Tuesday night is the last game for the Buffalo Sabres before the NHL trade deadline.
Will it also be the last game in the Blue and Gold for some players?
After a road trip which evoked the word “disaster” so many times it nearly lost its meaning, Sabres players may be playing for one last chance to stay in Buffalo when they face the hot-trending Nashville Predators in KeyBank Center.
The team was off on Monday after losing back-to-back games against the two worst teams in the National Hockey League.
Coming off their bye week, the Sabres played the Avalanche in Colorado on Saturday, getting into a 3-0 hole before losing, 5-3.
Then on Sunday, the team had a 2-0 lead over the Coyotes in Arizona in the third period, only to lose, 3-2. The Coyotes scored three third-period goals, including the game-winner with 19 seconds left.
For the record, the Avalanche are the worst team in the NHL with just 17 wins in 60 games while the Coyotes are 29th in the league with 51 points in 61 games.
When the Sabres entered their bye week, they sat three points out of a wild-card spot with the playoffs very much a possibility. Now, they’re seven points back of the final wild-card spot and the playoffs have moved back into pipe-dream territory.That means Sabres General Manger Tim Murray may decide to move players before the NHL trade deadline, which is 3 p.m. on Wednesday.
Who might be on the trading block?
The first looks usually go to players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents next season. Since they can sign anywhere once free agency opens in July, trading them allows the team to get something (another player, draft choice or combination) in return.
The Sabres have four key unrestricted free agents – captain Brian Gionta, defensemen Dmitry Kulikov and Cody Franson, and goaltender Anders Nilsson.
Gionta has a no-move clause and will accept a trade to only five teams, although he has not said which five those are. The forward is having a resurgence-type season with 12 goals and 15 assists through 62 games, while his leadership off the ice has been seen as imperative for a young, growing team.
Kulikov, who came to the Sabres in a trade during the NHL draft that sent Mark Pysyk to the Florida Panthers, has had difficulty dealing with a recurring back injury. He has played just 36 games for the Sabres with one goal, one assist and a minus-15 rating.
Franson, in his second season in Buffalo, has three goals and 13 assists through 55 games.
Nilsson has played in 21 games for the Sabres this season with 19 starts. He has rivaled starter Robin Lehner at times for the net with a 2.69 goals against average and a .921 save percentage.
Others in the Sabres system scheduled to become unrestricted free agents are Cal O’Reilly, Derek Grant, Cole Schneider, Taylor Fedun and Erik Burgdoerfer.
Players scheduled to become restricted free agents are Marcus Foligno, Zemgus Girgensons, Johan Larsson, Evan Rodrigues, Robin Lehner and Linus Ullmark.
While the Sabres play the trading-deadline waiting game, the Nashville Predators come to town having won three straight and claimed seven of eight points in their last four games. With 71 points, the Predators are in the third playoff spot in the Western Conference Central Division.
Left-winger Filip Forsberg was named the NHL’s First Star of the Week after scoring eight goals with two assists in four games, including back-to-back hat tricks.
Forsberg recorded his third career hat trick on Feb. 21 in a 6-5 overtime loss to Calgary. He then scored three goals, including the game-winner, in a 4-2 win over Colorado on Feb. 23. He became the first player in Nashville’s franchise history to notch back-to-back hat tricks and the first player in the NHL to do so since Vancouver’s Alexandre Burrows did it Jan. 5 and Jan. 7, 2010.
Forsberg leads Nashville with 24 goals and ranks second on the team with 46 points.
For the month of February, the Predators have the two highest goal-scorers in Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson (each with nine) and the highest-scoring defenseman in Roman Josi with 14 points.