There appears to be a change coming in Buffalo. The Sabres were supposed to take a step forward this season, but instead Buffalo has fallen flat on their face in surprising fashion and sits 6-17-4 through 27 contests this year. The club isn’t going to fire first-year GM Jason Botterill or coach Phil Housley, so the change is going to come on the roster.
Those changes started yesterday when the Sabres acquired forward Scott Wilson from the Detroit Red Wings for a 5th round pick, then waived veteran forward Matt Moulson. These moves appear to be the start of a fire sale in Western New York.
Sabres’ blog “Die By The Blade” had a great look at the situation yesterday afternoon and I invite you to read the whole piece here. There were a number of interesting tidbits in there, but the following paragraph really stood out to me as we had insight from some of the top insiders around.
We also have reports from the weekend from Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet that everyone on the team is available except for Jack Eichel. Then this morning we had Darren Dreger tweeting that teams were calling to inquire about goaltenders Robin Lehner and Chad Johnson. Things are certainly starting to heat up around the Sabres as they have six wins in 27 games and sit alone at the bottom of the NHL standings.
The Oilers may have added Nathan Walker and Brandon Davidson via waivers since Friday, but I don’t think for a second that Peter Chiarelli is done tinkering with his roster. As we talked about on this space yesterday, Chiarelli needs a backup goaltender stat, and likely could use another veteran scoring winger.
Is there a fit between the Oilers and Sabres when it comes to trades? Could Edmonton poach an asset or two form the selling Sabres to help turn this thing around?
Matt Moulson, Forward: Way back when, Moulson had excellent chemistry with star forward John Tavares with the New York Islanders. Moulson has mostly been a Sabre (Cup of coffee with Minnesota that year post deadline) since the club acquired him via trade during the 2013-14 season. Moulson has struggled since then, however, and has yet to score 15 goals in a single season since leaving New York. He has zero points in 14 games this season and, to be honest, he looks done to my eye. To make matters worse, Moulson still has another year left on his contract with a $5 million cap hit.
Chad Johnson, Goaltender: I didn’t name him in yesterday’s piece, but Johnson makes a whole lot of sense if Edmonton is going to pull the trigger on a trade for a goaltender. Johnson was, according to reports, Peter Chiarelli’s first choice for backup in the summer of 2016. Johnson was strong for Calgary last season, going 18-15-1 in 36 appearances and posting a .910 SV%. He’s struggled this season, however, and is just 1-5-2 with a .883 SV% in eleven appearances.
Robin Lehner, Goaltender: As mentioned above, Dreger lists both Johnson and Lehner as goalies teams are making calls on. Lehner is 5-12-2 on the season with a .903 SV%, but he did post a .920 SV% in 59 appearances last season for the Sabres. Lehner is a pending RFA making $4 million this season. Buffalo would have to eat some salary to make this deal work.
Evander Kane, Forward: Obviously if we are going to talk Sabres, we have to talk about Evander Kane. Kane has 12-12-24 in 27 games this season and has been scoring at both even strength and on the powerplay. He’s a legit goal scorer and he’s got some size. This is a player that fits the Chiarelli mold and that could answer a lot of questions for this team. He’s a pending UFA and I’d imagine his acquisition cost would be high.
Zemgus Girgensons, Forward: The former All-Star has completely fallen out of favor in Buffalo, and could be a nice reclamation project for the Oilers. He’s in no way a scorer (career high 30 points), but he could be a responsible defensive forward for the bottom of the roster. Edmonton badly needs help on the PK, and perhaps Girgensons can help provide that. He’s scored 1-2-3 in 24 games this year after registering just 16 points in 75 games a year ago.
If Chiarelli really wants to add a goaltender and Buffalo is willing to part with Lehner and/or Johnson for the right price, I can see the Oilers and Sabres getting something done in short order here. Edmonton needs another goaltender and Buffalo appears willing to deal off an established NHL’er at the position.
If the price for Evander Kane is reasonable, I could see a fit here as well between the Oilers and Sabres. That said, I’m sure there will be a bidding war for Kane’s services and I suspect he gets dealt much closer to the trade deadline.
Buffalo looking like sellers should help open the market up a little bit, but it doesn’t really impact the Oilers unless a goaltending trade happens between the sides. I don’t think Buffalo has other assets they would be willing to move that really help the Oilers right now.
I’d be more than willing to bring in Robin Lehner, however. I think he could be a really nice fit for this Edmonton club.