For the Buffalo Sabres, the start to the 2021-22 season was a bit of a surprise. October was a hot month, with the team going 5-2-1 in their first eight games before hitting the proverbial wall when the calendar changed over to November. Now more than 20 games into their season, the Sabres have regressed back to the median and are looking like a team that will miss the playoffs.
While a mediocre record is far from what a team wants, for the Sabres this is season could have looked much worse so far. They were projected by many to be historically bad, so considering everything, things have been going fine on the ice, especially when you look at the amount of talent they lost over the last calendar year.
However, if things continue as is, one should expect the Sabres to be sellers at the 2022 trade deadline. After they traded off many pieces of their former core, it may be difficult to keep track of which players on expiring contracts could be moved to bring back a meaningful return ahead of the deep 2022 NHL Draft.
So let’s take a look at some of the names who might bring back a solid return for the Sabres as the season marches on.
Sabres’ Thin Forward Corps Holds Few Trade Assets
After Buffalo traded Jack Eichel back on Nov. 4th, the franchise lost, easily, their biggest trade chip. Even as he was dealing with a long-term injury, he still was far and away their most recognized and valuable asset.
What this means is that the Sabres are now left without a major forward on an expiring contract in their corps to trade. Of their remaining forwards, Cody Eakin will likely garner the most interest, as he could be seen as a buy-low depth asset for a playoff team, especially if Buffalo retains some of his salary.
Another depth forward that could garner some interest is Vinnie Hinostroza, as he has been putting up solid point totals in a bottom-six role this season at a cap hit around $1 million. Once again, this wouldn’t be a game-changing trade, but there would likely be at least one team interested in his services at that cost.
Besides those two players, Buffalo doesn’t really feature another pending Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA) forward that one would expect to draw a lot of attention on the trade market. However, someone like Zemgus Girgensons could be a target for the right franchise, as he has a reasonable $2.2 million cap hit until 2023, and is a known commodity in the NHL. If put in a depth role, he could be a perfect locker room presence for a young franchise, even if it were his first taste of the postseason.
Sabres Defense Features Meaningful Trade Pieces
On defense, the Sabres have four pending UFA’s that could draw interest at the 2022 Trade Deadline. First are Colin Miller and Will Butcher, who are two veteran defensemen that have been taking on 18 to 20 minutes of ice time each night this season. Miller is likely the more desirable player of the two, as he has posted 11 points this season and could slot into a top-four role as a right-handed defenseman. Now, this doesn’t mean that he will be returning a first-rounder by any means, but he could get back a mid-round pick plus more depending on the market.
Butcher could also fetch a draft pick or two himself, especially as injuries to defensemen stack up across the league. He isn’t much in terms of offense this season, but he posted 44 points back in 2017-18 and could be an appealing depth addition for a team with some cap space.
The other two UFA defensemen, Mark Pysyk and Robert Hagg, could also be major trade chips, as they are veteran defensemen who carry small cap hits. With Pysyk sitting at $900 K and Hagg at $1.6 million, there will likely be more than one team that looks at these players as a low-cost addition to strengthen their roster. Sure, the return wouldn’t be large, but teams love to add depth and will happily part with a mid-round pick to do so.
Anderson Could Be a Veteran Goaltender Target
When it comes to goaltenders, there isn’t much to look at from Buffalo. While both Dustin Tokarski and Aaron Dell are on league minimum contracts, neither have played particularly well recently and it seems unlikely that either would garner much interest on the trade market.
An interesting wrinkle to this goaltender equation, however, is Craig Anderson. Before he suffered an injury back in October, he was playing solid, posting a .921 save percentage in six starts. Given his history of strong playoff performances and a meager $750 K cap hit, he could be a valuable backup goalie on the trade market.
So, if he can rejoin the Sabres and look sharp in his starts, Buffalo could potentially deal Anderson in the coming months for a pick. Depending on how things are looking around the league, this pick could be more than just a fifth-rounder as well.
Sabres Need Starters as Well as Future Assets
While it may be easy to look at the Sabres’ roster and markdown half a dozen trades that could happen before the deadline, it’s also important to remember that the franchise can’t just trade everyone of value. They still need nightly starters to finish the season while staying above the cap floor.
All this means is that Buffalo will either need to be smart with their call-ups from the AHL, or they will need to take on current players as well as draft picks in deals they make. Given the current state of the NHL, there might be room for them to act as brokers in bigger trades, absorbing portions of a player’s cap hit or taking on a teams’ bad expiring contract to help facilitate a deal… at the right price, of course.
Even if those deals aren’t particularly sexy, they can go a long way to helping Buffalo reload for the future. A well-played deadline could fetch them a few extra picks for the cost of cap space, which could go a long way in a deep 2022 NHL Draft.
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Eugene Helfrick is a Tampa Bay Lightning writer who is actually from Tampa Bay. He has written about the Lightning for six years, covering everything from their run to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, to their crushing first-round exit in 2019, to their redemption in the bubble in 2020. While he is happy to talk about just about anything from cows to cars to video games, hockey will always remain one of his favorite pastimes.