After the Buffalo Sabres signed goaltender Carter Hutton from the St. Louis Blues early on Sunday, the odds of the Sabres making any more transactions during the day didn’t appear to be high as the day dragged on.
Behind the scenes, however, a swap of players was brewing.
Sabres general manager Jason Botterill executed a trade with the Blues on Sunday night, sending Ryan O’Reilly to the Western Conference team in exchange for center Patrik Berglund, winger Vladimir Sobotka, center Tage Thompson, a first round draft pick in 2019 and a second round pick in 2021.
“We’ll certainly miss Ryan productivity because he is a top-end player for us,” Botterill said. “But that’s why it was key to get NHL players back.
“We felt as a management group at the end of the season we had to change the dynamic. The bottom line was there’s a lot of great people in that locker room, but when you finish 31st, you have to look to make changes. And that’s why we felt there was a good balance in making this move.”
O’Reilly, while averaging between 55 and 60 points a year during his three season with the Sabres, was also a consistent candidate for the Lady Byng Trophy. One of the game’s best two-way players, O’Reilly fell out of favor with some for his comments to the local media following the team’s locker cleanout day, saying that he lost his love for the game this past season.
Also not working in his favor was the contract that Tim Murray bestowed upon him after he was acquired three years ago in exchange for Mikhail Grigorenko, Nikita Zadorov and J.T. Compher. Some felt as if his $7.5 million AAV wasn’t worthy of his production.
Botterill, however, stated that the team didn’t feel as if they were pressured into making a deal, and that if O’Reilly stayed, he would have continued to be an essential piece of the Sabres’ core.
“I don’t think he needed a change of scenery at all,” Botterill said. “As I’ve stated before, I think he was being very honest about the situation. I think it was probably a situation where other players felt the same way.
“I had some great conversations with Ryan at the end of the season. I knew if Ryan was coming back, he was certainly going to be a big part of changing things here in Buffalo. We just felt comfortable at this time with what St. Louis was offering.”
Berglund, a former first round selection by the Blues in 2006, comes to the Sabres with a career total of 322 points in 694 games. He won a silver medal while playing for Sweden at the 2014 Winter Olympics and will slide in O’Reilly’s role as one of Buffalo’s top three centers.
Berglund is under contract for four years with an AAV of $3.85 million.
Sobotka, a nine-year veteran with both the Blues and Boston Bruins, has accumulated 155 points in 463 games. He will provide depth on the wing for Buffalo and can also kill penalties, while on a contract that has a cap hit of $3.5 million over the next two years.
“They’ve played in a lot of different roles – powerplay, penalty kill, wing, center – and I think that versatility was something we were really intrigued by,” Botterill said. “A lot of our players already have that versatility, and I think just having those different types of options for Phil Housley to use in different situations will be an asset moving forward.”
Thompson was the Blues’ first round pick two years ago, and possesses a gold medal that he earned while playing for the U.S. National Team at the IIHF World Junior Championships in 2017. In 41 games as a rookie last season, Thompson had nine points with the Blues and 18 points in 30 games with the AHL’s San Antonio Rampage.
Thompson has two years remaining on his entry-level deal while making $925,000 per year.
“We’re looking for more scoring from our wings,” Botterill said. “What we see with Tage is a kid with a great shot, great size, has a really good reach on the ice, played NHL games as a 20-year old, had an opportunity to win a World Junior gold medal. We think he’s a player that’s going to be able to step into our lineup and grow with our young centermen.”