With the All-Star break now behind us, the trade deadline looms large and is now less than a month away. Where does each team stand and what moves should they be looking to make? We continue our look around the league with the Buffalo Sabres.
The trade deadline has been known as a selling time for the Sabres as they’ve missed the playoffs for ten straight years and are now embarking on a new rebuild as their postseason drought will be extended once again. While there is hope that some of their younger players will help them out of this playoff drought (they have performed better under Don Granato this season), Buffalo will be in an all too familiar position over the next few weeks.
16-28-8, 7th in the Atlantic
Deadline Cap Space
$41.49MM today, $66.38MM in full-season space, 0/3 retention slots used, 46/50 contracts used per CapFriendly
Upcoming Draft Picks
2022: BUF 1st, FLA 1st*, VGK 1st^, BUF 2nd, BUF 3rd, BUF 4th, NJ 5th, BUF 6th, BUF 7th
2023: BUF 1st, BUF 2nd, PHI 2nd, VGK 2nd^, BUF 4th, BUF 5th, BUF 6th, BUF 7th
*-If Florida’s pick is in the top ten, the Panthers will instead transfer their 2023 first-rounder (unprotected).
^-If Vegas’ 2022 first-round pick is in the top ten, the Golden Knights will instead transfer their 2023 first-rounder (unprotected). If that happens, the 2023 second-round pick will become a 2024 second-rounder while Buffalo would keep their 2023 third-rounder and instead transfer their 2024 third-round pick.
Cody Eakin has moved at the trade deadline before and checks off two boxes that contending teams often look to fill on the fourth line. The center can win faceoffs (56.5% success rate this season, a career high) and kill penalties. At $2.25MM, the pending unrestricted free agent is overpaid for that role but if Buffalo is willing to pay that down by up to the maximum of 50%, there should be some teams interested in his services.
Robert Hagg isn’t going to light up the scoresheet but he hits, blocks shots, and can hold his own on the third pairing as he’s logging a little over 17 minutes a game. That’s not a particularly exciting profile on the surface but as teams look to add some grit and depth, the 27-year-old pending UFA should intrigue some playoff-bound teams. At $1.6MM, his deal shouldn’t need to be paid down. Colin Miller is another pending UFA blueliner that could attract some interest although an upper-body injury will keep him out for a few more weeks which won’t help his value. His price tag is higher at $3.875MM and will need some retention but he’s a right-shot defender which is an area that several teams will be looking to fill.
Victor Olofsson remains a restricted free agent to keep an eye on. The 26-year-old has gone cold in recent weeks but is a capable shooter, especially on the power play. For teams interested in adding some firepower on that front, he can help and unlike the others listed so far, he has another year of team control. But at $3.25MM, the qualifying offer could scare some teams off, especially with his eligibility for arbitration where his 20-goal season in 2019-20 could help him earn a raise. He’s not a guarantee to move but he could be someone to watch for.
For teams looking for less expensive forward depth, rental winger Vinnie Hinostroza may be of interest. He should be able to return from his lower-body injury in the next little while and with 17 points in 36 games, he’d be an offensive upgrade in the bottom six for some playoff-bound squads. He won’t be a primary target but as a depth addition closer to the deadline, there could be some interest, especially with him having an affordable $1.05MM AAV.
Johnny Boychuk’s playing career is already over but he’s an LTIR-eligible contract. Buffalo hasn’t put him on there – it’s not as if they need the cap space – but a team that could fit him under their cap and then place him on LTIR to expand their pool could come calling. Such a move is rare but there is precedent for it happening.
1) Bang For Their Buck – The Sabres have more cap space than anyone, putting them in a position to be willing to accept bad contracts or be a third-party facilitator with retention to add some draft picks. If ownership is willing to give them the okay to do so from a budgetary perspective, it’s something GM Kevyn Adams should be looking to utilize.
2) Future Goaltending – It’s easy to say they need picks and prospects (they’ll get more of the former than the latter with their rentals) but let’s look beyond that for a moment. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen is getting close to being ready for the NHL but he’s going to need a quality veteran to work with and the collection of goalies they have making the league minimum (or slightly more) isn’t going to cut it. This doesn’t have to be a need they fill now but if they’re willing to take on a contract now, getting a goalie wouldn’t be a bad idea. The same idea could be applied to bringing in a veteran defender or even a forward as Buffalo could basically use longer-term upgrades everywhere.