Buffalo Sabres general manager Jason Botterill was caught in a quandary – to buy, sell or both?
Going into the 2020 trade deadline the Sabres found themselves six points back of third place in the Atlantic Division and eight points away from the Eastern Conference’s last wildcard playoff spot – not an insurmountable gap, but one that didn’t seem realistic to overcome given the Sabres’ roster and salary cap woes.
So what did Botterill do? A little bit of both.
The Sabres ended up making a pair of transactions by acquiring right winger Wayne Simmonds from New Jersey and foarward Dominik Kahun from Pittsburgh. In doing so, the team gave a conditional fifth-round pick in 2021’s entry draft to the Devils and pending free agents Evan Rodrigues and Conor Sheary to the Penguins.
On one hand, going all in on reaching the playoffs in 2020 would have been foolhardy for this franchise. Not only would the Sabres have had an uphill battle to get to the postseason, but they also would have needed help in the form of other teams losing to have a chance. On top of that, with the way this roster is currently constructed, Buffalo would probably lose in the first round of the playoffs no matter who they would face.
Which is why the Sabres needed to sell whatever useful players they had in order to build for the future. With multiple contracts expiring on July 1st (like Sheary and Rodrigues, who reportedly asked for a trade a few months ago), it would have been logical to bring in newer and younger assets.
On the other, with a few teams in their own division stumbling a bit as of late – namely Toronto and Florida – there remains a small chance that the Sabres could leapfrog them by the end of the season. And even if they don’t, the opportunity to play in meaningful games down the stretch (which is something the Sabres haven’t done in ages) could do wonders for some of their younger players’ development.
So getting the best of both worlds made some sense for this roster. Although Simmonds is a declining power forward whose best days are behind him, he’s a veteran whose toughness and net-front presence was sorely lacking in the Sabres’ dressing room. The cost to get him wasn’t high and should he not produce down the stretch, Botterill can let him walk during the summer.
Kahun is similar to Sheary in that he is a useful bottom-six player who can play on both special teams units a bit, but he’s faster, younger and more versatile than Sheary (he’s capable of playing both wing spots and some center). Kahun also has a much lower cap hit than Sheary does ($925,000 compared to Sheary’s $3 million) and will be a restricted free agent this summer – which gives Botterill and company a greater chance to retain his rights for the future.
All in all, Botterill was in a bit of a no-win situation. Buy too much and he would have been called reckless or sell too much and he would have been giving up. In doing both, he gives Buffalo a chance to compete both now and in the future.