Does Botterill have to make a trade?

What are the options that face the Sabres general manager?

January 10, 2019 - 1:51 pm

Photo: Timothy T. Ludwig - USA TODAY Sports


By this time last season, I was well into trying to figure out how Buffalo Sabres general manager Jason Botterill might best see fit to try and fix his hockey team. Underproducing veterans with bloated contracts and youth still waiting to blossom made for not many options. I concluded pretty early on that the only move that made sense was to trade Ryan O'Reilly. This, of course, eventually happened, changing the team dramatically on the ice, altering the leadership structure within the locker room and freeing up salary cap space.

Of course, along the way to the 2018-19 season, the Sabres finally had the lottery balls blow their way and landed a franchise altering defenseman in Rasmus Dahlin. So here the Sabres sit in early January. They rode an improbable 10-game winning streak to land there and have predictably come back to the pack after flirting with the top spot in the entire league for a few days.

So what now, Jason Botterill? Is there a move to make? Does this Sabres team warrant a bold move to try and solidify it's chances of either making the playoffs or actually doing something should they end up making it?

Anyone following the team can plainly see a couple of things. Most nights it's challenging to find scoring beyond the top line and there is great reason for optimism that the ultimate answer to that is already on the roster in Buffalo. Casey Mittelstadt is the most obvious player to be referenced here, probably followed by Tage Thompson. At least as far as the young guys go. Maybe veterans like Conor Sheary or Kyle Okposo will start producing more and fill the secondary scoring void. I don't know if that will happen. If it does, great, but I don't think you should count on it.

Rochester isn't overflowing with options right now either. Eventually, maybe even later this winter, Alex Nylander or Victor Olofsson could warrant a look, but neither player is busy making a case that the Sabres better make room because they're breaking down the door.

So Botterill's options appear to be as follows...

  1. Do nothing. It's obviously not exciting, but is actually pretty reasonable. Don't get tricked into thinking you're better than you are because you won a bunch of overtime and shootout games in a row. You're solidly in the mix and it's possible that players like Mittelstadt and Thompson may produce more regularly in the second half of the season. Of course, it's also possible they hit some kind of rookie wall and fall off a cliff, so...
  2. Trade for a rental piece to help secondary scoring and try to make the playoffs because it's been so long and the fans deserve it. This is a terrible idea, and I neither think it likely, nor would I be in favor of it.
  3. Trade for a moderately priced immediate upgrade that is under contract beyond this season in an effort to give your team a boost. Charlie Coyle has been my favorite name for this. He's under contract through 2020 for a cap hit of $3.2 million. He's not great, but he is a 26-year-old versatile forward. I wouldn't think the asking price would be massive, so you shouldn't have to sacrifice too much of your future and you'd at least have the player here beyond this season.
  4. Make a massive trade. Matt Larkin of The Hockey News dropped a piece on Tuesday including the Sabres as one of five teams that made sense as a landing spot for Vladimir Tarasenko of the St. Louis Blues.

Yowza! That's a whopper of a trade. Multiple first round picks and top-end prospects are in that trade if it ever gets made. Tarasenko is under contract for four more seasons with a cap hit of $7.5 million. He just turned 27 and is a consistent 30-40-goal scorer.

My first thought is you probably have a hard time making this trade without including Casey Mittelstadt, and I don't really want to go any farther. I'm not trading Mittelstadt. If there's a way to make a trade for a player like Tarasenko by packaging up other prospects and picks, I'm all ears. I'm not sure I would do it then, but I would at least consider it

Mittelstadt is 20-years-old. He's super talented, and I believe he is going to eventually be the perfect compliment to Jack Eichel. His second contract, which will come along after next season, shouldn't break the bank. He's not going anywhere in my book, and I'd bet heavily on Botterill feeling likewise.

So I guess option No. 3, the moderately priced trade, is my pick. It's not super, hot but you know what? Botterill has been digging out of the super hot moves Tim Murray made since he got here. I'm alright with some patience. I think the talent is here already and just needs some time to develop.

Here's to patience.

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