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Sabres Mailbag: Kane, prospects, defense depth and more

The call for questions for a Sabres Mailbag went out, and the first that came in was about Evander Kane. It’s not surprising. He’s the No. 1 topic in Sabreland.

Other questions arrived regarding prospects, the future and the trade deadline. That’s also not surprising. Despite a decent month for Buffalo, the Sabres are still outside the playoff race. Even if they make it, this isn’t their year.

Without further ado, here are questions submitted via Twitter or email. Those dealing with the same topic have been combined.

Question: What do you want to do with 9?

Answer: Kane’s run of 21 goals in the last 36 games is astounding. It works out to an average of .58 goals per game.

Since the Sabres were founded in 1970, the only players to top that for a full season were Alexander Mogilny, Pat LaFontaine, Richard Martin and Danny Gare. They are all in the team’s Hall of Fame, and three have their numbers retired.

This type of scoring potential doesn’t come around often. Why trade it away?

It makes sense to wonder. Kane’s trade value may never be higher. But if the Sabres are ever going to win, they need more players with skill, not fewer.

The only way General Manager Tim Murray should trade Kane is if he believes the left winger won’t re-sign with Buffalo. Kane is set to be an unrestricted free agent after next season. The sides can sign an extension July 1. If Murray doesn’t think the 25-year-old is in Buffalo for the long haul, he needs to find someone who is.

Q: The way the young forwards have performed in the recent call-ups, is there now a logjam? If so, do you move a few for a top defenseman?

A: Justin Bailey and Evan Rodrigues have certainly made strides this month. Bailey’s increased confidence is evident with the offensive moves he’s executing. Rodrigues has shown to be a capable two-way center.

Along with fellow youngsters Nick Baptiste, Hudson Fasching, William Carrier and Alex Nylander, the Sabres have 17 candidates for 12 forward spots next season. Meanwhile, they have just seven potential defensemen, including Brendan Guhle.

So while it’s not quite a logjam – there’s nothing wrong with depth and competition at forward – the Sabres do have extra pieces to swap for a much-needed defenseman.

The Sabres sent Bailey, Rodrigues and Baptiste back to Rochester on Monday. With Buffalo on its bye week, the three will get more minutes with the Amerks. Bailey should be back this weekend, while Rodrigues' return will depend on Zemgus Girgensons' injury status.

Q: What's more important, filling out top six or acquiring a top-four defenseman?

A: The seven NHL-caliber defensemen under contract for next season are Rasmus Ristolainen, Zach Bogosian, Josh Gorges, Jake McCabe, Justin Falk, Casey Nelson and Guhle. The Sabres certainly have a bigger need for a top-four defenseman.

Q: Is Cal Petersen going to sign with Sabres? I would hate to lose him, but is he a tradable commodity?

A: Jimmy Vesey’s shunning of Nashville and Buffalo has folks worried about college draft picks opting for free agency. It’s a concern, but it shouldn’t be a big one. It’ll still be a rare occurrence.

I’d expect the Sabres to sign Petersen when Notre Dame’s season ends. The junior, who has made 82 straight starts, is 18-9-5 with a .926 save percentage and 2.09 goals-against average this season.

One thing to keep in mind regarding Petersen and his value: Ryan Miller was one of the best goaltenders in NCAA history, and he spent three seasons in the minors (including the NHL’s canceled season) before becoming an NHL regular.

Q: Is a trade needed in regards to protecting players for the expansion draft? Tyler Ennis needs 11 more games to qualify for 40/70 in expansion. If he doesn't play enough, do the Sabres have to protect him?

A: As long as the Sabres sign goaltender Linus Ullmark to a qualifying offer, they are compliant at all positions for the expansion draft. No expansion-related trades will be required.

Inside the Sabres: Expansion draft doesn't affect trade plans

As for 40/70, the NHL is requiring teams expose at least two forwards and one defenseman who have played either 40 games this season or 70 games during the past two years. It doesn’t matter if Ennis reaches those numbers. He is a veteran who doesn’t have a no-movement clause, so Buffalo will need to protect him (if it chooses to do so) regardless of games played.

We’ll dive into the Sabres’ exposure and protection lists following the trade deadline.

Q: Who's the first traded away when the Sabres sell?

A: Defensemen are always in demand, so either Dmitry Kulikov or Cody Franson will get the call.

Q: Should Alexander Mogilny be a Hall of Famer?

A: Yes. He’s in the top 40 all time in points per game, and he’s one of only six players to score 75 or more goals in a season. He’s won a Stanley Cup and Olympic gold. Oh yeah, he also risked his life in a defection that changed hockey.

Q: In the absence of Sabres games, are there key scoreboard-watching games this week?

A:  Toronto, Florida and Ottawa can really create a gap between themselves and the Sabres, while Tampa Bay can pass Buffalo.

Toronto hosts Winnipeg on Tuesday and the New York Rangers on Thursday. Florida has a three-game week, visiting St. Louis on Monday and hosting Edmonton on Wednesday and Calgary on Friday. Ottawa visits New Jersey on Tuesday and Carolina on Friday. Tampa Bay hosts Edmonton on Tuesday and Calgary on Thursday.

The Sabres’ points percentage of .517 is just 13th in the Eastern Conference and seventh in the Atlantic Division. If the other clubs continue their pace, they could leave Buffalo behind this week.

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