Sabres Face Tough Decision When Weighing Potential Tkachuk Trade

Now that Matthew Tkachuk has declared he will not sign long-term with the Calgary Flames, every NHL fanbase is wondering how he would fit onto their team, including Buffalo Sabres fans, who have wanted to add him to their roster since November during the Jack Eichel saga. Things have changed significantly for both Tkachuk and the Sabres in the months since but given the likelihood the Flames will trade him, does it make sense for Buffalo to pursue the 24-year-old winger?

The answer is complicated. Any team would be lucky to have Tkachuk; he is a skilled forward who will consistently produce 60 or more points a season, and he proved in 2021-22 that he can be a reliable goal scorer with his career-high 42 goals. He also brings physicality and peskiness to a lineup, routinely willing to go to the front of the net to create scoring chances and get under the opposition’s skin.

In short, Tkachuk has just the qualities teams look for in a hockey player. Adding him to a Sabres lineup that boasts young skill but lacks a real aggressive option in the top six seems like a match made in heaven. If they deem the opportunity is too good to pass up, Buffalo has the assets to make a deal happen. However, with their recent transactions and contract decisions, it is far more likely they opt for a more patient approach to the situation. 

Sabres’ Strong Asset Management Gives Them Trade Options

The Sabres have put themselves in an exceptional position to make an offer for Tkachuk as general manager Kevyn Adams has stockpiled both draft picks and high-end prospects in recent seasons. They also hold all of their picks in next year’s draft except for their third-round selection, and they acquired second-round picks from both the Philadelphia Flyers and Vegas Golden Knights last season. That is a lot of draft capital to operate with. 

Matthew Tkachuk Calgary Flames
Matthew Tkachuk, Calgary Flames (Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The organization has also done an excellent job of building their prospect pipeline and added three more first-round picks to that group at the 2022 Draft. Moving prospects is probably not something management wants to do at this point of their rebuild, but if they did, they would have to part with a couple of their most highly touted.

The Sabres have players like Casey Mittelstadt or Mattias Samuelsson, who could be candidates to be moved, too. Skilled forwards like Jack Quinn and JJ Peterka should graduate to the NHL next season and are logical replacements for Mittelstadt. They also have a log jam of sorts at left defense, so moving Samuelsson would be an option as well. Both are highly-touted prospects who have not yet scratched the surface of what they can accomplish at the professional level, but to get a player as talented as Tkachuk, valuable players will have to be dealt in return.

Related: Sabres’ Free-Agent Signings Provide Starting Point to Build On

Having the pieces to make an offer to Calgary is a testament to how well the Sabres’ front office is managing the organization. They have done a tremendous job with their asset management and now have the option to be in the conversation when high-impact players become available. 

Too Soon for the Sabres

Acquiring Tkachuk would be a hasty decision, considering the Sabres’ standing in the league. The Atlantic Division is one of the toughest in the NHL, and with the Ottawa Senators and Detroit Red Wings taking major steps this offseason to improve their team, there is a chance the Sabres will finish ahead of only the Montreal Canadiens when the season ends.

The Senators made one of the biggest moves this offseason when they acquired Alex DeBrincat, and the Red Wings made a huge splash in free agency, signing players like Andrew Copp, Ben Chiarot, and Ville Husso. These decisions came after they saw significant improvement from their young players and multiple years of an upward trajectory in their development. As such, they were able to identify their core and build around them to take the next step in their rebuild.

Alex DeBrincat, Chicago Blackhawks
Alex DeBrincat, Chicago Blackhawks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The Sabres are in a similar situation but are still a season away from making major moves like those. Their offseason has been a good indication of how they view things, upgrading their defense and goaltending but leaving the offense alone to this point. The organization has young forwards at their disposal, and it will be important to give them minutes and the opportunity to prove themselves to decide who they would like to commit to long term. They can then move whoever doesn’t fit for a high-caliber player like Tkachuk next offseason.

Stockpiling talent and the on-ice improvements we saw last season are results of the front office’s patient approach; they have been meticulous in building the team through smart trades and rebuilding their prospect pool. Making a blockbuster deal like this would shake up the organizational depth they have spent seasons building. But, on the other hand, they would be acquiring an exceptional player to speed up the process. The decision is a difficult one, but being in this spot shows how far the organization has come.

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