Sabres’ Trade Targets With First-Round Pick

Last week we made the case for the Buffalo Sabres trading their first-round pick. With the NHL rumoured to be pushing for a draft in early June, now is the time to look into specifics for trade possibilities.

We need to identify teams with impactful, offensive players that are looking to shake things up and add a top-10 pick in a deep draft. We can also look at some teams that may be feeling salary cap issues if the the cap fails to rise due to COVID-19.

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Through this lens, the options become more readily available. Let’s see what possibilities the Sabres should be eagerly pursuing over the next few weeks.

Calgary Flames – Sean Monahan And Johnny Gaudreau

It’s not very often you hear the likes of Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan have their names bandied about in trade talks. Yet, here we are. It’s conceivable that both players could be had from the Calgary Flames this offseason.

Sean Monahan Calgary Flames
Sean Monahan, Calgary Flames (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

First of all, the Flames find themselves in interesting circumstances with regards to the salary cap. They have a number of expiring contracts this summer and if the cap remains at $81.5 million, they will need to find some cap relief. As it stands right now, they would have under $17 million available to sign 11 players, while only having three defencemen and one goaltender under contract.

As the Flames look at big contracts to move, they see Matthew Tkachuk at $7 million for two more seasons and captain Mark Giordano at $6.75 million also for two more seasons. Don’t expect either one to move. They are the heart and soul of that city and that team.

Next up on the list? Gaudreau at $6.75 million for two more seasons and Monahan at $6.375 million for three more seasons. Both have had massive down campaigns, Gaudreau falling from 1.21 to .83 points per game and Monahan going from 1.05 to .69 points per game compared to last season. Both have had their share of hard times with shooting percentages falling, Monahan falling three percent and Gaudreau dropping over six percent!

Johnny Gaudreau Calgary Flames
Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Flames’ lack of success with this roster in addition to the cap issues they will find themselves with makes this the perfect time to pounce. The Sabres could easily move Victor Olofsson to the right side to make room for Gaudreau or make the second-line centre position available for Monahan until Dylan Cozens is ready. Don’t be fooled by down seasons. These two players are ready to bounce back.

Detroit Red Wings – Dylan Larkin

This is one idea that THW commenter PuttinOnTheFoil and I discussed in the comments of my last article. I’m sure Red Wings fans think we’re delusional — and, hey, who’s to say we’re not — but a move is there that makes sense for both teams.

The main guts of the deal were Rasmus Ristolainen, prospect Mattias Samuelsson and the first-round pick for Larkin. There are pros and cons to both sides of the deal but we may not be far off here.

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For the Red Wings, they get to add a minute-munching, big-bodied defender in Ristolainen. He has his issues, to be sure, but his physicality and durability make him an asset. Outside of Moritz Seider, the defensive depth in the organization is pretty poor. Even though Filip Hronek is a nice piece, there are still many question marks. Samuelsson, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound defenceman with Western Michigan University boasts leadership qualities and a physical presence.

Dylan Larkin Detroit Red Wings
Dylan Larkin, Detroit Red Wings (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Adding the Sabres’ first-round pick helps put this deal over the top. The Red Wings will then have the best odds at drafting either Alexis Lafreniere or Quinton Byfield and will also be able to add an elite puck-moving defenceman in Jamie Drysdale or any of the numerous top-six forwards available. These players will fit the Red Wings timeline of contention a little bit better.

In Larkin, the Sabres would be adding an elite second-line centre. Larkin has speed to burn and oodles of skill. He’s exactly what the doctor ordered in terms of building the depth of offence and taking some of the heat off of Jack Eichel. Given Red Wings’ general manager Steve Yzerman’s reported interest in Ristolainen while with the Tampa Bay Lightning, this could have the makings of a potential deal that works for both sides.

San Jose Sharks – Timo Meier

To say the San Jose Sharks’ season didn’t go as planned would be a major understatement. After trading away their first-round pick as part of a package for Erik Karlsson, the Sharks have floundered this season and may have handed the Ottawa Senators a top-three pick.

As difficult a situation as the Flames were in, the Sharks are poised to have under $15 million to sign a goaltender, two or three defencemen and four or five forwards. They are saddled with multiple big-money contracts to ageing stars who will not live up to the billing. In need of some cap relief and youthful talent, the Sharks should absolutely be looking to make changes.

Timo Meier San Jose Sharks
Timo Meier, San Jose Sharks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

No one will be lining up to take on the contracts of Logan Couture, Evander Kane, Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic or Karlsson. The next logical move would be Timo Meier. Although just 23 years old, Meier is being paid $6 million per season over the next three seasons. With his point pace dropping with the rest of the team, management may feel they need to move on from him in an effort to try and shake things up.

For the Sharks, they would be adding an elite contributor to their group over the next two seasons and will only have to pay him under $1 million for his first three seasons. They can really use youth everywhere, but might be especially interested in goaltender Yaroslav Askarov to step in sooner rather than later.

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The Sabres would be receiving an excellent top-six winger in Meier. Although he hasn’t exploded on the scoresheet as of yet, he plays the game the right way and controls scoring chances among the best in the league. The Sabres would probably need to add a prospect along with the pick in order to get the deal done, but such a move would be worth it. Meier has yet to scratch the surface of his peak and reminds me a lot of Jonathan Huberdeau in that he might take a couple extra seasons before he really starts to blossom.

Yaroslav Askarov Team Russia
Team Russia’s Yaroslav Askarov could be an intriguing add for the Sharks with the Sabres pick (Russia Hockey/FHR.RU)

If the Sabres were to part ways with their pick and goaltending prospect Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, it could be enough to pry Meier away from the Sharks. It’s a steep price to pay but goaltending prospects can be very fickle. With Erik Portillo still in the system, the Sabres wouldn’t be completely devoid of talent in net and would help their top-six tremendously while the Sharks would hurt their immediate team but help the roster down the road.

Such a move would certainly qualify as a blockbuster and would help both teams. Whether or not the Sharks are ready to sit back for a season or two while they wait for the impact of this move remains to be seen. In any event, it would certainly be worth exploring for the Sabres.

Montreal Canadiens – Max Domi

The final player we’ll discuss today is Max Domi. A trade for Domi would probably be the most interesting for me from a Sabres perspective. A trade with a divisional rival on the draft floor in Montreal? Delicious.

How would such a trade formulate? The idea I have concocted would see the Sabres sending (guess who) Ristolainen and their first-round pick to the Canadiens for Domi and the Canadien’s second-round pick. This is another deal that will take some chewing.

Canadiens left wing Max Domi
MONTREAL, QC – SEPTEMBER 19: Montreal Canadiens left wing Max Domi (13) skates during the warm-up of the NHL preseason game between the New Florida Panthers and the Montreal Canadiens on September 19, 2018, at the Bell Centre in Montreal, QC (Photo by Vincent Ethier/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

For the Canadiens, they will need to sign Domi to a contract this summer. That will be a challenge. Not because they have cap issues, though. The Canadiens have not had an elite first-line centre in some time. Domi has been often used in that role in his time with the team. While he’s a nice player, he is certainly better suited to the second line or occasionally playing wing.

That brings us to the Canadiens’ conundrum. How do they evaluate Domi? Do they see him as a first-line centre in the league? Or do they view him as a second-liner who is essential to them due to their lack of talent up the middle? If it’s the latter, the contract becomes challenging.

No doubt Domi’s camp will be looking to leverage the situation into a much larger contract from the Canadiens. Think of what Jeff Skinner basically did to the Sabres. Because they didn’t have the depth to replace him, they had to pay up to keep him. Granted, Domi is not an unrestricted free agent this season but the principle remains the same. If the Canadiens opt to keep him, they will likely have to overpay.

The other option they have is to try and move him for value to fill other holes in their lineup. Adding Ristolainen gives them a durable defenceman with snarl and physicality, something the Canadiens could certainly use more of. Having two top-10 picks would then enable them to really attack this roster and give them an excellent chance to build that centre depth.

Rasmus Ristolainen Buffalo Sabres
Rasmus Ristolainen, Buffalo Sabres (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Having three picks in the second round (and 14 picks overall), the Canadiens can afford to move up and really help their team. Had the draft actually been occurring in Montreal this season, the theatre may have been too much for Marc Bergevin to pass up.

For the Sabres, they would be able to deal from a position of strength to fill an obvious hole. Domi can play centre or wing and would be a nice fit for them. Perhaps he could be paired with Sam Reinhart on the second line to try and reignite some chemistry from their electric line at the World Junior Championship.

In any event, such a move would help the Candiens fill a void while avoiding a big mistake. The Sabres are better setup with Eichel already in the fold to allow Domi to flourish with less pressure on the second line. As Cozens begins to mature into his hopeful role as the No. 2 centre for this team, Domi has the versatility to be moved around the lineup and be used where he’s needed.

Max Domi, Montreal Canadiens
Max Domi, Montreal Canadiens (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Sabres adding a second-round pick in a draft this deep will mean good things for them as well. Having more draft capital is never a bad thing and with the depth of this year’s class, they could still find an impact player with one of their two second-rounders.

The Options Are There to Make an Impact

We’ve looked at five targets the Sabres could set their sights on using their first-round pick. There are still others though. Could the Lightning find themselves in a pickle with a flat cap and need to make a tough decision on Anthony Cirelli? Would the Chicago Blackhawks be interested in sending Dylan Strome to the Sabres and swapping first-round picks? Might the Flames be more interested in parting ways with Elias Lindholm?

Whatever the case, this is an avenue that needs to be explored. If the cap doesn’t rise like teams were initially hoping, there will be opportunities to profit. It’s time for the Sabres to use this currency in a different way that they haven’t tried yet and find a way to bring this team back to relevancy. When we know the draft format, we will certainly be in for an interesting few weeks.