Last week, TSN’s Darren Dreger reported on Buffalo Sabres general manager Jason Botterill’s efforts to find help for his struggling roster through the trade market.
After playing well in October, the Sabres had just two wins in the first 11 games of November. A lack of scoring depth has them tumbling in the Eastern Conference standings, raising fears of a repeat of last season’s death spiral.
Dreger said Botterill would like to make one or two trades within the next couple of weeks. He’s made offers for forwards to several clubs but the system was “gummed up a bit” by multiple teams carrying players on long-term injury reserve (LTIR).
Under the collective bargaining agreement, teams with limited salary-cap space can garner a measure of in-season cap relief by placing a sidelined player on LTIR. That allows a team to exceed the $81.5-million cap up to the injured player’s annual salary-cap hit in order to bring in a replacement via trade, waiver claim, or call-up from the minors. Once the injured player is healthy, the team must clear sufficient salary-cap space for his return.
In a subsequent interview with Buffalo radio station WGR 550, Dreger felt there were 10-12 teams in that position. That also includes the Sabres, as CapFriendly indicates they’re carrying Vladimir Sobotka and Matt Hunwick on LTIR. If they intend to swing a trade for a scorer, their limited cap space means it’ll have to be a dollar-in, dollar-out deal.
Dreger believes Botterill could be keen to add a top-six and a bottom-six forward but didn’t indicate which teams the Sabres GM spoke with. He could draw upon his blueline depth for trade bait to land a forward. Rasmus Ristolainen, Marco Scandella, and Colin Miller have occasionally surfaced in the trade-rumor mill.
CapFriendly indicates the Arizona Coyotes, Boston Bruins, Calgary Flames, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Philadelphia Flyers, St. Louis Blues, Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks and Washington Capitals also have players on LTIR. Like the Sabres, they could have difficulty making moves if necessary to bolster their rosters.
Most of the clubs on this list are also in the market for forward depth. The Leafs, Coyotes, Canucks and Red Wings, however, could be potential trade partners for the Sabres. They have plenty of forward-line depth but need some help on the blueline.
Leafs GM Kyle Dubas could be reluctant to make a trade until he’s evaluated his club’s performance under new head coach Sheldon Keefe. Botterill could target a young Leafs winger like Kasperi Kapanen or Andreas Johnsson.
The Coyotes could be in the market for a short-term replacement for rearguard Niklas Hjalmarsson, who’s sidelined until January with a cracked fibula. A young, affordable winger like Christian Fischer might fit the Sabres’ need for a bottom-six forward.
It’s believed the Canucks have attempted to move a forward for some time. Botterill won’t be interested in overpaid veterans like Loui Eriksson or Brandon Sutter. It’s unlikely he’ll look at struggling younger forwards like Sven Baertschi or Jake Virtanen. Perhaps he’d consider Josh Leivo or Tim Schaller for his bottom-six needs.
Shoring up a porous blueline could be a priority for the rebuilding Red Wings. Speedy winger Andreas Athanasiou’s inconsistent play led to his name popping up in recent trade chatter. If Botterill wants to be bolder, he could make a pitch for promising winger Filip Zadina, who’s bounced between the Wings and their AHL affiliate in Grand Rapids.
Regardless of whoever Botterill’s talking to, time is not on his side. He’ll need to make a season-saving deal soon or risk watching his club once again drop out of playoff contention.