Not too many Sabres fans were happy that GM Tim Murray didn’t pull the trigger on a blockbuster deal last Wednesday at the NHL’s trade deadline. In fact, the only move Murray made came a day earlier when the team acquired defenseman Mat Bodie from the New York Rangers in exchange for prospect Daniel Catenacci who had spent the better part of the season in Rochester.
Bodie was signed by New York as a free agent after going undrafted. A free-wheeling defenseman that won the NCAA Championship with the Union Dutchmen. Bodie hasn’t appeared in an NHL game yet but scouts believe his offensive contributions throughout his collegiate and minor league career will soon earn him a spot.
Nonetheless Bodie was not the player Buffalo fans had in mind with the team just six points out of a playoff spot.
The Sabres have a bevy of unrestricted free agents on the roster and most NHL insiders labeled Buffalo as a team that would be “sellers” at the deadline. Defensemen Dmitry Kulikov, Cody Franson, goaltender Anders Nilsson and forward captain Brian Gionta topped the list. Murray made calls and received calls regarding his UFA’s but was unable to find a mutually beneficial deal.
In the case of Kulikov, a 26-year old UFA to be has failed to produce the results Sabres management, coaches and fans have expected. What most fail to realize is that Kulikov has been playing with a back injury since the World Cup in September. During the WC Kulikov played significant minutes for Team Russia and against the opposing teams top lines.
He finished with an even plus/minus rating.
The frustration coming from the organization and fan base is understandable but Kulikov is serviceable. He’s a player Buffalo is going to need if they want to be a contender. The Sabres are still in the hunt and only a trade for a valuable commodity that can help now would have been worth it.
Kulikov is one of those players that shines in big moments. That’s why Buffalo traded away a top prospect in Mark Pysyk to Florida.
Knowing Murray stuck to his guns and remained loyal to Kulikov during a difficult season should help the negotiations when the two sides meet in the off-season on a new contract.
Gionta wanted to see this rebuild through. He has been here for three full seasons and has earned the right to play where he wants. He’s the only player on the current roster that has a Stanley Cup ring. Most importantly, he’s having a heck of a season. Gionta is the king of hard-nosed, bend but don’t break hockey player this town loves and the players respect.
Nobody should be shocked that Murray was unable to move Franson. Here is a player that just two seasons ago was picked up near the deadline by the Nashville Predators. Franson registered just 6 points in twenty-eight games for the Preds (including post-season), battled injuries and was ultimately benched for part of the playoffs.
He became a free agent soon after and was not signed to a contract until agreeing with Buffalo a week before training camp started in 2015. Franson continued to have issues staying in the lineup with back, neck, foot, concussion, upper-body, lower-body ailments. What GM in his right mind is sending Buffalo anything valuable for a player that can’t stay healthy? Hell, he’s not even on the ice now to help Buffalo, who is taking that gamble?
Another player that has been rumored to be dealt was Evander Kane. After more than a couple off-ice incidents Kane drew the ire of his GM prompting speculation. A slow start only magnified the situation but for the past two months Kane has been not only Buffalo’s best but one of the NHL’s leading goal scorers. His stock seemingly an all-time high. The Sabres were inclined to keep the forward and were immediately rewarded as Kane scored his team high 23rd goal on Thursday.
Buffalo has not had a pure goal scorer since trading away Thomas Vanek. They found out how painful it was not to have a sniper in the lineup and it’s paid off the latter half of this season. You could never have enough 30 goal scorers and Kane is close to reaching the mark for the 2nd time in his career (WPG 2011-12).
Buffalo’s biggest struggle this season has been consistency, which in actuality they haven’t had since Lindy Ruff was behind the bench, unless of course you consider losing a quality stat, there you will find consistency.
The Sabres should not be in sell mode at this time. As Robin Lehner has stated after a recent loss, players need to do what the coach tells them. Lehner said that the locker room has the nucleus of a good team they just need to play like it for 60 minutes.
Buffalo has young talent spread throughout the CHL, NCAA and in the AHL. Nick Baptiste, Brendan Guhle and Justin Bailey have all showed flashes of brilliance in what limited time they have seen with the big club.
I’m not necessarily sold on Lehner being the guy that can be counted on long-term between the pipes. But perhaps in the form of Linus Ullmark or Cal Petersen we shall see the answer soon.
Patience isn’t the enemy. Running off quality hockey players is. Murray is sticking with Kulikov and Kane because he knows they can deliver. He has put his reputation on the line and he knows it.
With more than a month worth of games left and the Sabres close to 100% healthy it’s not unrealistic to think they can’t make a run. Even if Jack Eichel was playing bantams the last time it happened.