Being a bottom-feeding team at the time of the trade deadline typically means that a team will be selling off “rental” players or aging players that deserve a chance to make a Cup run with a playoff team. The Buffalo Sabres have a few pieces on their roster that could fetch a decent return at or before the NHL trade deadline on March 21. The question remains, what would be a reasonable return for these players based on the current market?
Tyler Toffoli was recently traded from the Montreal Canadiens to the Calgary Flames for a first-round pick in 2022 (top 10 protected), a fifth-round pick in 2023, Tyler Pitlick, and Emil Heineman. That trade is the first domino to fall, but it also establishes the market in a lot of ways for how teams will swap their players. The Sabres do not have anyone quite up to the standard of Toffoli, but they do have a few rental pieces that should be moved prior to deadline day.
The Sabres initially acquired Colin Miller in exchange for a second-round pick in 2021 and a fifth-round pick in 2022 from the Vegas Golden Knights, but his numbers have been fairly average. This season, he tied his Sabres career-high of 12 points, but he has done it in 32 games while also being tasked with top-end minutes each night. His injury issues have kept him off the ice recently, but with his contract expiring at the end of 2021-22, the Sabres should move on from him, not to mention the fact that they have multiple young defenders ready to step into a full-time role next year.
Miller projects as a top-four defender with a good scoring touch and some physical play. He achieved his career-high in points in 2017-18 with the Golden Knights (their inaugural season) with 41 points and has continued to work on his two-way play since then. At the ripe age of 29, he still has some solid years left in him, and a playoff team could snatch him up to bolster their blue line.
A couple of teams that should inquire about Miller should be the Nashville Predators and Boston Bruins. With the latter being in a wild-card spot, Miller could provide some boost to their physical game and their offensive numbers. He arguably has one of the hardest shots on either team, so he would be useful on a second pair or a power-play unit. The return for him would be similar to what his original price was, but with this year’s draft being as deep as it is, Sabres fans should expect a slightly lower return. While a second-round pick alone would be ideal, Miller should realistically fetch a third- and fourth-round pick or a third and fifth-round pick if the Sabres were to sell him off.
The recent years in Buffalo have not treated Kyle Okposo very well. Since signing with the Sabres as a free agent in 2016, he has not played a full season. His career-high in games played while in a Buffalo uniform was 78 in 2018-19, and he has not scored 20 goals yet either. His most productive year was his first when he put up 19 goals and 45 points in 2016-17.
A few seasons ago, Okposo revealed that he was dealing with a very serious illness that inhibited a great deal in his personal and professional life, and recovering from that was the hardest thing he had done. This season he looks refreshed, energetic, and hard to play against. He has been utilizing his very dangerous wrist shot to burn goalies a few times this season, and he seems to have his goal-scoring touch back. Playoff teams could utilize his skills for their middle-six scoring needs and a secondary power-play role.
Due to Okposo’s high cap hit of $6 million, the Sabres would need to retain half of that salary to make a deal happen, but since the contract expires at the end of next year, this means very little to them. His point production this season is solid at 11 goals and 27 points in 44 games. If he continues on that trend, he would be a 20 goal scorer by season’s end, especially on a playoff-level team.
The return for Okposo would be lower than what the Canadiens got for Toffoli, as he’s 33 years old and has not had the consistency to warrant a first-round pick. Okposo could fetch a second-round pick from a team that needs more depth scoring; a team like the Edmonton Oilers, Dallas Stars, or even Anaheim Ducks could use someone like him to round out their offense more. This all depends on if any of those teams plan on making a serious push for the playoffs. If they do, they may be looking for a higher-end talent, but adding Okposo would be a fair complement to their middle core. Price is where negotiations may get hung up, but a second-round pick is not out of the question, especially considering the return for a player like Barclay Goodrow for the San Jose Sharks at the deadline a couple of years ago.
Okposo does have a modified no-trade clause in his contract, so he would ultimately need to waive it in order for the Sabres to move him. If the team match was right, I don’t see why he wouldn’t approve a trade to go through.
Hagg was acquired by the Sabres at this past season’s draft as a part of the Rasmus Ristolainen trade with the Philadelphia Flyers. He was meant to be his temporary replacement, and while he hasn’t been the offensive presence Ristolainen usually was, Hagg has definitely matched the physical prowess and stepped up the defensive absence that was Ristolainen.
Hagg is an unrestricted free agent (UFA) at the end of this season, and re-signing him seems improbable with Mattias Samuelsson playing very well in his spot, and former No. 1 overall pick Owen Power on his way to Buffalo next season. Moving him at the deadline makes the most sense as he has some value from his physical and defensive play.
The return for a player like Hagg would be about a third-round pick or a B-tier prospect that a playoff team would be willing to move. At the very least, he should fetch a couple of fourth-round picks if the Sabres sell low on him, but if a playoff team needs some size added to their back end, he would be a great option for that.
Other UFA options that the Sabres could sell off to other teams for low value would be the likes of defensemen Mark Pysyk, Will Butcher, forwards Cody Eakin, Mark Jankowski, Drake Caggiula, and goaltenders Craig Anderson, Dustin Tokarski, and Malcolm Subban. Most of these players would not fetch a great return beyond a low-round pick or future considerations, but getting any value whatsoever from an asset that will be leaving for nothing is always better.
The Sabres have a lot to look forward to next year, and clearing out regular roster spots for the young players like Jack Quinn, Peyton Krebs (who is performing very well at the NHL level), JJ Peterka, and Owen Power is in their best interest. Draft stock will be very valuable for the next two years for every team, but for a team like the Sabres, every pick made or moved counts a lot more. Deadline day this season is bound to be an interesting one, but the Sabres don’t have many big pieces to offer the rest of the league, so they will have to make the deals that get them something above nothing.
I have been a hockey and Buffalo Sabres fan since I was in middle school. Through the good times and the very long bad times, I have stuck by this team with the hope that one day we would become a powerhouse in the NHL. Now I join The Hockey Writers as I hope to talk about this Buffalo Sabres team on an upswing. I love this team with all my heart, and I take pride in my ability to know players, prospects, and so much more. As a hockey fan I have a particular taste for young players and prospects; doing mock drafts, looking up stats, guessing potential, doing player comparisons, all of it. The idea of the future skill in the NHL is one of my favorite things to think about, write about, and talk about. I am also an avid NHL gamer with a top ranked team in the “Threes Eliminator” mode.