The Buffalo Sabres: Exploring the team’s plans for the trade deadline

Photo credit:© Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Ryley Delaney
1 month ago
If you want to see how much a franchise player can change an organization, look no further than when the Edmonton Oilers landed Connor McDavid, while the Buffalo Sabres landed Jack Eichel. Both started rebuilding around the same time, but one is a cup contender looking to add at this season’s deadline, while the other hasn’t made the playoffs since the 2010-11 season, or when the Blackberry was a prominent focal point in our culture.
This is a series called Meet the Sellers. As the Edmonton Oilers are in a “Stanley Cup or Bust” year, we’re going to look at the teams who have no other aspirations this season other than adding some prospects and picks and jockeying for a better position in the 2024 Draft Lottery.
Before looking at the very sad franchise known as the Buffalo Sabres, let’s look at some of Edmonton’s needs. We’ll be ranking them from the most needed to the least needed.
  • Second-pairing right-shot defenceman: Once again, Cody Ceci isn’t a bad player by any means, and he’d be a top-four defender on most teams. However, if the Oilers truly want to upgrade their defence, adding a puck-moving right-shot defenceman to play with Darnell Nurse would be a massive upgrade.
  • Second-line winger: Edmonton’s second-line has been centred by Leon Draisaitl throughout most of the season, but he’s had a merry-go-round of wingers, such as Warren Foegele, Evander Kane, Ryan McLeod, and even Connor Brown. Draisaitl needs a legitimate scoring winger to play alongside him.
  • Right-shot defenceman depth: Last season, the Oilers had Jason Demers in the American Hockey League as a backup plan if a right-shot defenceman got injured. Thankfully, the Oilers remained relatively healthy that season and have barely missed any games from their defence this season, but they don’t have a veteran right-shot defenceman in the minors this year.
  • Competent backup goaltender: Stuart Skinner has been largely quite good for the Oilers this year but has a .863 save percentage over his last five games, a trend similar to his rough start in October and November. The stats don’t tell the entire story, and he hasn’t been terrible, but trading for a 1B-type goaltender to take some starts away from Skinner will keep him fresh for the playoffs.
  • Third-line centre: This one depends on whether the Oilers play Ryan McLeod in the top six. If they do, that leaves a significant hole for their third-line centre. It could be filled by a guy like Adam Henrique.

Who could the Buffalo Sabres sell:

This was supposed to be the season that Buffalo broke their playoff drought, but as of the afternoon of February 22, they have 54 points and rank 25th in the league and 10 points out of a Wild Card spot. Buffalo has a strong farm system, and trading pending unrestricted free agents or high-valued players could help them move toward a playoff spot in 2024-25.
Victor Oloffson scored a career-high 28 goals in 2022-23 and had 49 points the season before that. Unfortunately for the 28-year-old winger, he has just four goals and 12 points in 35 games this season, well off the ~40 points he usually sets. Olofsson has a cap hit of $4.75 million and will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, and could be a middle-six scoring option at a fairly low cost.
Kyle Okposo still plays hockey, which came as a shock to me because it feels like he’s been around forever. Not only does he play hockey, but Buffalo’s captain does reasonably well, scoring 11 goals and 18 points in 53 games, already totalling his goal total from the prior season. Okposo is another pending unrestricted free agent with a cap hit of $2.5 million and could be a good veteran presence in the bottom six for the Oilers.
Zemgus Girgensons has always been a bottom-six centre, and his five goals and no assists in 38 games this season prove that. His career-best year of 15 goals and 30 points in 2014-15 is far in the rearview mirror, and he hasn’t hit the 20-point plateau since then. The 30-year-old centreman isn’t particularly strong in the faceoff dot, but he does kill penalties. Like Oloffson and Okposo, Girgensons will be an unrestricted free agent at season’s end and carries a cap hit of $2.5 million.
Casey Mittelstadt probably won’t be traded, but his name has been floated around in recent times. It’d be weird for the Sabres to trade away a pending restricted free agent who also happens to have 13 goals and 44 points, leading the team in the latter category. However, if they don’t pay him, maybe they trade him. Mittelstadt has a cap hit of $2.5 million this season and won’t become an unrestricted free agent until after the 2025-26 season.
Erik Johnson seems like the best fit for the Oilers, as he’s a right-shot defenceman with a Stanley Cup to his name. This season, the 35-year-old has three goals and no assists in 48 games and is far removed from his eight goals and 25 points in 2021-22. However, the experience and need for a depth defenceman could make him an enticing option. Johnson has a cap hit of $3.25 million and will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.
Eric Comrie’s half-brother is former Oiler, Mike Comrie, who was nearly traded for Corey Perry at the end of 2003. Unlike his brother, Eric is a netminder and has an .868 save percentage in eight games this season, along with a 3.87 goals-against average. He’s only had one “good” season, posting a .920 save percentage and a 2.58 goals-against average in 19 games played with the Winnipeg Jets in 2021-22 behind a strong defence. Comrie has a cap hit of $1.8 million and will be an unrestricted free agent at season’s end, but there are probably better fits for a 1B elsewhere.

Previously in the series…

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