Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Buffalo Sabres could use Taylor Hall, but do they need him?

Reprinted with permission from

Or, better yet, should the Edmonton Oilers even think of trading him?

If one there's on thing the Darcy Regier-era taught us is that skill on the wing without top-notch centers can carry a team only so far. LW Thomas Vanek was drafted 5th overall in the 2003 NHL Draft, a draft which is considered one of the best, if not the best, of all time.

Despite Regier's claims that he had "two of the top-20 centers in the league" at one point, the farthest Buffalo ever made it with Vanek on the top line was the first round of the playoffs. Derek Roy and Tim Connolly just weren't strong enough in the middle to get them any farther.

There's no doubt Edmonton LW Taylor Hall has top-line talent, but at 23 yrs. old riding with 21 yr. old Ryan Nugent-Hopkins at center, that upper-end skill has yet to fully blossom. Throw in coaching gaffes that date back to the release of Tom Renney, and you have a young kid who will have his fifth coach in four years once interim coach Craig McTavish hands over the coaching duties to formere AHL coach/associate coach/interim coach in training, Todd Nelson.

That's messed up.

One thing this front office nonsense will assure, though, it that the Oilers finish at the bottom of the league with the opportunity to draft one of two "franchise-type" players in either Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel. Either of those two are looked upon as bonafide #1 centers.

The addition of McEichel, as the two draftpicks are summarily called, allows things to fall into place rather nicely for the Oilers. Either will take the top spot in the middle with Hall on one wing while Nugent-Hopkins can drop to a #2 role where he can really excel. Not to take away anything from Nugent-Hopkins, put there's the potential for a fairly significant upgrade on the top line which would certainly help boost the production of not only Hall, but the entire top-six.

With all of that unfolding in front of them short-term, any rumors concerning the trading of Edmonton's best player should looked at as either crazy or the media drumming up a story for the sake of having a story.

Having him land in Buffalo might even more far-fetched.

There's not a team in the league that wouldn't welcome top-line talent and the Sabres are no different. But would Buffalo be willing to give Edmonton an offer they couldn't refuse for Hall? One that would most likely start with top-pairing defenseman Tyler Myers?

It's fun to play, "Let's Make a Deal," and I'm not opposed to playing Bob Barker (something I'll delve into a bit at the end,) but the return for either Hall or Myers will need to be excessive and neither of those two rebuilding clubs would benefit by emptying the coffers for the other. Even though Edmonton's need for a top-pairing defenseman is, and has been, well documented and Buffalo has the ability to furnish them with it doesn't mean it would be a good hockey trade for either team.

As mentioned earlier, Buffalo tried and failed with a top-line winger aside a top-six center. That's why they drafted two centers with their first overall picks in 2012 and 2014. They also added a center with their second first-rounder in 2012 and drafted eight more centers during those three drafts. Strength down the middle was their weakness and their downfall.

After falling into the abyss under two owners, two general managers and three different coaches, Myers has been clawing his way back up to blueline prominence. He's a bonafide top-pairing defenseman who's ninth in the league in ice time at 25:25 minutes/game. Although his scoring is lacking at this point, he leads the team in points and is second amongst defensemen in plus/minus (minus-4.) Keep in mind that he's on the lowest scoring team in the league and one that was so bad at one point in the season the hockey community accused the Sabres organization of purposely tanking for McEichel.

In the eyes of the hockey world, the two hardest pieces of the puzzle to attain are a top-line center and top-pairing defenseman. In that scenario it wouldn't behoove management to send a top-pairing defenseman like Myers to Edmonton unless either a top-line center was coming back or the Oilers offered a to-good-to pass-up offer of Hall-plus as a return.

And that ain't happening. It has about as much of a chance of happening as Hall to the Sabres for a too-good-to-pass-up offer of Myers-plus.

Both teams are better off either keeping these young, highly skilled players or trading them to teams who have the assets and are willing to grossly overpay.

What they might be able to do is do more of a second-tier type swap.

Despite their efforts, the Oilers are still real weak on defense and it's been said for a while that they've been interested in defenseman Mark Pysyk.

Pysyk is an extremely smart, stay-at-home defenseman who can move the puck out of trouble. He's a 22 yr. old former first round pick (23rd overall, 2010) who's climbed every rung on the hockey ladder thus far, but is caught in a numbers game in Buffalo.

Right now he's in Rochester with two other defensemen with similar traits--Chad Ruhwedel and Jake McCabe. All are of similar size and stature and could be considered smart puck-movers but Ruhwedel and McCabe seem to be more instinctual offensively than Pysyk.

The Oilers could most definitely use stabilization on the back-end and Pysyk gets bonus points for being right-handed. If the Oilers are looking towards left-handed Darnell Nurse as their future, it would make for a nice match.

Although the Sabres, like any team, could use Hall, there's nothing wrong with going after another Oilers winger in Jordan Eberle.

With Pysyk and Eberle as primaries, any number of current players or prospects could be put in a package to get the deal done. Cody Hodgson in 24 yrs. old, under contract for four more seasons and can play a top-six role on the wing. Joel Armia is young, 21 yr. old right-wing wizard with the puck who's one of the Sabres top-prospects. Brady Austin is in his first professional season. He's big, can skate and adds a large presence to the blueline. Plus the Sabres have three first round picks in the draft this year.

Bottom line, the Sabres and Oilers could, and probably should, make a deal, but the names Hall and Myers don't seem to make a lot of sense at this point.

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