The Buffalo Sabres are right on the cusp of a playoff spot for the first time in over a decade. As their roster continues to grow and develop together, management should still look for some outside help before the trade deadline on March 3. They have more options than most teams, given their enormous amount of cap space, their plethora of prospects, and their copious amount of draft picks, and they should be able to weaponize all of them to broker a deal ahead of a playoff push.
A player that comes to mind as an affordable trade target is Florida Panthers forward Anthony Duclair. While he has yet to play a game this season, after having Achilles tendon surgery in July, he would boost the Sabres’ top-six forward group in all the right ways. He adds speed, scoring, defensive awareness, and, most importantly, playoff experience; all of which they need if they plan on making it out of the first round. A number of other teams could be vying for his services, so general manager Kevyn Adams needs to move quickly if they want to make a deal.
Duclair Fits The Sabres’ Scheme
The Sabres are one of the most dynamic teams in the league, and acquiring a boost for their offense will make them even more dangerous. Duclair has always been a goal scorer, and in recent years he has shown what he is capable of, scoring 31 goals last season, over 20 in two other seasons, and being on pace for over 20 in two more seasons. The Sabres have a lot of scoring talent up front with Tage Thompson (34 goals), Alex Tuch (24 goals), Jeff Skinner (20 goals), and Victor Olofsson (23 goals), but they could still use another scoring winger to pick up the slack in the middle-6.
The Sabres just signed forward Dylan Cozens to a brand new seven-year, $7.1-million annual average value contract, which was his reward for being one of their primary sources of offense this season. He might have a better season with some support on his wings, and Duclair would be the perfect fit. They both play with speed, defensive awareness, and grit, and they can both put pucks in the net, making them an ideal pairing. Together they could make a huge difference, as the opposition would have to defend against two offensively gifted lines and still have to worry about the Sabres’ depth scorers like Olofsson and Casey Mittelstadt.
Price Tag For Duclair Would Be Easy to Pay
Duclair has a cap hit of just $3 million until the end of next season, so he has good value. The problem is that the Panthers are right up against the cap and will need to either offload his contract for assets or offload another contract to activate him off injured reserve.
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This might give the Sabres more leverage and drive the price down a bit. Duclair may be coming off a 30-goal season, but he will not fetch the same return as a consistent 30-goal scorer. Should the Sabres make an offer, it might look like this:
- Sabres trade F Vinnie Hinostroza, F Rasmus Asplund, and a 2023 2nd round pick (VGK) to the Panthers in exchange for F Anthony Duclair
- Sabres trade D Ryan Johnson and a 2024 3rd round pick to the Panthers for F Anthony Duclair
- Sabres trade F Rasmus Asplund and a 2023 2nd round pick (BUF) and a 2023 5th round pick to the Panthers for F Anthony Duclair
The Sabres could make any one of these offers to the Panthers, and they would only be giving up a couple of depth roster players, a defensive prospect that has been in development for four years, and a few draft picks that they can spare to bolster their scoring group. The Panthers have depleted their draft capital in pursuit of a deep playoff run in recent seasons, which has not worked out. Recouping some of those losses would give them some future options while freeing up a little cap room. The asking price may end up being slightly higher than these proposed trades, but when teams are forced to make moves for cap space, they typically ask for less.
Duclair Makes the Sabres Better Now
The Sabres will attempt to use their cap space wisely in the next couple of seasons to re-sign their top young players to long-term extensions, and Duclair’s short-term contract fits perfectly within that timeframe. He offers them exactly what they need: veteran leadership from a player who has faced adversity throughout his career. After being cut by the team that drafted him, Duclair has found his game along the way and the right attitude that will make the Sabres better. As an unrestricted free agent after next season, the Sabres could also let him walk to make room for a rookie.
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When he returns from injury there will be a slight adjustment period to get his legs back under him, but it’s unlikely he will be held off the scoresheet for long, especially if he plays with Cozens. Duclair brings a developed and rounded game to a team that needs more consistency, and the Sabres could use a young talent like him. Should Adams make a smaller move before the deadline, Duclair would be the perfect forward to turn his team into a contender.