It feels like it has been a while since the struggling Buffalo Sabres have made a trade that has had an impact at the NHL-level, but Jason Botterill finally gave fans a little something. The Sabres made not just one, but two trades last night. The first trade shipped out Marco Scandella to Montreal for a 2020 4th round pick originally owned by San Jose. The second trade sent that newly acquired 4th round pick to Calgary in exchange for Michael Frolik.
The Sabres had a complete logjam on defense (primarily due to poor asset management, but I will save that for a different article), so trading one of the many blueliners on the NHL roster was long overdue. At 5v5, the Sabres have been pretty solid defensively, ranking 9th in the league in xGA/60. Offensively, they have been brutal, ranking 28th in the league in xGF/60. So, Jason Botterill finally figured out something that our human ancestors figured out many millennia ago: you can trade a good you have a lot of for a good you need and do not have a lot of. It is great to know that the Sabres’ general manager has basic bartering skills.
Michael Frolik vs. Marco Scandella
With that being said, let’s take a closer look at the latest trades. The two trades basically boil down to a one-for-one deal: Marco Scandella for Michael Frolik. These players have similar cap hits with Scandella at $4 million and Frolik at $4.3 million. They are also at similar ages as Scandella turns 30 in February while Frolik will be turning 32 in February. However, the 2019-20 NHL season has been a tale of two very different seasons for both of these players. One of them, Marco Scandella, is having one of the best seasons of his career while the other, Michael Frolik, is having one of the worst seasons of his career.
If you take a larger sample size and look at the players’ past three seasons, Michael Frolik begins to look like the much better hockey player. So, the Sabres are betting on both players regressing to their means which could lead to Frolik becoming the more valuable player in the deal.
One also has to keep in mind that the Sabres are desperate for any sort of offense and it is wise to trade one of the team’s numerous blueliners for someone who may be able to help in that regard. While Marco Scandella has been fantastic for the Sabres this season, this trade opens up greater opportunities for Colin Miller and Lawrence Pilut on defense, which should be a win in itself.
Michael Frolik’s Game
Michael Frolik was selected by the Florida Panthers with the 10th overall pick in the 2006 NHL Draft. He is a unique case as he put up his NHL-career high in points in his rookie season with the Panthers back in 2008-09. He had 45 points in 79 games that season and has been unable to eclipse the 45-point mark since. He has 10 points (5 goals and 5 assists) in 38 games this season, but is only averaging 11:56 of ice time.
Frolik is not an offensive juggernaut and can fall into large stretches with little production, but he still has some skill and can be a sneaky player on offense. But, the key thing about his game is his two-way play. Frolik has seen time on the penalty kill for the Flames and has been one of their best penalty killers this season. That is a skill that is absolutely needed in Buffalo. At 5v5, Michael Frolik grades out very well on both sides of the puck in Micah Blake McCurdy’s impact model.
Will he bounce back?
The Buffalo Sabres are really hoping that Frolik’s 2019-20 season is the exception and not the rule. There certainly are some signs that point in that direction as he had a very low on-ice shooting percentage (4.48%) combined with a very low on-ice save percentage (.900) from his goalie. Both of these numbers should increase as the season goes on unless he somehow remains unlucky for the full 82 games.
Michael Frolik has also been buried in the Flames lineup, this is partially due to the emergence of some of their young forwards. This has led to Michael Frolik being bumped out of Calgary’s top six, averaging a career-low 11:56 TOI. Will he get a bigger role in Buffalo? Possibly. I think he could be the player that Ralph Krueger thinks Vladimir Sobotka is. He is a veteran who provides solid defense, but Frolik is not a black hole offensively like Sobotka. Is he deserving of a bigger role in Buffalo? That is still to be determined.
While there are signs that point to Michael Frolik currently being undervalued, one really has to look at his age. If a player has a drop off in offense in their early 20s, one can just attribute it to a slump or just being unlucky. But, when a player who is turning 32 years old sees a dip in their numbers, they could very well be on a steep decline. Every player ages differently, but the odds of him being able to bounce back to his 2016-17 production are against him.
Below is a chart that graphs the change in even-strength offense wins above replacement over a player’s career. This graph is not encouraging as it shows a steep offensive decline for forwards in their early 30s.
While Michael Frolik can provide the Sabres with some solid defensive play and penalty kill help, they are asking for offense from a guy who probably can’t give them much. I do not think this is a trade that moves the needle very much in either direction. The best part of the trade may actually be the fact that Lawrence Pilut can finally get some NHL ice-time.
I am also not a big fan of Frolik’s contract. Sure, he is only signed until the end of this season, but his $4.3 million cap hit does not give the Sabres much cap flexibility to make more in-season trades. It would have been nice to ship out Scandella’s $4 million cap hit without having to take on even more cap in return.
At least this trade shows that Jason Botterill is alive and it gives a little relief to the logjam on the Sabres defense. Moves still have to be made though and I hope Jason Botterill is on the phone looking to acquire a bona fide top six forward who can produce offense. They have the ammo to make a major move, they just need to pull the trigger.