Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com
For the last three seasons the question of whether the Buffalo Sabres would be buyers or sellers at the NHL trade deadline was never in the minds of most in Sabreland. The rebuild was on, the Sabres were sellers and the only real questions were, "who's getting traded, where are they headed and what would the return be?"
For the last three deadline days the general theme was moving vets on expiring contracts for picks and/or prospects and it started with the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season under former Sabres GM, Darcy Regier:
--March 30, 2013: D, Jordan Leopold to the St. Louis Blues for a 2013 2nd round and a 2013 5th
--April 1, : D, Robyn Regehr to the LA Kings for two, 2014 2nd-rounders
--April 2, trade deadline: F, Jason Pominville to the Minnesota Wild for prospects Johan Larsson and Matt Hackett plus a 2013 1st rounder and a 2014 2nd.
Then came the all-out purge under new GM, Tim Murray beginning with the Ryan Miller blockbuster on February 28, 2014, one week before the trade deadline. Miller along with F, Steve Ott were traded to the Blues for G, Jaroslav Halak, F, Chris Stewart, prospect William Carrier a 2015 1st rounder and what turned out to be a 2016 3rd.
One week later on trade deadline day, March 5, 2014:
--Halak and a 2015 3rd round pick to the Washington Capitals for G, Michal Neuvirth and D, Rostislav Klesla
--F, Matt Moulson and F, Cody McCormick to Minnesota for F, Torrey Mitchell and two 2nd rounders (2014, 2016)
--D, Brayden McNabb and F, Jonathan Parker plus the two 2nd rounders (previously acquired from the Kings) to Los Angeles for forward prospects Hudson Fasching and Nic Delauriers
Murray entered the 2015 trade deadline with this prevailing theme "Even if [I get] a 5th or 6th round pick," he said on WGR prior to the deadline, "it doesn't sound like much but that 5th or 6th round pick, and it's [something] that might only happen once every 11 years, but you could hit on that." And he continued trading for futures at last year at the March 2 trade deadline:
--Stewart to Minnesota for a 2017 2nd
--Mitchell to the Montreal Canadiens for F, Jack Nevins and 2016 7th
--Neuvirth to the NY Islanders for G, Chad Johnson and a 2016 3rd
--F, Brian Flynn to Montreal for a 2016 5th
In all, the Sabres will have 11 picks headed into this year's NHL Draft--one in every round, three picks in the 3rd and two picks in each of the 5th and 7th rounds. He also has around $26M in cap space this season, five pending UFA's and has only 46 of 50 pro contracts on the books right now so he has plenty of resources plus the cap-space and pro-contract space to bring in a piece or two.
But he doesn't seem inclined to do so at this point.
The trade deadline is all about overpaying for a rental that one believes will get them over the hump. Even though the Sabres farm system was depleted through the acquisitions of Evander Kane and Ryan O'Reilly, Murray is OK with that. In the pipeline he has excellent prospects in players like G, Linus Ullmark, Fasching and F, Justin Bailey. Those would be the types of players teams would be looking for at a trade deadline deal.
Murray brought those players up during a recent interview on WGR's Schopp and the Bulldog and was pretty frank about his intentions, "I could make 10 trades tomorrow short-term to take us from 29th to 23rd and give up [those] guys we were just talking about," he told the hosts, "which is never going to happen."
He also touched upon where the team is on the playoff timeline right now. It should be remembered that the Sabres are coming off of two consecutive last place finishes and totaled only 54 points last season a whopping 44 points out of a playoff spot.
Even getting to 80 points this year would be a major achievement and Schopp asked Murray about that in mid-December, how an 80-point season (one which would place them far outside a playoff spot) would feel. "It would feel like a failure to me," he told the host, "but I know there's steps we have to take. We have to be patient here. I said to our guys, 'I'm not trading for a veteran guy that can get us six more points (in the standings) if it costs us a decent future piece.' I'm not interested in that.
"Now, if that six points is next year and that takes us to 94 points from 88, for sure, but I don't see us at that point yet."
The Sabres struggled for much of the season but have been begun to play extremely well although it doesn't show in the standings. When he was talking with ESPN's Pierre LeBrun and Schopp and the Bulldog last month, Murray's team was in 29th place. He acknowledged that to LeBrun via his Cross Checks Blog with the caveat, "I do stress that we think we’ve improved greatly everywhere but in the standings," Yet he stated once again that he's geared towards looking for futures at the trade deadline. "If I can acquire younger assets or future assets for some of our veterans, especially veterans on expiring contracts, I’m going to pursue that for sure."
As of right now Buffalo is 26th in the league and 11 points out of a wild card spot having played two more games than the 8th-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins. The Sabres have a pretty tough schedule for the month of February, not so much in the class of teams they're playing (although they have some pretty tough games,) but moreso the quantity. They'll play 13 games in 24 days including three sets of back-to-backs beginning on Wednesday at Montreal and they'll end the month with a three-game West Coast swing that ends with a back-to-back against the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings.
With all that in mind, can anyone believe that the Sabres would actually be buyers at the trade deadline?