Jason Botterill's first trade of the offseason could be the beginning of major changes to the Buffalo Sabres' defensive core.
The Buffalo Sabres' General Manager acquired defenseman Colin Miller from the Vegas Golden Knights on Friday night in exchange for a second-round draft pick in 2021 and a fifth-round pick in 2022.
Miller, who will turn 27 in October, has averaged 19 minutes, 29 seconds per game for Vegas over the past two seasons, posting 70 points in 147 regular season games. He also played an important role in the Golden Knights' run to the Stanley Cup final last summer.
Botterill was able to take advantage of Vegas needing to clear cap space — Miller is under contract for three more seasons at an average annual value of $3.87 million — however, the Sabres suddenly have a surplus of right-handed defensemen, which could lead to another trade.
Miller, Rasmus Ristolainen, Zach Bogosian, Brandon Montour and Casey Nelson all play on the right side.
Botterill would likely have trouble moving Bogosian since the 28-year-old underwent offseason hip surgery that will prevent him from being ready for the start of the season, and Montour is expected to play a prominent role on the Sabres this season after he was acquired from Anaheim for a first-round draft pick and Brendan Guhle in February.
Ristolainen, 24, has been the subject of trade rumors since February and declined to say he wanted to return to Buffalo next season when broached with the topic by reporters during locker cleanout in April. Though Ristolainen has posted at least 40 points in each of the past four seasons, his minus-143 rating since 2013-14 ranks last in the NHL.
Despite his inconsistent play, Ristolainen has reportedly drawn interest from a number of teams. He is under contract for three more years at an average annual value of $5.4 million, possibly a discounted rate for a right-shot defenseman with his offensive production.
Botterill now has two options after acquiring Miller: trade a defenseman to clear cap space and acquire draft picks, or a top-six forward, specifically a center. The former option would allow the Sabres to be aggressive in free agency July 1.
The Sabres allowed the second-most goals in the league (200), trailing only Chicago (202), from Nov. 27 through the season finale April 7. Following its 10-game winning streak, Buffalo went 16-33-8 for the fewest points in the NHL during that span. During the press conference to address Phil Housley's firing, Botterill told reporters he was still looking to add to the Sabres' blue line this offseason.
Miller, a fifth-round pick of Los Angeles in 2012, had three goals among 29 points in 65 games this past season and has performed well at even strength since being selected by the Golden Knights in the expansion draft. He was a healthy scratch for Game 1 of Vegas' first-round playoff series against San Jose in April, only to be one of the team's better players during the final six games.
Over the past two seasons, the Golden Knights' 5-on-5 shot differential with Miller on the ice was 55.66 percent, the highest mark on the team among players who have appeared in at least 100 games during that span. He also led the team's defensemen in assists (57) and points (70).
Miller broke into the NHL with the Boston Bruins in 2015-16, only a few months after he was acquired from the Kings in exchange for Milan Lucic. Miller appeared in 103 regular season games during his two seasons with Boston, posting 29 points and playing in four Stanley Cup playoff games.
Miller's breakout season occurred with Vegas in 2017-18, when he scored 10 goals among 41 points with a minus-4 rating while appearing in all 82 regular season games. He then scored the franchise's first Stanley Cup final goal during Game 1 against the Washington Capitals, and brings playoff experience to a Sabres roster lacking it.
Since taking over as Sabres General Manager in May 2017, Botterill has acquired Jason Pominville, Conor Sheary and Montour, all of whom have playoff experience.
With projected salaries for the team's restricted free agents, the Sabres currently have $15 million in cap space for the 2019-20 season. Yet, Botterill is unlikely done with the trade market given his surplus of defensemen and a need for a top-six forward.
Rather than trading prospects, Botterill opted to send Vegas the second-round draft choice the Sabres acquired in the Ryan O'Reilly trade.
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