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Sabres Mailbag: Will Jason Botterill make a significant trade?

Jason Botterill made his first significant moves of the season by trading Marco Scandella to the Montreal Canadiens and acquiring Michael Frolik from the Calgary Flames for a fourth-round draft pick.

Is the Buffalo Sabres general manager done trading? The Sabres (20-19-7) need help at forward, especially with Jeff Skinner and Victor Olofsson recovering from injuries. Zach Bogosian and Evan Rodrigues reportedly requested to be traded, however, Buffalo is unlikely to get much in return for either player.

What will it take for the Sabres to land a marquee forward? Is a significant in-season move possible? Let's start there with my latest mailbag, which features questions submitted by readers through Twitter and email.

Garry Marr: Is it likely this is a holding year for the Sabres, with no major moves coming?

LL: The Sabres are stuck. Botterill currently has no cap space and will have a difficult time trading Bogosian or Rodrigues. Memo to players: leaking to reporters that you requested a trade will only make it more difficult for your team to move you. The only realistic way to potentially add an impact forward this season is by trading Rasmus Ristolainen or Brandon Montour. Botterill is unlikely to part with either player, unless the return is massive.

Trading either defenseman before the deadline could be catastrophic to their blue line, and Botterill won't be in the market for a rental. He has said multiple times he prefers young players with years of control, much like the trade that landed Montour last February.

The Sabres are projected to have more than $33 million in salary cap space this offseason. Montour and Sam Reinhart will likely receive a chunk of that money, and the Sabres aren't exactly an attractive free-agent destination. In my opinion, Botterill will wait until the summer to make a significant trade to supplement the current core, and the Sabres will count on Dylan Cozens and Casey Mittelstadt to make a big impact in 2020-21.

CStone: Should we be concerned with Rasmus Dahlin's lack of progress defensively?

LL: Dahlin has made significant progress in the defensive zone. Remember, he's only 19 years old. Even the league's top defensemen make mistakes, and you're starting to see how his physical maturation is allowing him to win more battles for loose pucks. I agree with Ralph Krueger's assessment that Dahlin has been much better in that regard since returning from a concussion.

Dahlin, like the Sabres' other defensemen, might be impacted by a lack of continuity with the defense pairs. Communication and chemistry are so important in Krueger's system. Regardless of that challenge, we've seen Dahlin take a significant step in the right direction. It's important to be patient with player development.

Fans shouldn't be concerned about Dahlin.

Jim: Are there any goalies who could be brought in to replace Carter Hutton?

LL: Contenders aren't exactly champing at the bit to trade a good goaltender. The New York Rangers are reportedly shopping Alexandar Georgiev, but they're likely searching for a second- or third-round draft choice. Plus, the Sabres can't move Hutton's contract. They won't place him on waivers with the intent to send him to Rochester.

Hutton is under contract through next season at an average annual value of $2.75 million. That might sound like a small amount, but many teams are up against the cap and they won't be eager to trade for someone who has lost 11 games in a row.

Jonas Johansson isn't the solution, either. He underwent a season-ending surgery less than 12 months ago, and he played only 14 games in Rochester before this season. The Sabres are wise to be patient with the 24-year-old.

Andrew Hammond hasn't been great for the Amerks, and he hasn't played more than six NHL games in a season since 2015-16. The Sabres will have to move forward with Hutton for now and hope he regains his form. It would also help if his teammates played better in front of him. It's odd how they've been so much worse defensively with Hutton in goal.

John: Do you think Rasmus Ristolainen will be traded before the deadline?

LL: No. Ristolainen is finally realizing his potential. He's been much better in the defensive zone and ignited the power play with his presence at the front of the net. The Sabres shouldn't trade him unless they receive a sizable return. He's under contract for two more years at a reasonable rate of $5.4 million per season.

Ristolainen is part of the solution. He was tired of losing, much like Ryan O'Reilly, and Ristolainen put in the work to make sure he would return to Buffalo a better player. The Sabres should be building around Ristolainen. I think Botterill should move a significant player on the current roster to bring an impact forward to Buffalo, but Ristolainen is one of five Sabres whom I would refuse to part with. The others are Dahlin, Jack Eichel, Jeff Skinner and Victor Olofsson.

Rasmus Ristolainen using lessons from the past to improve with Sabres

Don: Is Jack Eichel going to request a trade if the Sabres can't eventually find a way to win?

LL: No one can predict what Eichel is going to do in the future. He loves Buffalo and badly wants to win a Stanley Cup here. This has been a difficult few years for him. He puts so much pressure on himself to be successful and wants to win. He wasn't placed in an easy situation, either. It's difficult being a captain in the NHL at any age, and Eichel was given the letter at 21 years old.

It's impressive how Eichel has grown into that role, and the Sabres deserve some credit for starting to surround him with more experienced leaders. Having Marcus Johansson around has been important for Eichel. He no longer has to shoulder all of the leadership burden. There needs to be a sense of urgency to build around Eichel.

He hasn't even entered his prime yet. The same with Dahlin. It's time to surround the superstar with more talent.

David Cappella: When will Krueger solidify who plays on Eichel's wings?

LL: You won't see a consistent first line until Olofsson returns, or someone shows they're capable of keeping up with Eichel and Reinhart. It's important to have at least some continuity for Eichel, which is why Krueger has kept Reinhart there.

Sure, Botterill said in June that Reinhart is capable of driving his own line, but the Sabres need to have at least one group that's a consistent threat at 5 on 5. I would prefer to have Skinner play on the left side with Eichel and Reinhart, however, Krueger won't make that change.

Remember, the coaching staff prefers to have a defensive presence playing alongside Eichel and Reinhart. The thinking is a responsible two-way player will free up Eichel and Reinhart to take more risks. Skinner hasn't been consistent enough defensively.

For now, I'm in favor of seeing how Zemgus Girgensons fares with Eichel and Reinhart. Girgensons has earned that opportunity with the way he's become a consistent threat on the forecheck.

John Hollingsworth: Why do the Sabres continue to scratch defenseman Colin Miller?

LL: When asked this question before the game Sunday in Detroit, Krueger told the media that Miller has struggled to adjust to the new system in Buffalo. The example Krueger used was that some defensemen are used to playing strictly man-to-man defense, while the Sabres have different assignments closer to the net. One week earlier, Miller described the situation differently to me.

Miller hasn't felt comfortable having to play with different defense partners. He hoped the Scandella trade would allow the Sabres to settle on one lineup, but that hasn't happened. Miller is a player who needs continuity, so this isn't a great situation for him. The Sabres will continue to rotate their eight healthy defensemen until Krueger finds the mix he thinks gives them the best chance to win.

The Sabres need to make it work with Miller. He's a talented defenseman under contract for two more seasons at an annual cap hit of $3.875 million. The Sabres gave up second- and fifth-round draft picks to acquire him from Vegas. That's a pretty significant price tag for a player having a difficult time carving out a role.

It's on Krueger and his assistant coach, Steve Smith, to get the most out of Miller. His physical tools are among the best on the roster.

 

Paul Hamilton heads back on the road with the Sabres

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