BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Do not scratch your eyes: the Buffalo Sabres are in the middle of a legitimate playoff push for the first time in over a decade — which puts them in play to be buyers before the March 3 NHL trade deadline.
Based on every indication from Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams, the team is not necessarily interested in making a big splash acquisition that will require them to give up key future assets. Buffalo boasts one of the youngest rosters in the NHL and that inexperience is apparent on defense. The Sabres have struggled to defend leads throughout this season and while they remain one of the highest-scoring offenses in the league at 3.78 goals per game, they also allow 3.48 goals against per game. Similarly, they’re producing 2.80 expected goals (xGF) and allowing 2.73 expected goals against (xGA) according to HockeyViz. Their penalty kill has continued to be a thorn in their side as well, ranking tied for 30th at 72.78%.
This team plays fun and entertaining, but chaotic, hockey, and it could use a veteran presence on defense. With forward Alex Tuch on injured reserve and out multiple weeks with a lower-body injury, it opens the door for a potential addition to the top nine as well, and Adams addressed this prior to Sunday’s 7-4 win over Washington.
“The way I would say it, is we know these are critical games and just puts us in a position where we’re more open to things than maybe before, 48 hours ago,” Adams said. “It doesn’t change our plan or vision, but it just puts those conversations even more … on the front burner.”
Buffalo has ample cap room to bring on a player that will be a free agent at the end of this season or, if the fit is right, somebody that could be on the roster for multiple years. According to CapFriendly, the team boasts the most cap space in the NHL currently with just under $18 million available.
They made their first trade of the deadline season on Monday, acquiring defenseman Riley Stillman from Vancouver in exchange for forward prospect Josh Bloom. However, it remains unclear whether that is all the business Buffalo will be doing.
With a number of potential trade targets already off the board in what has been a hectic few days, here are four players the Sabres could still look to add to strengthen their push for a playoff spot. Most would be seemingly affordable, but a big prize addition is not out of the realm of possibility — if the price is right.
Nick Jensen, D, Washington Capitals (Re-signed with Washington)
There might not be a better relatively low-cost option that fills the Sabres’ defenseman need quite like Jensen.
The 32-year-old is your typical defensive-minded defenseman and is a strong presence on the penalty kill, but his offensive output should not be ignored either with two goals and 24 points on the year. In fact, he should be fresh in Sabres fans’ memories after his two-assist game against Buffalo on Sunday. He brings playoff experience as well, having made the postseason with the Capitals the past four seasons.
Jensen is on an expiring contract with a $2.5 million cap hit according to CapFriendly and with three second-round picks in the 2023 NHL Draft, it’s fair to wonder if one of those selections could tempt Washington to move the veteran.
2. Carson Soucy, D, Seattle Kraken
While the Kraken currently seem poised to make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history, reports say the 6-foot-5 Soucy could be available for the right return.
Soucy is a mobile, defensive-minded defenseman that could slot somewhere in Buffalo’s bottom two pairings. The 28-year-old has two goals and 10 points this season while not playing an eye-catching number of minutes and could help boost the penalty kill. He wouldn’t be the sexiest addition, but he’s the type of player that would fit what the Sabres are searching for.
He will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season.
3. James van Riemsdyk, LW, Philadelphia Flyers
If the Sabres do wish to address the forward position at the deadline, van Riemsdyk presents as a serviceable option to round out the middle six.
The 33-year-old has nine goals and 23 points in 40 games this season and has been serviceable on a Flyers team hanging around the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. According to Evolving-Hockey, at 5-on-5 play, van Riemsdyk has the fifth-highest expected goals per 60 minutes on Philadelphia at 2.63. Additionally, his expected goals against per 60 is 2.42, making him one of just four Flyers to have a positive differential between the two metrics.
He’s also been one of Philadelphia’s better defensive players, with his even-strength defense goals above replacement ranking second among Flyers forwards, according to Evolving-Hockey.
Buffalo would likely have an upper hand on other teams targeting the forward, as well. Van Riemsdyk is a free agent at the end of this season, but carries a $7 million cap hit — a number many other contending teams would likely be unable to take on, but one the Sabres would have no issue fitting. This could potentially lower Philadelphia’s price, with the Flyers not having to retain any of his salary or find a third team to make a deal work.
According to The Fourth Period, Buffalo has shown interest in van Riemsdyk.
Jakob Chychrun, D, Arizona Coyotes (Acquired by Ottawa)
If Adams were to go against his recent notions and make a big splash at the deadline, Chychrun checks most of the boxes.
The 24-year-old defenseman would bring size and physicality that’s been lacking among the Sabres’ current defense group. He’s the best two-way defenseman on the trade market, putting up seven goals and 28 points in 36 games. He hasn’t played for the Coyotes since Feb. 10 as he’s been held out for trade-related reasons.
The other facet of acquiring Chychrun is that a team would be getting a cost-controlled, young, talented defenseman with a cap hit of just $4.6 million for the next two seasons.
It’s the type of move that fits the Sabres’ current need and potentially, their future needs as well, but it would come at a significant cost. Reports say Arizona is seeking the equivalent of three first-round picks for Chychrun, and that payment would certainly go against what Adams has preached. Compensation would likely start with a future first-round selection along with two of Matthew Savoie, Isak Rosen, Noah Ostlund, Jiri Kulich or Ryan Johnson and possibly some lower-end pieces.
Basically, unless the price drops, the Sabres are unlikely to sell the farm for Chychrun — however, according to The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun, if the Coyotes do drop their asking price prior to Friday’s deadline, the Sabres “will be trying to get in on [Chychrun] for sure.”
With the Sabres possessing the most cap space in the NHL, it provides them with the opportunity to be a broker in a hypothetical three-team trade and weaponize that maneuverability. This means they would take on part of a player’s cap hit so they could play for another squad and receive compensation for it, likely a fifth-round draft pick or something similar. If the opportunity arises and it doesn’t help a rival get better, taking on money to acquire an asset would be a no-brainer.
In terms of other names out there,
Canucks defenseman Luke Schenn (acquired by Toronto) could be an option to bolster the back end, as could Predators d-man Mattias Ekholm (acquired by Edmonton). In terms of forwards, Detroit’s Tyler Bertuzzi (acquired by Boston) and Columbus’ Gustav Nyquist (acquired by Minnesota) are rental options and free agents at the end of the seasons. Forwards that have years on their contract beyond this season that are reportedly on the market include San Jose’s Kevin Labanc and Minnesota’s Jordan Greenway.
While it remains questionable at best as to whether Buffalo seeks goalie help before 3 p.m. Friday, Andy Strickland reported the Sabres showed some semblance of interest in Senators netminder Cam Talbot.
The bottom line is Buffalo has ample cap room to play around with and will be playing meaningful games come March. They’ve been yo-yo-ing in and out of a wild card position for the past week or so and find themselves in a good position to end the NHL’s longest playoff drought in history at 11 seasons. Time will tell how ambitious Adams decides to be.
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Adam Gorski is a Buffalo native who joined the News 4 team in 2022. You can find more of his work here.