With the NHL trade deadline approaching, many Sabres fans have been curious as to what prospects or draft picks can be acquired from other teams. The obvious candidate is Chris Stewart. Stewart will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of this year, and has the most trade value of any Sabres 2015 free agents. Michal Neuvirth may be on his way out as well, as GM Tim Murray said he would evaluate his starts leading up to the trade deadline. Stewart could probably net a second round pick, or possibly more if Murray finds a team desperate enough for a winger. Neuvirth could probably net a third round pick, given his similar value to Jhonas Enroth. However, if Neuvirth continues to play as well as he has recently, stopping 98 of his last 103 shots against, he could draw more value. That leaves Torrey Mitchell, Andrej Meszaros and Andre Benoit as other “possible” trade options. Their value would be extremely limited, but losing those players opens up spots on the team for prospect call-ups and helps guarantee a top two pick in the draft.
Where do the Sabres go from here? Tim Murray and company need to decide who is necessary for the team next year. All the players listed above are gone next year, except for maybe a Michal Neuvirth extension. Brian Flynn is a restricted free agent after this year as well, so he might be on his way out. Mike Weber is most likely gone, as he only has one season left before free agency. Cody Hodgson is a very likely buyout candidate, with his poor play this season and how much money would be saved. With these changes in roster management, I envision these as the most ideal lines for the 2015-16 season (with asterisks on players with remaining question marks):
G: Michal Neuvirth*
Evander Kane will be a top winger. That’s what Tim Murray acquired him to be. If the Sabres stay on track, they will draft either Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel, both viewed as top line centers. Matt Moulson complements this line perfectly, as he has a knack for goal scoring while around great players, shown in his days playing with John Tavares. That top line includes a grinder in Kane, a playmaker in “McEichel”, and a goal scorer in Moulson. The second line will almost certainly include Girgensons and Ennis, who have worked together on the top line for most of this season. The other winger for the second line could be found through free agency, or perhaps Brian Gionta moves up from the third line. Justin Williams and Mats Zuccarello are two interesting left wing options through free agency this offseason. Grigorenko has played the majority of his time so far in his career in the center. However, with McEichel, Girgensons and Reinhart already in the center, there is no room for Grigorenko unless he plays on the fourth line, where he doesn’t belong. This allows him to shift to the wing and he can replace a center in case of an injury. Marcus Foligno and Johan Larsson are talented enough to move up if someone is injured. Not that Deslauriers can’t handle the third line, but he has the perfect tools to be an aggressive fourth line winger. The top defensive pairing in terms of talent should be Zadorov and Ristolainen, but with their lack of experience, they would most likely have to earn the top line by the end of the year, which they certainly can. Zach Bogosian would then be on the second line, with Mark Pysyk talented enough to join him as a top 4 defenseman. The third line could very well include a minor free agent signing, but for the time being, Ruhwedel and McCabe is the most logical. Neuvirth is probably the biggest question mark of the team, as he could test free agency this offseason or leave through trade. Not many options are available in free agency, except for Antti Niemi, who would not be a bad idea either. Overall, the team will be much improved from this season and could even fight for a playoff spot.