Sabres will be busy at trade deadline

February 15, 2018

The NHL trading deadline is less than two weeks away, and two days ago we saw a big trade in the NHL as the Los Angeles Kings acquired defenseman Dion Phaneuf and forward Nate Thompson from the Ottawa Senators in exchange for forwards Marian Gaborik and Nick Shore. The Senators will also retain 25% of Phaneuf’s contract in the deal and it’s the third team for the former 9th-overall pick from 2003. For Gaborik (a three time NHL all-star), it’s his fifth team.

For the Buffalo Sabres, the talk of the NHL trade deadline starts with one player — Evander Kane. The former Winnipeg Jet currently is third on the team in total points (38) and tied for second with Ryan O’Reilly in goals (18). Kane went without a goal in 14 straight games from January to February but has come back with two in his past three games.

Kane is on an expiring contract and, coupled with the Sabres’ poor showing in the standings (last in the Eastern Conference), it’s no secret he’s someone likely to be dealt. The question is who will get him?

Kane is #6 on TSN’s Trade Bait list¬†and his contract status and point production is prime for a team that is interested in a playoff push. Kane currently has a cap hit of $5.25 million, and that would come into play for whoever gets him before the 26th — with an expiring contract after this season. The Sabres currently have $5.4 million in cap space and could take on another player’s contract if need be, especially if Kane’s goes back the other way.

One team that could easily fit him is Vegas. The Golden Knights have over $8 million in cap space and could use another big scoring forward for their first playoff push, as they sit first in the Western Conference.

But Vegas lacks the plethora of young assets other teams in the league have, since they’re an expansion franchise, which might limit what they could offer the Sabres in return.

Other teams that could use the services of Kane are ones fighting for a playoff spot, like San Jose, New Jersey or Minnesota, who Buffalo has traded with other times recently in the past. The problem with the Wild is their lack of cap space — least amount in the NHL, so a team with cap space less than Kane’s cap hit would need to move money out and that would need to be the right fit for Buffalo.

But Kane isn’t the only player that is a good candidate to be traded.

Forward Benoit Pouliot is also on an expiring contract and has performed admirably, for a bottom-dwelling team, with 15 points in 53 games while playing mostly third and fourth line minutes. Pouliot comes affordable at a cap hit of just over $1 million and has shown he’s used to settling in with a new team, spending his 11 years in the NHL with seven different organizations.

Pouliot’s role, playing bottom-six minutes and penalty killing, along with a good skating veteran presence, makes him a viable trade option for nearly every team in the playoff hunt. It’s difficult to not see him being traded, especially with the Sabres being at the bottom of the conference and clear sellers.

Others on expiring contracts that could be part of a trade deadline deal are forwards Jordan Nolan and Jacob Josefson, as well as Josh Gorges — but at a $4 million cap hit and declining play the past few years, he’s not exactly a hot commodity.

Forward Sam Reinhart’s play this year has led to speculation that he could be sent packing on deadline day. If so, that would mean less than four years in the Sabres organization for the 2014 second-overall pick.

Lastly, however, there’s the potential of starting goaltender Robin Lehner being traded. The Philadelphia Flyers were known to be scouting the Sabres (and vice-versa), so maybe that is a landing spot with a six-week injury to Brian Elliott and Philly in the playoff picture. Lehner is a restricted free agent after this season and has a cap hit of $4 million.

The play of Linus Ullmark in Rochester is another factor to consider, and the fact that Lehner was a Tim Murray move. Despite Lehner’s decent numbers, Jason Botterill and Phil Housley may see no reason to commit to him long-term.

Even though the Sabres are sellers and may have many teams making offers, there will still be other big name targets out there such as Mike Hoffman (OTT), Thomas Vanek (VAN), Michael Grabner (NYR), Rick Nash (NYR) and even Montreal Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty, who perhaps could use a change of scenery on or before the 26th.

This will be Botterill’s first trade deadline as a general manager. There’s really not much guarantee with much of the roster, other than the clear keep of the team’s leading scorer, Jack Eichel, who is now out of action with a high-ankle sprain.

It’s certain though that the pressure will be on Botterill to end up making the right moves, because this franchise is ill-suited to have any further setbacks with its roster.

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