In what felt like an eternity, the Buffalo Sabres eleven-day midseason break has now come to a close, and the team now has 33 games remaining to claw themselves back into a playoff spot. The course of action in which they attempt to tackle that feat, however, is yet to be seen. Let’s take a look into a few potential routes:
If Buffalo is going to challenge for a playoff spot down the stretch, they need to find some secondary scoring. It’s been a recurring issue for the duration of the season, and hasn’t really shown many signs of improving. GM Jason Botterill has no shortage of options when it comes to bolstering his squad before the February 25th Trade Deadline.
GMJB could look to Rochester for a late season call-up, where players like Victor Olofsson, CJ Smith, and Alex Nylander look poised to make a big impression late in the season. The player who makes the most sense is CJ Smith, having already potted a goal in four previous games this season. To fit him on the roster full time, the Sabres would have to move a body from the top 13, and placing Remi Elie on waivers seems most likely in this event.
Another option Jason Botterill could pursue is that of acquiring a depth winger, or a middle-six center, both of which would require some combination of a roster player, prospect, and mid/high round draft pick. Botterill has mentioned previously that he won’t mortgage futures to win right now, which is the smart play. Some players he may look to acquire are: Tyler Johnson (Tampa Bay), Sean Couturier (Philadelphia), and Tyler Toffoli (Los Angeles).
Johnson and Couturier would provide a much needed upgrade at the 2C position, as Mittelstadt hasn’t shown he’s fully ready to takeover that role as of yet (Keep in mind he’s still only 20). Plus, a stint on the wing would help his development, as well as fill a spot of need. Buffalo could also keep Mittelstadt at center, and look to acquire Toffoli, who would slot in nicely on the second line. Toffoli has a season and a half left on his three-year deal, with a cap hit of $4.6 million, and seems like the most feasible in-season option. While Johnson and Couturier both fix a glaring issue, and offer longer team control, both Tampa Bay and Philadelphia would want a fairly large haul for them, and those sort of deals are more likely to happen in the summer.
This option seems to be inevitable, where GMJB could potentially look to unload one of the eight healthy defenceman currently on the Sabres roster. Of the eight defenceman, Nathan Beaulieu is most likely to be moved, as per his request.
As Renaud Lavoie of RDS reported, Beaulieu has reportedly asked for a trade, due to a lack of playing time. Beaulieu has had a decent season so far, so Buffalo should be able to obtain something for his talents. Or, perhaps he’s included in part of a bigger deal, but as stated above, is more likely in the summer, an option Beaulieu himself may not be keen to. Past Beaulieu, the Sabres could look to move someone like Jake McCabe. McCabe has been a solid defenceman when healthy this season, and would be a decent addition for a team looking for a reliable second-pairing guy. Once Casey Nelson gets healthy, it will be interesting to see which way Botterill leans in shuffling up the defense.
This choice will anger a LOT of Sabres fans, but it would be my betting choice. The move? Nothing at all. GMJB is a smart hockey mind, and won’t sacrifice the next few years of young development and draft picks to squeeze in one playoff run. He’s more than likely plotting a run in the upcoming seasons when the core of Eichel, Reinhart, Dahlin, Ristolainen and Mittelstadt have had an extended period of time to gel as a unit and further develop their games. There’s no need to rush a playoff berth this season, as painful as it sounds. The future is bright, and looks even brighter once you factor in four first round draft picks the next two seasons. Falling from first in the NHL to out of a playoff spot in the span of 9 1/2 weeks is a bitter pill to swallow, but it will ultimately benefit the players in the long run.
In a nutshell, there’s a plethora of choices that the Buffalo Sabres and GM Jason Botterill can make over the next month that will alter the club. On the flipside, there’s a good chance that he chooses to nothing at all. Whichever route eventually ends up happening, it will be sure to flip Sabres Twitter on it’s collective heads.