The seller’s goal at the NHL trade deadline is to improve the team’s future. It doesn’t work when no one wants what is being sold.
The Sabres couldn’t make a trade Wednesday, so the future failed to get a boost.
“Today was a small little speed bump,” Buffalo General Manager Tim Murray said. “I’m excited about the direction we’re going in, but it takes time. I’ve given my plan to ownership and our scouting staff. We know our timeline, and it’s not an exact timeline. There are things that come up and make it quicker, slow it down, but those are just little things every day.
“There’s a part of the fan base here that thinks we’re going in the right direction. I think there’s a part of the fan base that wants to see it done quicker, and I understand that. Nothing good in life comes quickly.”
Nothing came at all Wednesday. The Sabres figured they had a few moveable assets heading into the NHL trade deadline. Even receiving a couple of draft picks would have added to the franchise’s bottom line.
“I made a lot of calls to set the table on trading away a couple guys,” Murray said in KeyBank Center. “I made a few calls to see if I could make a hockey trade, get younger. This is the end result.”
It was Buffalo’s most uneventful deadline since 2002. The same Sabres who played Tuesday will take the ice Thursday. That includes pending unrestricted free agents Dmitry Kulikov and Cody Franson.
“I’m a little bit surprised,” Murray said. “We didn’t have a ton of UFAs, as you know. We had two on the back end that I thought would create some interest. I had some calls on them. Price-wise I was very open.
“My market was to just get fair value, so I didn’t miss out on trading a guy by demanding too much or by using previous trades in the day or the week as the template for what I had to do. I don’t think that came into play at all.
“I’m just about being fair. I think I am. I think I know the value of players, and I couldn’t make a trade. I think I’m honest to you guys. Am I disappointed? Of course I’m disappointed. We still have two players here who are here, so I don’t want to sit here and just say I couldn’t get anything for them. I don’t want them to walk in tomorrow with their tail between their legs.”
On the surface, it seemed Kulikov would be easy to move. Though this year has been a disaster – he got hurt in his preseason opener and has two points in 37 games – he has a history of producing. Plus, the market for rental defensemen was one of the few that showed movement.
Instead, he’ll be in the lineup when Arizona visits Thursday.
“I had a lot of calls on Kulikov, and I didn’t ask too much,” Murray said. “Multiple guys said that’s a fair price. I know injuries are not an excuse and I’m not supposed to use that, but that came up a lot in the conversations.”
The only deal that apparently intrigued Murray featured Brian Gionta. The captain has a limited no-trade clause, however, and professed a desire to stay in Buffalo. Murray called Gionta about the offer, but the Rochester native wasn’t interested.
“He’s the captain of our team,” Murray said. “He’s a local guy. He’s a longtime player and a longtime character person in the league. I called him and asked him a couple questions and got answers.”
Murray declined offers for streaking scorer Evander Kane – “I didn’t like what I heard,” he said – but that doesn’t mean the GM is ready to embrace a long-term future with the left winger. Murray is not convinced Kane’s off-ice problems are in the past. Kane is under contract through next season, and the sides can talk extension July 1.
“I’d be open to that. I’m not sure I’m going to do that,” Murray said. “There’s a lot of bridges to cross before that time. But would I be open to it in a scenario where a couple things he has going on off the ice go away and stuff like that, absolutely.”
The next round of trades will come in the spring. With an expansion draft looming, deals could be plentiful.
That wasn’t the case Wednesday in Buffalo. The Sabres couldn’t add to the future, and the present is a team that’s 26-26-11, including 0-3-1 in the last four.
“Our approach as a group and as a team is we’re trying to win hockey games here, and we’re trying to win every game we’re in,” coach Dan Bylsma said. “That’s not going to change regardless of the situation.”