Jason Botterill does not sound like he is ready to push his chips to the middle of the table before the NHL's trade deadline. Still, the Buffalo Sabres' fan base will be waiting impatiently until 3 p.m. Monday.
Botterill has not strayed from his plan since the start of the season, even with the Sabres tumbling down the Atlantic Division standings since the 10-game winning streak.
Speaking of the deadline, and any possible moves Botterill could make, let's start there for my first Sabres mailbag ...
John asks: Do you see the Sabres trading Nathan Beaulieu or Matt Hunwick? Or perhaps someone like Vladimir Sobotka, who has low production and a more significant contract?
Lance Lysowski: Botterill won't be too active leading up to the deadline, but he will consider moving one of his defensemen, whether it is Nathan Beaulieu, Matt Hunwick or Casey Nelson. This is a tricky situation since Beaulieu played well Thursday against Tampa Bay and brings an edge the Sabres have lacked. He's also 26 and a restricted free agent at season's end. Personally, I'd try to bring him back for next season. Beaulieu is well-liked in the room and there seems to be more upside there.
There won't be much of a market for Hunwick and the Sabres would have to surrender a third-round pick, instead of a fourth, to Pittsburgh if they deal the 33-year-old defenseman prior to the draft. They would also likely have to eat some of the $2.25 million owed to Hunwick next season.
Who would want Sobotka? He doesn't have the speed that teams typically want on the penalty kill and went 41 consecutive games without a goal. He's also owed $3.5 million next season. The more likely move is the Sabres trading Jason Pominville to a contender.
TNFP asks: It seems after every game it's a new issue. What's the problem? Or does it go deep into the organization?
Lance: The roster lacks depth and young players have made far too many mistakes since the winning streak, Rasmus Dahlin included. It is not unusual for a coach to limit his bench in tight games, but it seems as if coach Phil Housley has to do it more often than most. He can't trust Tage Thompson or C.J. Smith to play in tight games.
You need to roll four lines to win in the NHL, and look at how Housley has to piece together his defensive pairings every night. Lawrence Pilut, a 23-year-old rookie, should not have to play on his off side. That is not putting a young player in the best position to succeed. The roster is flawed, and some players have underperformed in important games.
Paul Mangefrida asks: What's the possibility of the Sabres finishing with a losing record?
Lance: It's not impossible. Take a look at the upcoming schedule: Washington, at Toronto, at Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, at Toronto, Edmonton, at Chicago, at Colorado. Trust me, it doesn't get easier the rest of the way.
The Sabres need to stop playing down to their competition. It has to be maddening to Housley and Botterill that their team can perform so well against Tampa Bay and struggle so badly against an opponent such as New Jersey. That can't continue.
Roni Sue Zolnowski asks: If you were in charge (general manager or coach), what would/could you do?
Lance: My initial answer to this question included calling up Danny O'Regan, but the 25-year-old winger will join the team for their game Saturday against Washington.
My next step would be to try to trade for New York Rangers center Kevin Hayes, who would be a perfect fit to play with Sam Reinhart and Conor Sheary. Hayes is an unrestricted free agent this summer, but the Sabres have the cap space to possibly extend him.
It appears Botterill intends to keep Victor Olofsson in Rochester, so I would place Sobotka on waivers -- he would go unclaimed -- and bring up Alexander Nylander. I know what you're thinking, but I get the sense he needs a change of scenery from Rochester. The Sabres should give him a chance before they consider moving him. See if the 20-year-old can regain some confidence by getting a look in the NHL.
The players most important to this franchise – Jack Eichel, Reinhart, Dahlin, Casey Mittelstadt – are showing enough progress to merit keeping Housley, so I would not consider a coaching change.
Wyatt Davenport asks: Does the GM/coach getting fired for the worst record in the league over two seasons jeopardize Jeff Skinner signing?
Lance: So much would have to go wrong for Botterill and Housley to both be fired before July 1. That won't happen. The big question here is whether the Sabres are willing to meet Skinner's asking price, which should be around $9 million per season. He'll turn 27 in May and is on pace to shatter a career high for goals. However, Botterill does have to think long term.
Imagine how much Dahlin could cost someday. What about Reinhart? Skinner is worth $9 million a year. Imagine where the Sabres would be if Botterill did not make that trade. Now the two sides need to finalize a contract. The team would be wise to match the asking price and figure the rest out later.
Jer Gage asks: Does Housley last the rest of the season, or does he get a chance to start next season?
Lance: Yes, and yes. I'm of the opinion that any coach or general manager should be given at least three years. They inherited a mess. The Sabres aren't in jeopardy of wasting Eichel's prime, or anyone else's for that matter. The fan base is starving for a taste of the playoffs and rightfully so, but I don't think it helps young players' development to have a coaching change every two years.
The Sabres would need to have a seriously ugly finish for management to even consider a change. They are committed to Housley. He is not blameless in the team's struggles since the winning streak, but it's also important to remember his hand in helping the Sabres to the top of the standings.
When the players execute his game plan, they can beat the league's best. Now the challenge is getting that done every game. I'm of the opinion that youth and roster deficiencies are responsible for all those issues.
Ron asks: Should they trade Rasmus Ristolainen?
Lance: The frustration surrounding Ristolainen is merited. He struggles with puck management and missed coverages. Inexperience is no longer an excuse, either. Sure, Ristolainen is only 24 years old, but he has played more than 400 NHL games. His on-ice awareness should be much better than it is.
I understand plus-minus can be deceiving, but he's a minus-23 through 60 games after being a minus-25 in 73 games last season. Advanced analytics also reveal some serious concerns.
That said, the Sabres can't trade Ristolainen unless they have someone who is actually capable of replacing him. He's under contract for three more years at a very reasonable rate of $5.4 million, and he showed Thursday night in Tampa Bay what sort of impact he can make without the puck.
The time will come when the Sabres can move him. I'm just not convinced their roster can handle losing a defenseman with that much upside, and it would be wise to see if he can be part of the solution here.
Story topics: Buffalo Sabres