It’s been yet another disappointing season so far for the Buffalo Sabres. The 2017-18 season wasn’t likely to be anything special in Buffalo, but thanks to the slate of games on Saturday night, they’re now the NHL’s worst team with 16 points and a 6-17-4 record.
The Sabres have taken a miserable road to get to this point, filled with inconsistent goaltending and an offense that cannot seem to score. Buffalo conceded defeat to the Pittsburgh Penguins by a score of 5-1, but not before spending over 232 consecutive minutes without a goal in their last few games.
While the Sabres were slogging through yet another game, Sportsnet reporter Elliotte Friedman spoke on Hockey Night in Canada about the state of the team. In his segment, Friedman reported that the Sabres are now “willing to listen” about trades for anyone on the team but face-of-the-franchise Jack Eichel.
That Eichel is untouchable is not a surprise, since the 21-year-old second overall pick is the team’s cornerstone, but it’s quite something that the rest of the team is reportedly available to be traded. Everyone is now on the table for general manager Jason Botterill to move for pieces as he sees fit, and there’s no telling what a desperate team like the Sabres might do.
While Buffalo is floundering right now, there are certainly attractive pieces on this team that are movable for assets. Here are our best guesses as to which key Sabres players may be on the market now with this new development.
Kane’s name is nothing new on the trade block front. Kane has been rumored as a blue chip trade piece since at least the last NHL trade deadline, and the noise around the 26-year-old has gotten only louder since. The left winger has 24 points in 27 games so far this season, making him the Sabres’ most attractive asset in their toolbox.
Kane is also on the last year of a six-year, $31.5 million deal, adding to his value as a piece a contending team can sign before the trade deadline for a short-term hit. The Sabres will need to make a decision on Kane and whether he fits into their future by the offseason. If not, Buffalo may pull the trigger on a deal now to get something in return for their future.
Center-men are a hot commodity in today’s NHL, and one of O'Reilly’s caliber will no doubt draw interest across the league. O'Reilly has crossed the 55-point mark five times in his nine-year NHL career, and he’s on pace to hit at least 50 points this season. So far this year, O'Reilly is the Sabres’ third overall scorer with 16 points in 27 games.
The biggest drawback to O'Reilly is his hefty seven-year, $52.5 million contract with an AAV of $7.5 million. O'Reilly drew the contract extension back in 2015, and he’ll be on the books for that amount of money until the end of the 2022-23 season. That term and value will likely price a lot of teams out of the market, but the 26-year-old is more than useful to a contending hockey team.
If what Friedman reported is true, then even a Buffalo’s eighth overall pick from the 2013 draft is on the trade block for the Sabres. Ristolainen has been the Sabres’ workhorse on defense for the last few seasons, as the 23-year-old has put up a career-high average time on ice of 26:43 this season to lead all Buffalo skaters. While Ristolainen has crested the 40 point mark in his last two seasons of work with the Sabres, his seven points in 18 games are merely a symptom of the team’s misery this year.
Ristolainen would no doubt bring back a large return from any team, as young, high-profile defensemen aren’t often on the trade block. His contract, a six-year, $32.4 million deal, comes out to a steal of a $5.4 million AAV for what he provides to a roster. The contract expires when Ristolainen turns 27 in 2021-22, and would give a team his prime years for a solid bit of cap space. Considering Ristolainen’s place on the Sabres roster, however, Buffalo may want to think twice before trading away a young No. 1 defenseman in a panic move.
NHL teams love veteran journeyman depth forwards. Especially contending hockey teams looking to shore up the middle of their lineup before making a playoff run. Pouliot is one such NHL veteran who could provide fine returns for the Sabres if traded away. Pouliot has been a perennial 30-point forward throughout his NHL career, though his 14 points in 67 games last year with the Edmonton Oilers weren’t anything to look twice at.
This year, however, Pouliot is on pace for an improved season with eight points in 27 games on a Sabres team that can’t score. Pouliot has played for seven teams in his 12-year NHL career at the age of 31 and fits many NHL GMs’ definition of a veteran presence. That, plus his $1.15 million contract is an easy pickup for many teams, especially when that contract is set to expire at the end of the season.
Reinhart is another young player the Sabres could end up regretting if they trade, but for the right price they just might not. On any other team in the NHL, trading away a former second overall pick is almost a ludicrous thought, but the Sabres have clearly been pushed to a breaking point. The 22-year-old center has put up 40 points in his first two full seasons in the NHL, and with 10 points in 27 games this year, Reinhart is on track to hit at least 30 points this year.
After this season, Reinhart is due for a contract extension as his entry-level deal expires in July. It’s hard to say what money he would command on the market, but a team could build around a young center-man like Reinhart if given the chance.
Jason Pominville, Kyle Okposo, Marco Scandella
The Sabres’ recent acquisitions over the last few years also could be trade bait. However, Botterill giving up on Pominville or Scandella so soon after trading away Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno to Minnesota feels unlikely given the other assets Buffalo has in its pocket.
Okposo is another interesting piece. While his seven-year, $42 million contract is less of a burden than O'Reilly’s is, Okposo is three years his senior and will be older by the time his contract expires in 2022-23. There are others likely ahead of these three in the trade pecking order, but anything is possible depending on how desperate the Sabres are by the trade deadline.