Buffalo Sabres: Trade Deadline the Beginning of a Major Roster Overhaul

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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.

 

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

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