Sabres in a Peculiar Situation

Being in a multi-year rebuild, the trade deadline has been a busy event for the Buffalo Sabres in recent years. The team traded captain Jason Pominville at 2013’s trade deadline. The Sabres shipped franchise goaltender Ryan Miller and captain Steve Ott out of Buffalo just days before 2014’s event. The last two trade deadlines have also seen the team trade their veterans in exchange for pieces to help build their future.

While the Sabres do have some seasoned players on their roster that could be dealt for draft picks, that may not be the best route for the team to take this year. The Sabres sit just seven points out of a wild card playoff spot. While it may be a long shot, there is still a possibility that the team could sneak into the postseason.

Philadelphia Flyers vs Buffalo Sabres – October 25, 2016 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Sabres have the necessary assets to be buyers at this year’s trade deadline, if they so choose. The team has acquired a number of talented prospects throughout their rebuild that could be traded in exchange for a roster player. If the team thinks they could sneak into the playoffs, adding skilled veterans is a necessity.

Another thing the team could do before the NHL trade deadline is nothing. Gaining nothing while simultaneously losing nothing is perhaps the best case scenario for this young, talented roster.

Or, like in years past, the team could be sellers at this year’s trade deadline. The Sabres could look to trade players on expiring contracts, such as Brian Gionta and Cody Franson, in exchange for mid-round draft picks. Veterans like Matt Moulson or Josh Gorges could potentially be traded to a team gearing up for a Cup run.

For the first time in years, the Sabres can choose what they want to be at this year’s trade deadline. This could either make for a very exciting, or a rather uninteresting, affair.

Time to Buy?

In what is a new feeling for Sabres’ fans, the team is still in the playoff hunt in late January. Yes, the team is tied for last place in a tight Eastern Conference, but the sky isn’t falling just yet. Stringing together five or six wins could put Buffalo in a highly coveted wild card spot.

Jarome Iginla
(Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports)

If the team finds themselves in or near a playoff spot come the deadline, adding to the roster is necessary. While the team’s current roster in talented, they likely wouldn’t fare well in the playoffs. Adding one or two pieces at this year’s deadline could turn the Sabres from a bubble team into a contender.

One player the Sabres could look to acquire before the trade deadline is Jarome Iginla. The 39-year-old has already heard his name in trade talks this season, and the possibility of an Iginla trade could become a reality at the trade deadline. While Iginla will likely be the least coveted member of the Colorado Avalanche before the deadline, he would undoubtedly be a strong addition to a team looking to make a playoff run.

While Iginla’s best days are obviously behind him, he could help the Sabres sneak into the playoffs. The Edmonton native has just 12 points this season, but Iginla’s role on the Sabres wouldn’t be to score goals. Iginla would be a mentor for the team’s young core, and could potentially win the team a couple of games in the process.

If the Sabres find themselves in a playoff spot around the time of the trade deadline, adding to the roster is a must. The team must add a veteran with playoff experience if they want to succeed in the postseason. If the Sabres are in the playoffs, they might as well try to win it all.

Stay the Course

Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres, Fantasy Hockey, NHL
Jack Eichel (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

For the first time in years, fans seem to be contempt with the Sabres’ roster.

Jack Eichel is the franchise player fans have yearned for since Gilbert Perreault. Ryan O’Reilly has captured the hearts of the Buffalo faithful with his blue-collar style of play. Rasmus Ristolainen appears to be a future Norris Trophy winner. General manager Tim Murray has assembled a roster of skilled players — a team that is exciting to watch when they are clicking.

Sam Reinhart , Philadelphia Flyers vs Buffalo Sabres – October 25, 2016 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

However, that is the issue. The team isn’t always clicking. Injuries combined with scoring slumps from key players have played a huge role in the team’s 20-19-9 record. Had the team been performing at maximum capacity all season long, they’d likely be in a playoff spot right now.

Although the team could be performing better than they have this season, altering the roster could be detrimental to the future. Growing pains are to be expected from a young team, so trading a key player because of them should not be the solution to the problem.

While players like Eichel, O’Reilly and Ristolainen are untouchable, Evander Kane and Sam Reinhart likely aren’t. Rumors surrounding a potential Evander Kane trade have already circulated this season. While Murray likely isn’t shopping Reinhart around, he is certainly the most expendable of the Sabres’ young forwards.

However, the Sabres shouldn’t deal any player in their starting lineup at this year’s trade deadline. This team will be a playoff contender in the coming years; trading someone now in an attempt to sneak into the playoffs would be ill-advised. Perhaps not doing anything at all would make the Sabres the true winners of this year’s trade deadline.

Sell, Sell, Sell

As Buffalo fans have become accustomed to, the trade deadline could once again be the Sabres’ annual salary dump. Captain Brian Gionta could be dealt to a contender in exchange for a draft pick. Cody Franson could be a sought-after rental for contending teams looking for defensive depth. If a team with cap-space is looking for a veteran winger, Matt Moulson could fit that bill.

(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

While acquiring late round draft picks could be helpful for the team, selling off veterans could do more harm than good. In the long run, players selected in the fourth to seventh rounds likely won’t have a huge impact on the team. Less than 20 percent of the players selected in these rounds have played more than 100 games in the NHL. Essentially giving players like Gionta, Franson and Moulson away would be harming, not helping, the team.

Trading veterans who have committed themselves to the organization could harm the team’s image. Gionta has been a solid captain for the team for the past three seasons. Moulson actually re-signed with the Sabres after the team traded him to the Minnesota Wild. Trading players that help on the ice and in the community in exchange for players that likely won’t make an impact for the team isn’t a good look. If veterans from around the league see how the Sabres treat players that committed themselves to the city and the team, they likely won’t even consider signing with the blue and gold.

The Sabres have options at this year’s trade deadline, which isn’t something they’ve had in recent years. Whether the team decides to buy, sell or stay the course, this year’s trade deadline should be interesting.