Another NHL Trade Deadline has come and gone leaving Buffalo Sabres’ fans with a bitter taste in their mouth. Last season, Tim Murray did nothing while Jason Botterill traded pending unrestricted free agent, Evander Kane.
And that was it. Not Josh Gorges, not Benoit Pouliot, not Jacob Josefson. People were expecting that Botterill would clean house of expiring contracts and under-performing talent. Many were under the impression that a higher-end prospect and a 2018 first round-pick (without conditions) would be traded for Kane. By 3pm EST, it did not happen. Players thought to be on the road out of Buffalo remain on the roster as the Sabres remain in the bottom-five of the league. Season ticket holders continue to grow frustrated, which could affect renewal rate this off-season. Regardless, Jason Botterill will be expected to be busy this summer when the draft rolls around and trades pick back up.
During the media storm, Botterill was asked about the offers he heard for Kane. Viewed as a premier player, Botterill found San Jose’s offer to be the most legitimate.
Considering the power forward had next to no value a year ago, is the deal all that bad? Ask any Sabres fan and they will say they could have gotten more. Rick Nash garnered multiple assets, players and picks, causing Buffalo faithful to question Botterill’s trade execution. But is this rational, considering Kane is a rental with no assurance of extension with the Sharks? Not to mention an off-ice and injury history. And why are other UFA’s on the roster?
From the couch, hockey management is easy. We expect that a pending free agent past his prime will be sought after because of their experience. Past risks by GM’s for rentals has resulted in present managers looking at rentals differently. Who would want to trade futures for Gorges or Pouliot when they are inconsistent on a bad hockey team? Trading in NHL 18 is NOT the same and the deadline is a different animal than in the past as teams are building from the draft out.
Impact Free Agents
The free agent pool will be larger than usual, with many players looking for their cash. Jason Botterill does not appear to be as aggressive as Tim Murray in terms of signings, though they were in the running for Kevin Shattenkirk. Will they be seek the services of Washington defenseman, John Carlson? With 50 points in 63 games, the 28 year-old is due for a significant increase from a $3.9 million salary. Think at least $7 million for the top-defender on the market, if not extended by the Capitals.
Tampa Bay has loaded up for a long playoff run and many have to wonder where the money is coming from. The best bargain in the National Hockey League, Nikita Kucherov, may need to find a new home with a raise coming. Unless Steve Yzerman moves others, could Buffalo be in the mix for the high-scoring winger? The price would be hefty if by trade but the Sabres are in dire need of help on the wing. By hefty, I mean Casey Mittelstadt and a first at the very least. This is a franchise level forward we are talking about. Botterill would have to weigh the risks of moving a future impact player like Mittelstadt or Brendan Guhle to complete it.
Off-Season Difficulty: Hard
The summer should be busy, nevertheless, for Jason Botterill as the Buffalo Sabres hope to climb out of the basement. The drought is growing and they should not want to come close to the Bills’ drought territory. With current contracts (Ryan O’Reilly, Kyle Okposo) and the upcoming $9 million raise for Jack Eichel, free agency may not be the answer unless Botterill can unload a big contract. Trading the larger contracts will be difficult unless the right buyer is willing to pay the price. It is safe to say that Eichel, maybe Mittelstadt, are the only untradeables but a partner is necessary to trade the others.
This is a challenging time for Buffalo sports and if fans think it is a quick, easy fix, you may want to start following another franchise. The Pegula’s trust Jason Botterill and Head Coach Phil Housley to right the ship. They have dismissed enough personnel at this point but need to ensure communication with the organization for it to grow. As ticket holders cannot pay others to simply take their’s, the owners should be concerned about their investment.
The fans have a right to be impatient as the game-day experience dwindles, not including the poor on-ice product. With President Russ Brandon showing little capability to improve the fan experience at sporting events, spectators have little to amuse themselves with after spending their cash. Unfair or not, the weight of the organization is on Jason Botterill to save the Buffalo Sabres by selling fans on a team that wins. The Rochester Americans improvement will only go so far. In the end, it is all about the big club and the hope for a Stanley Cup.