Johansson to Colorado for a 2021 6th Round Pick

My grade for the Sabres’ return: B

When the deal was made, Johansson had started seven games for Buffalo and had a record of 0-5-2. His goals-against average (GAA) was 3.79, and his save percentage (SV%) was .884. He struggled on an awful team, and the rumors regarding his availability started to climb as the season progressed. When he was finally moved to Colorado, the biggest aspect of the trade was John Vogl’s reaction on Twitter. The Athletic writer stated, “I can say without hesitation that the Avs are getting the worst goalie I’ve seen during my 19 seasons covering the Sabres.” Although it seemed like an extreme comment to make, it was believable because of his performance during the season.

Jonas Johansson Buffalo Sabres
Jonas Johansson, Buffalo Sabres (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Looking at the aftermath of the deal, Johansson started eight games for the Avalanche. In those starts, he went 5-1-2, had a 2.06 GAA and a .913 SV%. In addition, Pavel Francouz, the backup goaltender in Colorado, was injured for the entire season, providing an opportunity for the Swedish netminder. Although they would acquire Devan Dubnyk for added insurance, he proved to be a solid third-string goaltender.

Related: Sabres’ Ristolainen Gaining Trade Talk Momentum

It was a fair trade, and it was surprising that the Sabres could even acquire an asset for him. However, it has worked out well for both parties and is probably the most successful trade that the team made this season.

March 26th: Sabres Trade Eric Staal to Montreal Canadiens for 2 Draft Picks

My grade for the Sabres’ return: C+

Before the season, Buffalo was looking to make a playoff push and made a big trade to add some veteran leadership. They acquired Eric Staal for Marcus Johansson, and he was expected to be the team’s second-line center. That ended up happening, but it turned out that Staal was no longer that caliber of a player. As a Sabre, he put up three goals and 10 points in 32 games. Looking at the JFresh Hockey’s model, he was in the 47th percentile of all NHL players for his shooting percentage. In his previous three seasons, he had been in the 83rd percentile of all NHL players. He went from being one of the best finishers to below average. That was a reoccurring theme in Buffalo this season.

Eric Staal Buffalo Sabres
Eric Staal, Buffalo Sabres (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

After it became clear that the Sabres weren’t a playoff team, Staal was moved to Montreal for a third and fifth-round pick in 2021. Buffalo acquired two draft picks in the middle rounds for their second-line center in terms of a value standpoint. In Montreal, he has been the team’s third-line center, and that is most likely his role going forward. Both teams got positive value from this deal, but Montreal has come out on top.

Had the Habs missed the playoffs, a lot of blame would have gone to Staal. He only provided three points in 21 games down the stretch and was only kept in their lineup because of his history. However, that story has changed in the postseason, as Staal has provided seven points in 13 games, helping Montreal get to the semifinals. It’s been a good ending to a story that appeared to have no hope.

April 10th: Sabres Trade Brandon Montour to Florida for 2021 3rd Round Pick

My grade for the Sabres’ return: C

The Brandon Montour experiment did not work out for Buffalo. He looked promising when he was acquired from the Anaheim Ducks back in 2019, putting up 10 points in 20 games as a Sabre. However, since then, his point production has fallen off, and he has been one of the worst defensemen in the NHL. He’s in the third percentile for his even-strength defense over the past three seasons, meaning when stats such as Corsi and Fenwick goals against are factored, his general defensive contributions seem limited.

Brandon Montour Rasmus Dahlin Buffalo Sabres
Brandon Montour and Rasmus Dahlin, Buffalo Sabres (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

It was time to move on from him this season, as he didn’t fit in the team’s plans. It would be challenging to move his $3.85 million cap hit, but the Florida Panthers needed a defender after Aaron Ekblad got injured. It’s worth noting over the span of three seasons, Montour went from being worth a first-round pick and Brendan Guhle to just a third-round pick on its own.

Related: Sabres’ Potential Expansion Draft Scenarios Are Wide & Varied

The Panthers used Montour on their third pairing as they faced the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the playoffs. Although they lost in six games, Montour was a serviceable player, and the Sabres received a draft pick in return as they prepare for another rebuild. It was a deal that needed to happen.

April 13th: Sabres Trade Taylor Hall and Curtis Lazar to Boston for 2021 2nd Round Pick and Anders Bjork

My grade for the Sabres’ return: D-

The only reason the Sabres are not receiving a failing grade for the Taylor Hall trade is that they received Anders Bjork. There are a few factors in this situation, and although it was widely reported that Hall would only accept a trade to Boston, many insiders have dispelled this claim. Rachel Doerrie, on the Staff and Graph Podcast, reported that the New York Islanders were offering a package that included their first-round pick and ended up trading for Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac instead. The reason this deal fell through was that Adams believed he could net a better return. It’s safe to say that didn’t happen.

Taylor Hall Buffalo Sabres
Taylor Hall, Buffalo Sabres (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

When Hall signed with the Sabres as a free agent in 2020, it seemed like the team had turned a corner. They had acquired a star winger to play next to Jack Eichel, and they lost no assets in signing him. Instead, the worst possible outcomes to their season fell in place, such as Hall’s historically low shooting percentage, Eichel’s injury, and Krueger losing the room. There’s a world where Hall could have worked in Buffalo, but this is not one of them.

The aftermath of this deal saw Hall’s shooting percentage regress to the mean. Basically, the shots he was taking were finally going in as a member of the Bruins. He was an excellent fit on the David Krejči line and provided secondary scoring for their team. He scored eight goals in 16 games in Boston to end the season. Bjork ended up playing on the second line for the Sabres and showed flashes of his offensive potential. He will likely prove himself as a full-time NHL player next season, and his ceiling is a serviceable third-line player.

When looking at these four trades, there were high and low points in the assets received by the Sabres. Getting a draft pick for Johansson was impressive due to his play, but they should have received a first-round pick in the Hall trade and failed to do so. It was a mediocre year of trades for the Sabres, and they better raise their game as they prepare to trade the likes of Eichel, Sam Reinhart, and Rasmus Ristolainen.

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