Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Buffalo is relevant again, this time at the trade deadline

If this was written at 3:01pm yesterday, trade deadline day, the headline may have read, "Sabres fans storm offices with pitchforks and torches." The tar would have been ready and chickens all over Western New York would be left naked as the need for their feathers far surpassed the need for their personal comfort.

Shortly after the "trade deadline" group at WGR, which included NHL On The Fly analyst, Brian Duff, gathered their stuff to go on their way after three hours of virtually nothing, it was announced that Paul Gaustad was traded to Nashville along with a fourth round pick for the Preds 2012 first round pick.

Yes, you read that right. Goose (with minimal help from a 2013 4th-rounder) netted the Sabres a 2012 1st-rounder.

Gaustad was set to be an unrestricted free agent this summer and was a good, solid part to the team. Rumors were flying all trade deadline day that he was a prime target for added depth as his size, defensive skills and faceoff accumen would be a welcome addition to any team looking for a role player like him.

Word on the street the previous day had Regier asking for a first-rounder. Howls of laughter could be heard echoing throughout the NHL landscape, with teams like Detroit, San Jose' and Vancouver balking at the asking price. But, strange things can happen at the deadline and Nashville thought that it was worth it. Regier had to have a huge smile on his face, especially with owner Terry Pegula and right-hand man, Ted Black, in the "war room" looking on.

"We thought long and hard about whether we needed to trade him and under what conditions to trade him," Regier said (1:35-mark.) "We set the standard high, and the standard was we had to acquire a first-round pick. If we couldn't acquire a first-round pick in that process, then we were not going to trade him."

That move would have fueled conversation at WGR for a while, but no where near the three hours that Mike Schopp and the Bulldog needed to fill.

How many times can you say that the Preds got raped? Even those two would have had a hard time keeping it interesting.

Sure, they would have spent plenty of time covering the what ifs? Like if Johnny Oduya could fetch a 2nd and 3rd for Winnipeg (from New Jersey) why wasn't Sabres d-man moved for something similar?

They'd have had plenty of fodder as the 13 trades up until that point were less than last years' 16, and worse yet, the "biggest" trade of the day happened to be the Gaustad one.

But, near the bottom of the 3 O'clock hour, a veritable bomb was dropped, the Vancouver Canucks and the Buffalo Sabres, two teams that came into the league in the same year (1970,) made a "hockey trade." The Nucks sent young center Cody Hodgson to Buffalo for young RW'er Zack Kassian.

It was a "hockey trade" plain and simple. Both were former first round picks--Hodgson #10, 2008 and Kassian #13, 2009 and both were going to teams that needed their particular skill set.

For Buffalo it meant bringing in a center with top-six potential, sniping skills and a solid two-way game. The lack of depth down the middle has been a constant thorn in Regier's side since 2007.

For Vancouver, it's about bringing in size and grit on the wing as they make another Stanley Cup push. Kassian, along with Sammy Pahlsson (acquired earlier by Vancouver from Columbus) represented moves that are "series specific." The Nucks lost to Boston in the finals last year because they couldn't match the grit that was throw at them by the Bruins and with these two moves they believe they've addressed that.

In another trade, Vancouver and Buffalo also swapped defensemen with Vancouver sending 27 year old Alexander Sulzer to the Sabres in exchange for Marc-Andre Gragnani.

Not much is known about Sulzer in these parts. Looks to be a bottom-pairing, depth d-man with below average size and minimal scoring. He will be unrestricted at the end of the season as well.

As for Grags, his butt has been parked on the bench for a very long time. After bursting onto the seen with a vengeance vs. Philadelphia in the playoffs last season, the "puck moving/offensive d-man went 180 on the team. He has been a turnover machine all year likely because, as WGR's Paul Hamilton puts it, "You could see fear in his eyes every time a forward was bearing down on him. I have never seen an NHL players as scared to get hit as him."

Gragnani had some interesting thoughts on the situation. The first thing that came out of his mouth when asked about his going to Vancouver was, "I'm extremely motivated." link: http://watch.tsn.ca/featured/clip627418#clip627418

Grags is then lead down the path to find out if his "happiness" and "elation" is solely about going to a Stanley Cup contender, or if it's also due in part to leaving a frustrating situation in Buffalo. "Yeah. I was frustrated," he replied. "I think there's a lot of people that was frustrated. People had us in a higher position in the East, and we couldn't get it done. Obviously I was frustrated like many of my teammates."

This could be one of those trades that's overlooked now, but if Gragnani pans out and plays to his potential, the Canucks should be arrested for thievery.

So how did Regier do at the deadline?

Don't know how he pulled it off, but he managed to build for the future and keep his team together the way he wants it right now.

The future looks very promising, not crazy promising, but a big leap in the right direction. They managed to trade from a position of strength for a position of need in the Hodgson/Kassian deal and they added a first round pick in the draft for Goose. That gives them two first-rounders and two seconds, not to mention lots of flexibility.

And the moves that were not made, namely center Derek Roy and defenseman Jordan Leopold will still have value next season as both enter the final year of their respective contracts. Both could command solid returns whether at the draft, over the summer or at next years' deadline.

All-in-all, it was a tremendous deadline for what their stated goals were. They were looking towards the future, yet still wanted to add for the present, but not at the expense of the future. (Got that?)

"When we evaluated our team we knew we had to get better." said Regier. "If it meant that we had to take a minor step back, we were prepared to do it. It still allows us to [make a] run at the playoffs. We all are aware of the odds against us, but I think with Cody [Hosgson] coming in, he will give us a good boost on the offensive side. We'll miss Gaustad, but we really felt that we needed to address the center position, the offense and the opportunity to get a young man like Cody."

And Regier pulled it off about as best as anyone could.

Although there are still reasons to question the type of player(s) Regier favors, no one can question him coming through with the pressure amped up this trade deadline.

The Sabres organization was the talk of the deadline. Remember back to last season at the 2011 NHL Draft. Veteran Sabres beat writer Paul Hamilton walked into the Xcel center in Minnesota saying that the Sabres were relevant again.

And they were relevant once again, eight months later.

other deadline links:


Michael Peca on the Howard Simon Show this morning:

Scott Rintool on the Howard Simon Show this morning:

"Trade stunner." "Looks like one of the most unpopular trades in Vancouver in years." From Vancouver Times:

From The Province, "Marc-Andre Gragnani, a defenseman that wasn't trusted...by Lindy Ruff...This makes him Cody Hodgson on defense."

Hodgson/Kassian similar to Naslund/Stojanov? The Vancouver Sun:

Hodgson shocked by news of trade. From Yahoo:

Kassian "packs plenty of punch." The Vancouver Sun:

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