As we once again approach the time of year where we Sabre fans officially throw in the towel, also called the trade deadline, it’s time to look at who Buffalo is likely to part ways with. Let’s first start with the UFA on the roster. If we examine the depth guys, D Taylor Fedun, and G Anders Nilsson will be gone if anyone offers anything for them. Maybe a team has an injury and wants some assurances, that’s where you could see guys like this get traded. Neither will offer a big return, but if they are free to walk anyway, why not get something for them?
The UFA that will absolutely bring a return are Kulikov, Franson, and Gionta. If we assume Franson comes back healthy, he would bring a nice return, like a 2nd round pick, from a contending team. He offers some PP capabilities to teams when during the playoffs, goals are at a premium. There is a 0% chance that he is on the roster after the deadline. I also 100% expect Kulikov to be traded as well. Kulikov was acquired for Pysyk in what was actually a fairly controversial trade, as our advanced stats people loved Pysyk. Luckily for GMTM, Pysyk hasn’t really done much for the Florida Panthers. Kulikov has done nothing for the Sabres either. However, D depth is always needed come playoff time, and Kulikov is a big physical guy who could likely offer bottom pair minutes if needed in the playoffs. Again, I think it’s possible that a 2nd could be gotten in return for Kulikov, but a 3rd seems certain.
The more complicated player is Gionta for a variety of reasons. Anytime you trade a captain, it has ramifications in the locker room. If you trade him, you need to decide who will wear the C. While some will immediately point to Eichel, I think ROR makes more sense, and is more deserving at this time. Make no mistake though, trading a C changes things. He is the voice in the locker room, he serves as a communicator from the coach to the team, and from the team to the coach. He’s also the only guy in the locker room with his name on the cup. It matters a lot that he can stand in front of the room and tell people “I’ve won a cup, I know what it takes, we need to come together and do it this way.” If you trade Gio, you lose this lone voice. Also, Buffalo very much needs a culture change. They went from trying to lose, to now not quite knowing how to win. He is really the only guy that is a proven winner. I think it greatly complicates things to lose him. Finally, one of the reasons he came to Buffalo, was because he wanted to finish his career near his hometown. I think you can trade him, but you get his blessing first. Again, I think a 2 can be had for him, and if he wants to play next season, it’s likely Buffalo would have him back.
There are 3 guys I think could be traded that have actual value. Sure, I would love to see Gorges traded for example, but I don’t think he’s worth much. The three guys I could see Buffalo at least engaging in trade talks are Ennis, Foligno, and Kane. Ennis in my opinion is the least likely to get traded of the three. He has been hurt for much of the season, so this would really be the all-time selling low. A more likely scenario would be for Ennis to hopefully stay healthy, put up some good numbers to finish out the season, and look to get something this offseason. Foligno is a more interesting player. I think he would be a great 4th line guy on a contending team. A physical player, who can chip in a goal every now and then is the type of player cup champions have. He is affordable, and will still be a RFA after the season, so he won’t break the bank in your immediate future either. If I could get a 1, or some package that included a young D with top 4 potential, I make the trade. I don’t think he will get traded, but I think the right trade makes sense.
I think we can all agree that Kane is by far the most interesting guy on this list. You can make a case that he has been the Sabres best player this season. He is a former first round pick, and you can see why. He does have a tendency to free-lance a bit on the ice, but his combination of physical play, speed, and scoring surely has made him one of the best players in the league this season. If you are judging by on ice play, trading him makes zero sense. His off the ice stuff makes you want to pack his bags for him. He has had brushes with the law, most famously while the draft was in Buffalo. Reportedly Pegula was furious that he had to answer questions about Kane, when he wanted to be showcasing his team, arena, and city. Kane is a different type of dude, and in the past, has worn out his welcome in the locker room. This may be the ultimate sell high candidate. In my opinion, this is about peak Kane in terms of on the ice production. The question is, how much are teams scared off adding him off the ice? It was reported that earlier this season GMTM would’ve given him away, but where do things stand now?
There a lot of questions to answer between now and March 1st, the trade deadline. Buffalo 100% should be a seller, as they are not going to the playoffs this year (again). I hope next year, we can write a column about who Buffalo should add. It boils down to this, any trade Buffalo can make today that makes them better next season, they 100% have to do.