Monday's NHL trade deadline has been overshadowed in the past few days, with many of the talked-about targets moving a few days before the frenzy. 

But no matter how busy the day is for the Buffalo Sabres and general manager Tim Murray, one thing is for certain: The Sabres will look a lot different in October.

As it stands right now, the Sabres have nine unrestricted free agents after the end of the season: Chris Stewart, Torrey Mitchell, Patrick Kaleta, Matt Ellis, Andrej Meszaros, Andre Benoit, Tyson Strachan, Michal Neuvirth and Anders Lindback. Matt Hackett could be a 10th if he does not play 30 minutes in at least six more games.  

Now, many believe at least Stewart and Mitchell will move at or before the deadline, but Murray has said he wants to get something for anyone he isn't planning on re-signing. So there could be a few surprises Monday, as well.

But even assuming the status quo through the deadline, meaning no one gets moved, it's not unreasonable to think that the Sabres could drop the puck on the 2015-16 season with none of those guys on the roster. 

It's naive to think the Sabres will stand pat through Monday, though.

Stewart has been keeping a Boston Bruins jersey in his locker since the start of the season

Mitchell is seen as a good depth guy and has value to a team looking to solidify itself for a playoff run.

Neuvirth has done his best to emulate his fellow countryman Dominik Hasek by amassing an incredible .952 save percentage in the six games since Jhonas Enroth was moved on February 11. 

So where would this leave the Sabres for the rest of the season?

The lines for Thursday night's game against Vancouver are telling. With Zemgus Girgensons on the injured reserve and Tyler Ennis out, the Sabres iced a top six forward group that includes Mitchell, Marcus Foligno and Brian Flynn. 

In case there was any debate, that's not good. 

Now ,Ennis finding his way back into the lineup will certainly help make things more respectable, but the assumed loss of Stewart will seemingly make a bigger impact than anyone believed even a month ago. No one seems sure as to exactly how long Girgensons will be out, but his loss will create a huge hole down the middle for the Sabres. 

But Girgensons is one of the Sabres that will likely remain with the team. 

As it stands now, Neuvirth is the only player on the UFA list that seems to have a chance to be re-signed. Murray has said if he makes it past Monday's deadline on Buffalo, contract talks would commence with Neuvirth. But until then, he'll remain on his expiring deal. 

Sure, some of the fourth line guys could be re-upped on a short-term deal, but the days of a fourth line made of guys like Kaleta and Ellis are over. You need solid production from them to have a shot, especially deeper in the playoffs, and those guys have not been productive. 

Over the last three seasons, Ellis and Kaleta have combined for 10 points. Sure, guys like Johan Larsson and Flynn aren't offensive dynamos, but they have upside, something Kaleta and Ellis no longer can claim. 

The cases against Meszaros, Benoit and Strachan are easier to make, mainly because they have not played well and were on one-year deals anyway. 

Lindback is another one who should be allowed to walk, especially seeing as he has not even seen the net since he was acquired in the Enroth trade. 

So there you have it, nine (and possibly 10) UFAs, with maybe one you absolutely would want to re-sign. If Hackett were to make it to the market as a UFA, that number would increase to two. 

That means in one offseason/trade deadline you could get rid of 30 percent of your current forward group and 50 percent of your current blue line, making up a total of 45 percent of the starting roster. That is incredibly significant, especially given the on-ice performance thus far.

Despite some quality wins as of late, it's not a significant jump to think the Sabres could fall back into the doldrums of January if any of Stewart, Mitchell or Neuvirth leave. All three are obviously not equal, but all three have created a semblance of balance on the roster as of late. Take that away and the bottom could, and probably will, fall out.

This is important because a team sputtering to the finish all but guarantees the UFAs who are not traded will be allowed to walk. That, in turn, means that Murray will be looking to Rochester, the free-agent market and other teams' rosters to fill the holes created.  

So no matter where the Sabres find themselves after Monday's deadline, come October things will be a lot different.

 

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Wait, pieces the Buffalo Sabres should want to acquire at the deadline?

Yes, despite the Sabres' current position in 30th in the NHL, there is a real possibility they not only will be adding players at the deadline but players who will play a key role for them next season and beyond.

The traditional school of thought says the NHL draft is a far more suitable place to make seismic roster moves than the trade deadline, and with good reason. No one wants to completely implode the team and/or team chemistry to make the big move midseason.

That notion went to die last week when Sabres general manager swung one of the biggest trades in recent memory with Kevin Cheveldayoff, the general manager of the Winnipeg Jets

Now, the trade that most notably brought the beleaguered Evander Kane to the Sabres could be just the result of the special circumstances revolving around Kane, but it's hard to believe Tim Murray is done.

So who should be in his crosshairs on or before March 2?

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Josh Gorges, who has been out of commission for most of February with a lower-body injury, is being shut down for the remainder of the regular season.   

The team's coach Ted Nolan confirmed the news, via the Buffalo Sabres on Twitter:

Gorges was averaging 22 minutes and 22 seconds of ice time in 46 games for the Sabres this season, with six assists on the year. His loss is another blow for a Sabres team that has just 17 wins (tied for worst in the league) and 36 points (worst in the NHL) this season.

 


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The Buffalo Sabres have had many struggles this season, that much is known. 

But as much as they have struggled in most aspects, the Sabres have been buoyed at times by some pretty solid goaltending. 

While the numbers have not been spectacular, it's hard to say anything too negative about the platoon of Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth this season. Enroth won 13 games in 37 appearances, including a 9-2-0 stretch from Nov. 18 to Dec. 15. Neuvirth has amassed a contextually impressive .911 save percentage and has looked great at times as well.

But the band was broken up when Sabres general manager Tim Murray traded Enroth to the Dallas Stars last week, effectively making Neuvirth the de facto starter for the rest of the season.

The Enroth deal did bring Anders Lindback over from the Stars, but it seems that move was made more to make room for Enroth on the Dallas roster than as an actual acquisition for the Sabres.

So where does this leave the Sabres in net moving forward?

The easy answer is Neuvirth, who looked especially impressive in a 2-1 shootout loss to the New Jersey Devils Tuesday night in which he stopped all 29 shots at even strength in the effort.

But it's not that simple.

First, Neuvirth is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, and there has been no public acknowledgement of any contract talks by Murray or Neuvirth's camp. That's not to say nothing has happened, but there hasn't been anything from either side that makes one think Neuvirth will definitely be back next season. 

And what may be the most salient point in discussing Neuvirth is his inconsistency. In his first full season with the Washington Capitals in 2010-11, Neuvirth posted a solid 2.45 goals against average and an equally strong .914 save percentage. The next season his GAA ballooned to 2.82 and his save percentage plunged to .903. 

After that regression, Neuvirth never reclaimed the starting job, ceding it to Braden Holtby and opening the door for the trade to the Sabres last trade deadline.

Now, Neuvirth's GAA is an awful 3.16 this season, but to put most of the blame on him for that, and not on the 34.7 shots allowed per game by the Sabres is misguided.

Yes, he has only won three games this season, but some nights it seems like the Sabres were lucky to have won more than three games all year. This is a bad team, and bad teams typically don't make their goalies look good.

But even in a solid season, Neuvirth has had his inconsistencies, including allowing six goals on 29 shots against the Blues and four goals on nine shots against the Rangers.

But if Neuvirth is not "the guy," who is?

Lindback seems to be a quick fix more than anything. He has struggled mightily at the NHL level the past few years, and barring a miraculous turnaround, it seems logical that he will hit the market July 1 as a free agent.

The Sabres have three notable goalie prospects in Rochester of the AHL, but none have really separated themselves from the others for various reasons.

The biggest name is likely Matt Hackett, who recently returned from a gruesome injury suffered against the Boston Bruins at the end of last season. Hackett has played one game for the Sabres this season in Vancouver and was frankly hung out to dry on that occasion, seeing 37 shots and giving up four goals.

Hackett struggled when he first returned, but seems to have settled in Rochester. He has a long way to go, but he's shown the flashes to make one think he could be an option moving forward, at least in a platoon.

Another name that may be recognizable down in Rochester is Andrey Makarov, another young netminder that dressed (but never played) for the Sabres last season. After a fast start to his AHL career, Makarov has struggled this season, posting a GAA of 3.01 with a save percentage of .901. 

The last player in the pipeline in Rochester is Nathan Lieuwen. Lieuwen struggled early this season before being sidelined with a concussion that has kept him out of action the past few months. Lieuwen's season, and potentially his career, could be over. 

So even working under the assumption Neuvirth is going to be back, which may be a stretch, there still could be an opening at the second goaltender position next year. The most likely possibility is Hackett at this point, but unless he gets seven more games at the NHL level, he too will become an unrestricted free agent. 

That opens up the possibility of testing the free-agent market to find their guy, bringing names like Antti Niemi and Devan Dubnyk into play, but there probably isn't going to be a full-fledged starting goalie available on the open market. 

That notion brings one to the trade market, an area Murray has not shied away from lately. But instead of targeting an established veteran, Murray may look to acquire a young player with starting potential who is blocked by a current standout. 

Boston's Malcolm Subban has been the most popular name in that group, but other names to keep an eye on include Magnus Hellberg in Nashville, Oscar Dansk in Columbus and Zachary Fucale in Montreal.

Yet another route Murray and the Sabres could go is to sign a college free agent. Almost every year there are a few NCAA players that went undrafted that have proven themselves to be NHL-caliber players. The Sabres recently signed Chad Ruhwedel as a college free agent. 

This year, the biggest prize may be Boston University goalie Matt O'Connor. O'Connor has a sterling 2.07 GAA and an equally impressive .931 save percentage, all while racking up 16 wins this season for the Hockey East-leading Terriers. Another certain BU player may have gotten a bit more attention from Sabres fans this season, but O'Connor should be a close second. 

Most NCAA free agents typically want one thing when they sign, and that's guaranteed playing time. O'Connor would get that in Buffalo, provided his level of play translates well.

If anything it's a low-risk flier on a 6'5" netminder, who has played fantastically this season. It's not too much of a stretch to think that without Jack Eichel standing in front of him, O'Connor would be a Hobey Baker finalist. 

With all of these options, but no clear solution, one thing is for certain: Murray has a lot of decisions to make with regard to the goaltender position.

Whether it's an internal solution or an external one, it's one of the biggest questions Murray needs to answer to ensure that this rebuild maintains it's upward swing. The easiest option is to just let Neuvirth show what he can do, but the prospect of signing O'Connor could also be intriguing. 

The positive is there are solutions available to Murray, it's just a matter of which one he decides to go with for next season.

 

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On Wednesday, general manager Tim Murray and the Buffalo Sabres sent waves through the hockey world by completing a blockbuster trade with the Winnipeg Jets.

Headed to the Great White North from Buffalo are Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford, Joel Armia, Brendan Lemieux, and the latest of the three first-round picks the Sabres hold in June's draft. Heading to Buffalo are Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian and Jason Kasdorf (via ESPN). 

Not missing a beat, Murray then sent de facto starting netminder Jhonas Enroth to the Dallas Stars in exchange for Anders Lindback and a conditional third-round pick (via NHL.com). 

These two trades did two things simultaneously. First, they likely ensured the Sabres will be sitting in 30th place come April 11. Second, they immediately made them a team to keep an eye on next season.

But back to that later.

The initial reactions to the moves have been both emotional and predictable. The caller lines on WGR 550, a sports radio station in Buffalo, were full of elation, anger, sadness and perspective. Their thoughts ranged from "tough to see Myers, Stafford and Enroth go," to, "I can't believe we got Evander Kane." 

But one theme has run strong since the first trade was made yesterday afternoon: This is all according to the plan.

Now, it's presently impossible to say whether or not Murray has diabolically sabotaged a professional sports franchise in order to ensure he gets someone named Connor or Jack in June's draft. In fact, it seems that he tried to ensure that didn't happen based on the various moves he made this offseason. 

But none of that truly matters anymore because barring a miracle from on high, the Sabres are going to finish in 30th place again this season. In fact, SportsClubStats.com has their chances of staying in 30th from here on out at a confident 93-percent. 

Gone is Stafford, the last face of the post-Drury/Briere core, who ranked third on the team's scoring list.

Gone is Myers, potentially the most frustrating Sabres player of the last four years and the team's leader in ice time. 

Gone is Enroth, the Sabres' leader in wins and goals against average and a bewilderingly inconsistent goalie who could save 40 shots one night and four the next. 

Following the eventual departure of Chris Stewart, the Sabres, much like last year, will be a shell of their former selves, and that, ladies and gentleman, is a scary thought.

After the Ryan Miller-Steve Ott trade to St. Louis last season, the Sabres went 4-17-2 in the next 23 games, a stretch that allowed them to clinch 30th in the NHL by a whopping 14 points.

The sad part is that last year's team was markedly better in pretty much every aspect, especially at even strength.

The Sabres currently sport a minus-49 goal differential at even strength and had a minus-69 differential all of last year. Their Corsi-for at even strength is also almost 6 percent below where they were last year, and there are still 27 games left to play. 

Even worse, the Sabres' shooting percentage is actually higher than it was last year. The Sabres are as bad, if not worse, than they were a year ago, and in essence they're luckier on the offensive end. 

To put it simply, if Vegas had the over/under for the number of games the Sabres would win the rest of the season at three, it wouldn't be surprising to see a lot of people take the under.

So with 30th place and one of Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel locked up, at least on paper, where do the Sabres go from here?

While it's a bit premature to think about potential line combinations, given the all but certain turnover on the roster, one given is Kane's spot as the first-line left wing come October. There are a number of possibilities as to who will play with him, but the likelihood that there will be a young, talented center is very high.

Bogosian adds a defense-first minute-cruncher that will benefit from a transition game. He'll essentially slot in wherever Myers would have been, likely as a second-pairing guy once Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov get a little more seasoning. Bogosian has five years remaining on the seven-year, $36 million deal he signed prior to the 2013-14 season.

Enroth's departure leaves a hole at goaltender, but that may have been the case come July 1 anyway as he would have been an unrestricted free agent. The focus now turns to Michal Neuvirth, who needs to show he can be the guy moving forward. Matt Hackett may get some more time, but the addition of Lindback may dampen that thought a bit. 

So despite the apparent commitment to 30th, Murray has, at least on paper, created a team that Sabres fans can get excited about next season.

Is there a guarantee they make the playoffs? Of course not. That depends on the play of Kane, Bogosian and whichever young stud the Sabres pick high in the draft.

What Sabres fans do know is they have a GM that isn't afraid to make the big move behind the wheel, and there's nothing that can shake up a franchise in a losing rut quite like an identity-changing trade.

If nothing else, Murray is going to keep on swinging until someone takes the bat out of his hands.

All advanced stats courtesy of war-on-ice.com.

Follow me on Twitter for NHL and Sabres news all season long: @SwordPlay18

 

 

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Evander Kane's rocky relationship with the Winnipeg Jets has come to a close, as the Buffalo Sabres acquired the talented forward Wednesday.

The Jets confirmed the deal via their Twitter account:

Craig Custance of ESPN The Magazine first reported the deal.

Kane has had a bizarre 2014-15 season, to be sure. In early February, he was a healthy scratch after a bizarre set of circumstances outlined by Katie Strang of ESPN.com:

It was revealed Thursday that Kane had violated team dress code by wearing a tracksuit, rather than a dress suit, to the rink for the team's morning skate. According to reports, Kane's teammate Dustin Byfuglien then threw his clothes in a shower, presumably to teach him a lesson about the breach in protocol.

Kane was reportedly upset about Byfuglien's actions and was unreachable to the team in the hours leading up to the game. After he missed both the team bus and a pregame meeting, the Jets told him to not bother showing him up to the game, [head coach coach Paul Maurice] confirmed to reporters Friday.

Not long after, it was announced Kane was undergoing shoulder surgery and would likely be out for the remainder of the season.

Kane was having a solid if unspectacular season for Winnipeg, scoring 10 goals and adding 12 assists in 37 games. Still, he became a hot name on the trade market once it became clear he and the Jets weren't a great fit.

He has been described as "fiercely independent" by Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet, who talked to multiple executives, coaches and former teammates. They all painted the picture of a talented player who has a hard time fitting into the team dynamic and didn't get along with many of his teammates in Winnipeg.

Kane has spent his entire six-year career with the organization after being selected No. 4 overall in the 2009 draft. There was no doubt multiple teams would have interest in a 23-year-old who has yet to live up to his full potential but has tantalized with obvious upside and skill.

Buffalo is getting a bit of an enigma, but he still has the ability to be one of the best power forwards in the NHL. Perhaps a change of scenery is just what Kane needs to take that next step.

 

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It's no secret the Buffalo Sabres have underachieved this year, and Cody Hodgson is no exception. 

Hodgson has been in the spotlight since his arrival a few trade deadlines ago in a largely unexpected trade for Zack Kassian, likely the Sabres' top prospect at the time. 

Hodgson's tenure as a Sabre started slowly, and has reverted back to a similar pace. 

Through 49 games this season, Hodgson has just two goals and eight points, well behind his career best 44 points in 72 games set last season. He has looked a step behind for most of the season, and despite playing his best hockey of the season in his last few games, he was a healthy scratch in the Sabres' recent game against the Vancouver Canucks, his former team.

All of this—coupled with the fact that Hodgson signed a six-year, $25.5 million deal two years ago—has led some, including the venerable Elliotte Friedman, to speculate that Sabres general manager Tim Murray could be looking at Hodgson as a buyout candidate this offseason. 

Now, the use of the term "buyout" this offseason is a bit different than the last two offseasons, mainly due to the fact that there is no longer any such thing as a compliance buyout. Any buyout from here on out will be an ordinary-course buyout, meaning the player bought out will still count against the salary cap for a set period of time. 

Buyout math is not so simple, given the number of adjustments that can apply to a particular set of circumstances, and with CapGeek no longer around to spoil us, a definite number is hard to come by for non-experts. However the initial salary cap hit is relatively easy to determine, computed by taking two-thirds of the remaining value of the contract and dividing it by double the remaining years.

However, because Hodgson is under the age of 26─yes, he is still only 24 years old─the Sabres will only be on the hook for one-third of the value of the contract over double the remaining years. (See Article 50.5(d)(iii) of the collective bargaining agreement.)

Hodgson has $19 million left on his contract, which has four years remaining on it after this season. That means in the event the Sabres buy Hodgson out, they will owe him approximately $790,875 per year for eight years, an amount that will also count against the Sabres' cap.

At first glance, that number isn't too bad, especially in light of a rising salary cap. But holding that amount for eight years is another story.

Sure, the Sabres do have a ton of salary cap room for the next few seasons, but the hope is eventually they will not. Be it due to entry-level guys graduating up, trades or free-agent signings, the surplus of cap space is sure to evaporate over time. 

Is it worth it to have any dead cap space if its known that you'll need as much of it as possible sooner rather than later?

That begs a discussion of what Hodgson will contribute for those remaining four years.

Historically, Hodgson has never been an excellent possession player, with his best Corsi-for percentage at even strength being a respectable 49.6 percent in 2011-12 the same season he was traded to the Sabres from the Canucks. 

Since then, his Corsi-for percentage has steadily declined, dipping under 38 percent this season. Despite being one of the worst in the league right now, he is still better than about half of his Sabres counterparts in that regard, especially those who have played a decent sample size of games. 

This all ties in with the "Cody Hodgson is bad at defense" narrative that has seemingly dominated his tenure in Buffalo.

There's no denying Hodgson is not great defensively, and that certainly has its downfalls. A lack of defensive responsibility essentially takes him out of the conversation as a top-three forward because, at its simplest, you need your top line to keep up with other top lines at both ends of the ice. 

But as a top-six guy he can still be extremely effective on the offensive end, as he showed last season. The key is in realizing that he is never going to be great defensively, and to put him in a position to succeed offensively, something Ted Nolan has refused to do up to this point. 

And this is not the time to pile on Nolan, who has gotten his fair share of criticism over the past month. However, it does need to be pointed out that Hodgson has been measurably worse, both offensively and defensively, since Nolan's arrival last year. 

One could argue how or why that is for days, but it's no secret that Hodgson and Nolan don't mix well and any assessment of Hodgson needs to include that point as a significant qualifier in its analysis. 

There are other factors to consider as well, like Hodgson's 3.2-percent shooting, which is more than three percentage points behind Chris Stewart (7 percent), the next forward on the list.

Shooting percentage is a fickle thing, and more often than not, it boils down to puck luck. A shooting percentage that low essentially translates to "this guy is extremely unlucky." And while boiling all of Hodgson's issues this season down to luck is an extremely naive thing to do, it's playing a big part in his season.

Hodgson's lowest shooting percentage before this season was 11 percent, almost 8 percent higher than what he's posting this season. If he were shooting at 11 percent this season, Hodgson would have seven goals on 62 shots, good for sixth on the Sabres. Certainly not a blistering number, but respectable, given the Sabres' general inability to score goals this year. 

Obviously the debate on Hodgson will rage on as the season slowly comes to a close, but the real question is this: Do you buy a guy out based on a season that has a real chance at being an aberration? Yes, he carries a steep $4.25 million cap hit, but that is not even a minimal concern for Murray for the next two years at least. 

It seems that Hodgson's woes have solid roots in Nolan, and the likelihood of Nolan returning next season decreases with each passing day. 

It goes without saying that Hodgson has not been great this year, but since he's only 24 years old, he still has time to right the ship and become a good piece for the Sabres moving forward. Do you give up on him after one down year?

Murray has a tough choice this summer. 

 

All advanced statistics courtesy of war-on-ice.com

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