Published by hockeybuzz.com, 6-28-2018
As is often the case when an protégé moves on from his mentor, Buffalo Sabres GM Jason Botterill tapped into his ties with former boss Jim Rutherford to make a deal. Botterill acquired LW, Conor Sheary and veteran defenseman Matt Hunwick for a conditional fourth round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft in what turns out to be a hockey trade as the Sabres got two players to help them transition and the Pittsburgh Penguins were able to dump $5.25 million in combined salary.
Botterill spent 10 years in the Pittsburgh organization, his last three under Rutherford with two of them ending with the Stanley Cup, before taking Buffalo's GM position last season. He was invited to join the Penguins on the ice when they celebrated their second of back-to-back wins in 2017 and seemingly has maintained a strong relationship with the club.
In the deal for Buffalo, the Sabres get themselves some help at left wing. Just where Sheary ends up will be determined in September and October but for now he replaces another former Pen, Scott Wilson, as the only left-winger in the top-nine. Botterill sent a fifth round pick to the Detroit Red Wings last year for Wilson and he moved up and down the left side all season. The 26 yr. old native of Oakville, Ontario was not tendered a qualifying offer and is an unrestricted free agent.
The 26 yr. old Sheary had a breakout season for the Penguins two years ago scoring 53 points (23+30) in 61 regular season games but slid to 18 goals and 12 assists in 79 games last season. Perhaps most troubling in the eyes of Rutherford was that he scored only four goals in his last 44 games and played on the fourth line in the playoffs.
The need at left wing was an obvious reason to land the undrafted left winger, but Botterill told the gathered media yesterday that team was also "looking to improve even-strength scoring" and that Sheary "creates a lot of chances out there."
It's been quite the run for the undrafted free agent who signed an amateur tryout contract with Pittsburg's AHL team in Wilkes Barre-Scranton after graduating from UMass-Amherst (Hockey-East.) He produced 11 points (6+5) in 15 playoff games for the 'Baby Pens' and was rewarded with a two-year entry-level deal. After a highly successful year-and-a-half with Wilkes Barre (27 goals and 54 assists in 88 games,) Sheary got the call to Pittsburgh and never looked back. He made his mark in the 2015-16 playoffs with 10 points (4+6) in 23 playoff games as a rookie as the Pens won the Cup then followed that with his breakout season.
Although last season's struggles may be pointing to an unhappy ending to his fairy tale story, Sheary will bring much needed speed on the wing in Buffalo and he'll be put into a position to play with some very talented centers no matter which line he's on. "He can come in here," said Botterill, "whether it's with Jack [Eichel], Ryan [O'Reilly], Casey [Mittelstadt] and can play with one of our offensive centermen,(and not only) finish off chances from them but also get in on the forecheck and get pucks to our centermen."
Botterill did his old boss a favor by taking on Hunwick's contract in a salary dump for Pittsburgh. The addition of the 33 yr. old Hunwick further clogs the Sabres defense corps and it's hard to see him fitting in anywhere amongst the top-seven, much less the top-six. Botterill emphasized a couple of things when talking about him yesterday, "[he's] a player I followed closely over the years just with the ties to the University of Michigan," said Botterill, a Wolverine alum, "and how he handles himself as a pro."
Although Hunwick has the mobility that Botterill wants on his blueline, the former seventh-round pick and his $2.25 million AAV for the next two seasons looks to have been a necessary piece in landing Sheary.
For the Penguins, they get needed cap relief as they're looking to tweak their roster a bit. Pittsburgh extended winger Brian Rust with a 4yr./$14 million deal and still have a lot of holes to fill as they're edging upwards to the cap. Word on the street also has them interested in defenseman Jack Johnson who they hope will sign a friendly contract to play with good friend Sidney Crosby.
In all, the term 'hockey trade' usually involves players but this one gives both teams what they want and need and puts them in a win-win with little risk involved. The fourth-round pick Botterill sent to Pittsburgh could become a third rounder, according to capfriendly, if Sheary scores 20 goals or totals 40 points or if Hunwick is traded before the 2019 draft.