The Buffalo Sabres are well on their way to finishing once again at the bottom of the National Hockey League standings, having lost 14 games in a row, but the Sabres could have a significant effect on the pursuit of the Stanley Cup, as they are expected to be one of the busiest sellers leading up to the April 12th trade deadline.
GM Kevyn Adams indicated after firing head coach Ralph Krueger earlier this month that more changes would be coming and the first thing on his agenda is likely to be shopping most of the players on the Buffalo roster with expiring contracts.
“This is about results that haven’t been good enough,” Adams said earlier this month. “I look and evaluate everything, and I was trying to take a real, honest, fair evaluation, understanding the adversity and the situation our team was in, taking it all into account, but it felt like the right time, and this is about moving forward. This is about how do we improve. I do believe every crisis is an opportunity for positive change and this is a chance for us to move forward and to begin to get this thing pointed in the right direction.”
The most attractive and prominent player to be shopped will be winger Taylor Hall, who signed a one-year, $8 million contract last October. Hall has had a hugely disappointing year with the Sabres, with just two goals in 30 games, but teams in need of scoring may feel that the former Hart Trophy winner is more a victim of a bad environment in Buffalo.
The 29-year-old has a no-movement clause, which gives him some control of his destination and mitigates what the Sabres can ask in return (likely a first-round pick and a prospect), but Hall will undoubtedly approve a deal to a contender (the NY Islanders for example) that will give him a stage to redeem his reputation as a top-level scorer in advance of free agency this summer.
Eric Staal was acquired from Minnesota to solve Buffalo’s second-line center situation, but the 36-year-old is having the worst year of his 18-year career, with 10 points (3 goals, 7 assists) in 30 games. The veteran forward has an economical $3.25 million cap hit, which will make it easier for teams up against the cap to fit him in and could get the Sabres a return as high as a second-round pick or a good prospect.
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A similar return could also be possible for defenseman Brandon Montour, who has a pricey $3.85 million cap hit and only eight points (1 goal, 7 assists) in 28 games, but the 26-year-old has offensive skills in spite of his low totals and is right-handed, which is always a desired commodity at the deadline.
Tobias Rieder, Riley Sheahan, and Matt Irwin all have significant NHL experience and make the league-minimum $700,000, which would be attractive as depth additions for teams with cap issues.
An intriguing possibility is goaltender Linus Ullmark, who was having an excellent year (5-4-2, 2.44 GAA, .919 save percentage) before suffering a lower-body injury on February 25. The 27-year-old is likely returning to the lineup this week, but it is unknown whether the Sabres would shop him with a number of teams desperate for help between the pipes down the stretch and going into the postseason.