The NHL Trade Deadline on April 12 is quickly approaching and the Buffalo Sabres are expected to be one of the most active teams. They currently have 8 players (Taylor Hall, Carter Hutton, Steven Fogarty, Matt Irwin, Brandon Montour, Tobias Rieder, Riley Sheahan, Linus Ullmark) on their active roster who will be unrestricted free agents this season and I would expect most of the players on that list who can be traded will be traded by Monday.
So let’s take a look at three player deals that I could see executed by GM Kevyn Adams over the next few days:
Tobias Rieder is a bit of a difficult player to evaluate. He has been a key piece on the line that has been dubbed the “worst line in hockey.” The Rieder-Eakin-Okposo line has posted a 28.4 xGF% and has been outscored 8 to 2 over 136 5v5 minutes. Yikes.
But, the reason that Tobias Rieder is a difficult player to evaluate is because around 85% of his 5v5 minutes have come alongside Cody Eakin. By all accounts, Eakin’s play has been brutal this season. So, it becomes a bit difficult to parse out Rieder’s play from that of his linemates.
Rieder has shown some flashes of speed, has been a decent penalty killer, and is very good at drawing penalties while not taking them. He is also making the league minimum salary this season, so it is very manageable for any team that needs a little forward depth for a playoff push to take him on.
Arizona gets: Tobias Rieder
Buffalo gets: 2022 6th round pick
At this point, I think the Sabres should take whatever a team will give them for Tobias Rieder. He is the type of player who you can sign any offseason for cheap (hence the league minimum contract he is on now), so might as well collect a pick when you can.
Rieder has a few things working in his favor: cap hit and penalty-killing ability. I think a team that is looking to find any solution for their PK would be willing to part ways with a late round pick. I look at a team like Arizona, who is pushing for a playoff spot while having one of the league’s worst PK as a potential fit for Rieder.
Based on recent trade deadlines, I do not expect a player of his caliber to fetch anything more than a 6th round pick. Hey, I will take that if I am the Buffalo Sabres, maybe they can find hockey’s version of Tom Brady.
After nearly 2.5 seasons in Buffalo, it is hard to believe that the Sabres gave up a 1st round pick and a prospect for Brandon Montour. However, the past is the past and I think the Sabres should recognize the sunk cost rather than attempt to salvage the career of a player who just hasn’t worked out in Buffalo.
There is no doubt Montour can be solid in transition when placed in the right system as he is a very athletic and agile defenseman. However, strong transition play does not mean much when a player cannot translate it to results in the offensive zone. Toss in some poor defensive results to top things off and you have a defenseman that does not carry much value, especially at a $3.8 million cap hit.
I think there is no question that some salary has to be retained in any potential Montour deal because of that cap hit and Buffalo has the ability to retain money on two more deals this season. It seems like a no-brainer to try to use one of the retained salary spots to try to extract some value from Montour before he becomes an unrestricted free agent this offseason.
Winnipeg gets: Brandon Montour (50% retained)
Buffalo gets: 2022 3rd round pick
If there is one team willing to take on Brandon Montour as a quarter-season reclamation project, it’s the Winnipeg Jets. The Jets appear to be a lock for one of the final two playoff spots in the North Division. Their blueline needs any help it can get to have a fighting chance this postseason.
Maybe Montour can have a PDO-driven, Joel Edmundson-like resurgence after he heads up north. He certainly has some tools that can be leveraged to allow him to be a useful NHL defenseman. He will likely be taking a significant pay cut this upcoming offseason, so Winnipeg can keep him around for another year or two as a longer-term reclamation project.
There is no doubt that the Taylor Hall era in Buffalo did not go as planned. Just a combination of bad luck, injuries, voodoo, poor coaching, and the Sabres are sitting at the trade deadline with a $8M cap hit player producing at a 0.5 point-per-game pace.
According to MoneyPuck, there is no player in the league this season that has a greater difference between expected goals and actual goals than Taylor Hall (6.7). This can be attributed to both “puck unluck” and just an overall poor finishing ability due to his “sweeping motion” shot. Just all-around unfortunate results.
While Hall may have underwhelming counting stats this season, his play driving has remained relatively the same. According to Corey Sznajder’s tracking data this season, no player has more high-danger passes per 60 minutes than Taylor Hall. He is slightly ahead of players like William Nylander, Connor McDavid, and Jonathan Huberdeau. Certainly not bad company to be in during a down season.
There is no doubt that the Sabres will have to retain a good chunk of salary (likely 50%) during this cap tight season. Also, they will likely not be seeing anything close to the return that New Jersey received for him last season (1st round pick, 3rd round pick and 3 B-level prospects). I certainly believe that there is still a very good player underneath the Taylor Hall we have seen this season. Some smart team will acquire him for cheap, use him for a playoff push, and extend him to a team-friendly deal this offseason.
Toronto gets: Taylor Hall (50% retained)
Buffalo gets: Alex Kerfoot, Filip Král, Veeti Miettinen, 2022 2nd round pick
According to Elliotte Friedman, the Toronto Maple Leafs are looking at the “best forward available” at the trade deadline and one has to think that a Taylor Hall with retained salary certainly tops that list. This trade is a win-win for both sides because Toronto gets another great player for their playoff push and the Sabres get to pick from the best prospect pool of any buying team at the trade deadline.
Alex Kerfoot likely has to come back to make this deal work salary-wise as he carries a $3.5 million cap hit for the next two seasons. However, I think he is much more than a cap dump for the Buffalo Sabres. He plays center, has mediocre offensive impacts but good defensive impacts, and can be the 3C that they mistakenly thought Cody Eakin could be. A center spine of Eichel, Reinhart, and Kerfoot is one that instantly makes this offseason easier for GM Kevyn Adams.
The two prospects involved in this deal probably have some readers scratching their heads, but these are two of my favorite undervalued prospects in the Leafs’ system.
Let me turn you on to Filip Král real quick. The 21 year-old Czech defenseman finished the season in the top Czech league with 21 points in 48 regular season games and 6 points in 9 postseason games. He logged big minutes for HC Kometa Brno, seeing an average of 21 minutes per night and was really just an absolute treat to watch this season.
Král is a very deceptive player when the puck is on his stick which allows him to be a very useful player in transition and in the offensive zone. You can see some of his skill on display during this incredible shorthanded goal he scored earlier this season:
The other prospect in this deal, Veeti Miettinen, tore up the Finnish U20 SM-Liiga in his draft year with 42 goals in 52 games. However, his lack of size at 5’9” caused him to fall to the 6th round of the 2020 NHL Draft where the Leafs managed to snag him with one of their picks. He made the move to North America this season and is currently the leading scorer on St. Cloud State, who will be participating in the Frozen Four this week.
Miettinen has it all: great shooting ability, great pace, great hands, the patience to wait for open shooting/passing lanes. Just check out this clip from one of his shifts this season:
At the end of the day, the deadline will be a huge success if the Sabres can walk away from a Taylor Hall trade with a 3C, a 2nd round pick, and two very intriguing prospects to add to the system.