One easy mindset to have about the Sabres for Deadline Day: Temper your expectations. Expect little and be pleasantly surprised if something significant happens.
There's only a small chance the Sabres are going to emerge as a better team come Monday afternoon. The much more likely scenario is they're actually worse, given the potential of trades involving pending unrestricted free agents such as Jimmy Vesey, Conor Sheary, Johan Larsson or Zemgus Girgensons that will likely yield only draft picks in return.
Good luck to General Manager Jason Botterill trying to sell that kind of day Monday, when he dumps UFAs and calls up the likes of Taylor Leier from Rochester to fill the roster over the final 20 games. You have to hold out hope that Botterill can make the kind of move he did at last year's deadline, when defenseman Brandon Montour was acquired from Anaheim with a year left on his contract.
No one ever really knows what's going to happen on these days. If you had tape recordings of most GMs' conversations, the bet here is it would be a surprise what names get talked about. But the salary cap is one impediment, and hockey GMs by nature are a conservative lot, not prone to some of the wild impulse moves we see sometimes in the NBA.
Botterill's trade chart is hard to digest. The Montour trade was a good idea, even if it cost the Sabres one of their first-round picks. I'll take an experienced young defenseman over futures any day of the week.
Cliff Pu for Jeff Skinner and Alex Nylander for Henri Jokiharju are hard to argue as well, with Skinner's current issues not being his trade cost but the exorbitant free agent deal the Sabres signed him to last summer.
The Ryan O'Reilly trade, of course, is a well-documented disaster, and it's what Botterill has to avoid if he's entertaining talks involving Rasmus Ristolainen. A deal for your most physical, minutes-munching defenseman simply must return a quality top-six forward, especially given that Ristolainen still has two more years left on a deal with a reasonable cap hit of $5.4 million. It's far easier to work that kind of deal at the draft and over the summer than now.
Still, it's not hard to wonder if the O'Reilly deal has dropped Botterill into a paralysis-by-analysis mentality, where he's gun-shy of making another major misstep that would seal his fate with this organization.
Here are some other topics key topics this corner will watch as the 3 p.m. Monday deadline approaches:
Vincent Trocheck: Buyer beware. And that includes the Sabres. The Florida center had 31 goals and 75 points two seasons ago. Last year, he was at just 10-24-34 in 55 games. This season, he enters the weekend at 10-25-35 in 54 games. Are you giving up a solid defenseman like Ristolainen or Montour for that?
Chicago goalies: Two-time Stanley Cup champion Corey Crawford and old friend Robin Lehner are both UFAs after the season. Crawford, 35, has a $6 million cap hit and Lehner, 28, has a $5 million hit. Lehner would like stay on a long-term deal, but it's unclear what path the Hawks will go. Crawford has a no-trade clause while Lehner could be on the move.
San Jose's Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, Chicago's Duncan Keith: Three longtime veterans and franchise icons, respectively. Their teams are going nowhere this year, so will they give the OK to go somewhere else to chase a Cup?
Chris Kreider: The Rangers winger is on a $4.625 million cap hit heading into UFA status. He has 20-plus goals for the fifth time in six seasons and would look awfully good in either Boston or St. Louis, where the Blues dearly miss Vladimir Tarasenko.
Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Ilya Kovalchuk: What will the Senators and Canadiens, respectively, do with this pair? Both could be dealt or both could be re-signed. The Sabres would love to see Pageau out of the Atlantic Division after he torched them for five goals this season. Ottawa has scary potential with two lottery picks coming, their own and San Jose's in the Erik Karlsson deal.
Columbus: The Blue Jackets are a disaster due to injuries, and 21-goal scorer Oliver Bjorkstrand is the latest to join the list, leaving Nationwide Arena on crutches after Thursday's overtime loss to Philadelphia and being ruled out Friday for 8-10 weeks to a severe ankle injury. The Jackets lost defense stud Seth Jones for the rest of the regular season last week due to ankle surgery. They enter the weekend leading the wild-card race and two points out of third in the Metro and will have to make a couple of moves to stay in the race.
The Scandy Man can
Old friend Marco Scandella's debut Thursday night for St. Louis in a 1-0 win over Arizona: 19:24, plus-1, three hits, one blocked shot. Played 2:51 on the penalty-killing unit. Scandella has been given a huge role, in Jay Bouwmeester's spot alongside Colton Parayko.
"He’s just got to be aggressive and play his game," Blues coach Craig Berube said before the win. "We want him to be a good defender, use his shot, but the system stuff will take time like it always does. He can still be a good player by having an aggressive mindset, move the puck quick, get up in the play and use his shot. That’s what he does.”
Scandella was thankful for the 20 games he played for Montreal, his hometown team, but he was obviously thrilled to get traded to a defending Stanley Cup champion looking to repeat.
"I feel like I lived the dream,” he said of his time in Montreal. “Even though it was a small stint. It was just two months. ... Got the opportunity to play there, play in front of my family and my friends. Scored at the Bell Centre against the Leafs. So some big moments there.
"Playing in the playoffs is everything in hockey. So just to be a part of this team, this franchise, I feel like I’m really lucky.”
No Miracle on TV
Saturday is the 40th anniversary of the Miracle on Ice at the Lake Placid Olympics — and one of the great "oops" moments in Buffalo television history.
Folks too young to remember will be surprised to learn that the iconic USA-Russia game was not televised live in the United States because it was a 5 p.m. start and the International Ice Hockey Federation declined to move to the game to prime time to accommodate ABC. The show went on at 5 — but folks in Buffalo and other border cities got the chance to watch it live on CTV.
The 4-3 victory was over by the time the puck dropped on ABC shortly after 8. During the second intermission — with Team USA trailing, 3-2 — a commercial break featured Irv Weinstein's nightly update previewing Channel 7's Eyewitness News at 11. Intoned Irv looking at the night's top stories: "Celebrating a big hockey victory."
Whoops. Channel 7 got plenty of complaint calls that night because that's how many people found out the score before Al Michaels screamed, "Do you believe in miracles? YES!"
Amazing how we all lived before the Internet.
Mom Knows Best for Rangers
One of the funniest team-produced videos you'll see came prior to the Rangers' win Wednesday in Chicago. It was the team's moms trip and the cameras were inside the locker room as Ryan Strome's mother, Trish, was given the chance by coach David Quinn to announce the starting lineup to the team.
Some pearls from her chat:
"Centering my first boy ... (Artemi) Panarin, move him the puck. Move. Him. The. Puck."
"Adam Fox: Happy birthday. Get a birthday goal tonight."
"(Ryan) Lindgren: You just got your stitches out. Don't let your mom see you hurt that again."
"(Igor) Shesterkin: I just love saying 'Shesterkin'"
Ryan Strome took the opening faceoff against younger brother, Dylan, and scored a goal in New York's 6-3 win. Tweeted Ryan Strome after the game: "What a moment tonight. I only aged 5 ... maybe 10 years as she read the lineup card" followed by a laughing emoji and a hand-to-forehead emoji."
What a moment tonight. I only aged 5...maybe 10 years as she read the line up card 😂🤦🏻♂️ LGR! https://t.co/NT8bTcdhyr
— Ryan Strome (@strome18) February 20, 2020
Around the boards
• The Canucks did an incredible ceremony to retire the jersey numbers of the Sedins last week, and it's shame the Sabres didn't have an option to similarly put a number in the KeyBank Center rafters in their 50th anniversary season.
Really the only remote possibility for that honor would be longtime defenseman Mike Ramsey and his last year here was 1992. If the team was going to retire Ramsey's No. 5, it would have long ago done so. The Sabres don't have a slam-dunk candidate like Vancouver did with the Sedins.
• Rounding up the recent announcements about the league's upcoming events: This year's draft will be in Montreal on June 26-27. The 2021 Winter Classic will be at Target Field in Minneapolis with the Wild hosting an undetermined opponent (the bet here is St. Louis), and the 2021 Stadium Series will be Feb. 20 in Raleigh, with the Hurricanes' foe for the game at North Carolina State to be announced.
The 2021 All-Star Game will be Jan. 30 at Florida's BB&T Center and the 2021 draft site has not been announced, though there's lots of chatter the league would like to do it in Seattle and pair it with the expansion draft if the city's reconstruction of Key Arena allows that to happen.
• The NHL had to do some shuffling to accommodate the rescheduling of the St. Louis-Anaheim game that was halted Feb. 11 because of Bouwmeester's collapse. It will now be played March 11, and the Blues' home game vs. Florida that was slated for March 10 was pushed back a day to March 9.
The Blues-Ducks game was stopped at 7:50 of the first period with the score tied at 1-1. The league announced it will be started over and all 60 minutes played, but that the two goals will count and the game will begin with the 1-1 score rather than 0-0.
• Memo to NBC and NBCSN: The Detroit Red Wings are terrible, maybe one of the worst teams of the salary cap era. How in the world do they keep showing up on your telecasts? It's like the days of watching the tank year Sabres on NBCSN 11 times. Just plain goofy scheduling.