MONTREAL – Last week at the NHL All-Star Game people actually wanted to talk about the Sabres. More to the point, they wanted to talk about which players will be ex-Sabres.
“What does Tim Murray want for Chris Stewart? What does Murray think he can get for Drew Stafford? What is Murray asking for Torrey Mitchell?”
Those are great questions, but they miss the point. It’s not about what Murray wants. It’s what can he get?
Probably not as much as he originally hoped.
The NHL trade deadline is a month away (March 2), and the Sabres’ general manager has made it clear he wants to move his pending unrestricted free agents. The Sabres have nine: forwards Stewart, Stafford, Mitchell and Patrick Kaleta; defensemen Andrej Meszaros, Tyson Strachan and Andre Benoit; and goaltenders Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth.
“I’m not here to rip this team apart, but I’m going to tell you that we’re not going to lose a pending free agent for nothing,” Murray said during the Sabres’ radio show on WGR-AM 550. “If we can get an asset back, whatever that asset may be, we’re going to do that.”
The Sabres have a few bargaining chips, specifically Stafford and Stewart. Based on their numbers and the history of the trade deadline, Buffalo’s three-year run of acquiring a first-round draft pick will come to an end. (Unless Murray packages a few of his players, picks and prospects in a megadeal, which seems unlikely.)
Research on every trade made at or near the deadline during the previous five years helps gauge the value of the Sabres’ UFAs. Here’s what we can expect Buffalo to get for its players (excluding Kaleta, whose history makes him a unique case):
• Stafford: The right winger has two 20- and one 30-goal season on his resume. His projected stats at the trade deadline are nine goals and 28 points.
There were six deals featuring players similar to Stafford from 2010 to 2014. The biggest return was a second-round pick, fifth-round pick and backup goaltender. The worst return was a fourth-round pick. Half of the deals brought back a second-rounder.
Verdict: The Sabres can expect a second-round selection for Stafford, though a third and fifth are possible.
• Stewart: The winger has two 20-goal seasons. His projected stats at the trade deadline are 11 goals and 22 points.
There were seven deals featuring players similar to Stewart. The best return was two second-round picks and a third-rounder. The worst was a fourth-round selection. Six of the deals brought back a third-round pick.
Verdict: History says the Sabres can expect a third-round pick for Stewart, but he’s getting hot at the right time. A second-rounder is certainly possible.
• Mitchell: The veteran forward has a reputation as a gritty, dependable player. He can play center or wing. His trade-deadline stats project to four goals and 10 points.
There were six deals featuring players similar to Mitchell. The best return was two fourth-round picks and a prospect. The worst was a seventh-round conditional pick that wasn’t exercised, so essentially nothing. Two of the deals brought back fourth-rounders, while two brought back sixths.
Verdict: The Sabres might be able to get a fourth-round pick for Mitchell, but a fifth is reasonable.
• Enroth and Neuvirth: The goaltenders have subpar numbers and have never been clear-cut starters, so it’s unlikely many teams will be clamoring for their services.
Most trades for netminders have been goalie-for-goalie swaps. Two weren’t, and the returns were a second-rounder in one deal and a seventh-rounder in the other.
Verdict: If the Sabres get any offer for their goalies, they should take it.
• Meszaros, Strachan and Benoit: They’ve alternated between the bottom pair and being healthy scratches. Playoff teams are always looking for defensive depth, however. That’s how the immortal Timo Helbling and Mikko Lehtonen ended up in the Sabres’ organization in 2007.
There were 14 trades featuring depth defensemen from 2010 to 2014. Five of the deals brought back fifth-round picks, while five brought back seventh-rounders.
Verdict: Meszaros’ name recognition might lead a team to send a fifth-round pick to Buffalo. Otherwise, don’t expect more than a seventh-round selection.
“I’m ready to listen. I’m ready to be a trade partner if it makes sense,” Murray said on the radio. “Even a fifth- or sixth-round pick. You know what? It doesn’t sound like much for a certain player. That fifth- or sixth-round pick, it might happen only once every 11 years, but you can hit on that. That could be a European goalie, a late bloomer.”
Babcock voices opposition
It could be awhile before anything is official, but it’s looking more and more likely Buffalo will be part of the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. At the very least, an exhibition game will be held in First Niagara Center. It’s possible one of the eight teams will also hold training camp in Buffalo, thanks to its proximity to host city Toronto.
On its own, the resumption of the World Cup has been met with universal applause. The cheering stops when people assume the NHL won’t send its players to the Olympics because of the international tournament.
“If it’s in place of Olympics, I’m not for it,” Detroit Red Wings and Team Canada coach Mike Babcock said on Ottawa’s TSN-AM 1200. “The Olympics, I believe, is the greatest sporting event in the world. People that don’t care about athletics watch the Olympic Games. If the World Cup is in place of Olympics, I’m against the World Cup. But if it’s as well as, I’m all for it.”
On the fly
• The Canucks are hopeful of adding a top-six forward via trade. Don’t be surprised if Zack Kassian is part of a package going out. He had two goals and five points in his opening 25 games this season. So far, that Kassian-for-Cody Hodgson deal hasn’t worked for either team.
• Uninterested forward Alexander Semin is a regular on the Hurricanes’ healthy scratch list. He makes $86,420 every time he sits in the press box. “We just play the guys who dig in and work and play with speed in both directions and play hard,” Carolina coach Bill Peters said. “It’s not hard.”
• The Blue Jackets projected Ryan Johansen, Mark Letestu, Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov to be their four centers. Because of injury, it took until Game 47 for all of them to be in the lineup at the same time.
• One of the many reasons the NHL wants to put computerized tracking chips in the pucks is to end inconsistent stat keeping. Babcock had a beef with the off-ice officials in Florida after the Panthers outshot Detroit, 41-27. “Their shot clock was screwed up,” Babcock said. “When we hit the net, it’s supposed to count. When they miss the net, it’s not supposed to. The NHL can figure that out.”