There are two recent cautionary tales for those who are so eager for their teams to launch head-first into a tear-down rebuild: the Edmonton Oilers and Buffalo Sabres.
Yes, the Oilers are finally on track now (though still just holding a wild card spot today!) but that came after a few false starts and whiffing on the playoffs in 12 of 13 years. The Sabres have missed the playoffs 11 years in a row and if they fall short again this season, they will hold the record for longest playoff drought in league history all on their own. They, too, have had a few false starts and different management teams — the latest gear change coming with the Jack Eichel trade last season.
But, dare we say, there is optimism around the Sabres these days. Tage Thompson is tearing up the league and Rasmus Dahlin is taking last year’s breakout to entirely new heights. Looking at the standings Friday morning, Buffalo is just two points back of the Pittsburgh Penguins for the East’s second wild card spot and are on a five-game winning streak.
With a little over a month until the trade deadline we have to wonder: could the Sabres actually be a buyer?
“I think you can do it in moderation,” Elliotte Friedman said this week. “You have to do it with your fan base and your, players but I don’t think you have to do anything too crazy.
“I think if you’re Buffalo you can make a good value pickup. Not maybe the biggest splash, but something you can do that isn’t too expensive that says to your players ‘OK we’re not going to do anything we think is dumb but we are going to get you a little help.'”
The Sabres don’t have to rush out and do something ahead of the deadline, of course, and there are two factors that could come into play here.
One is that, based on opponents’ win-loss records, the Sabres have one of the hardest schedules in the remaining months — only Detroit’s schedule is ranked tougher. Between the all-star break and the deadline, however, the Sabres have a nice mix of opponents. Yes they will face Toronto and Tampa Bay and Boston, but they will also get a California road trip that includes Anaheim and San Jose, and also get Columbus days before the deadline. So their play in the coming weeks will be a major determining factor.
The other is what shape the market is in. Sabres GM Kevyn Adams consistently speaks about having a plan and sticking to it, so it’s hard to imagine them paying a premium price for a luxury asset. But if the trade market turns to a point where it favours the buyers, it may also make the Sabres more likely to make an addition.
“One of the things I’m beginning to wonder now is if this is going to be a buyer’s market?” Friedman said. “If there are a lot of teams that want to dump payroll and a lot of the teams that are going to say ‘you know what? We don’t really need to add, we don’t really need to pay the big prices.’
“That’s what I’m really curious about with Columbus letting teams talk to Gavrikov and San Jose letting teams talk to Meier if they have a deal they like. That says to me some of these teams are a little concerned about what the market’s going to be.”
If Buffalo is in, or just out of, a wild card spot on March 3 and the market conditions are just right, don’t you have to consider adding someone who could help break their run of futility?
COULD TIMO MEIER BE A FIT WITH THE MAPLE LEAFS?
Generally, a lot of Maple Leafs fans believe the big acquisition the team needs to make at the deadline is for a top-four defenceman. But, as Justin Bourne nicely laid out today, there is also a great case to be made for why Toronto should prioritize a top-six winger instead.
When it comes to scoring wingers available on the trade market, there are none better than San Jose’s Timo Meier. It’s intriguing to think of the damage Meier could do alongside John Tavares or Auston Matthews, and it’s an idea that many Leafs fans are contemplating these days, but it wouldn’t be such a simple trade.
For one, the price would be through the roof. Meier is a thick power forward having a career season with 28 goals in 49 games so far, and so Toronto would likely be looking at dealing top prospect Matthew Knies plus, plus, plus. They don’t have a lot of prospect or draft pick capital as it is, nor much cap space to work with.
Meier does also come with some degree of team control — he’s not a pending UFA. He’s an RFA this summer, yes, but is due a $10 million qualifying offer unless some other extension could be reached. Whatever that extension is, Meier’s next AAV will be a big number, and so it’s hard to envision how Toronto would continue to fit him in to the lineup beyond this season.
That is, unless they acquire him for this run and then decide not to keep him.
“The thing with the Leafs is you can do it and then flip him,” Friedman told Nick Alberga and Jay Rosehill on Leafs Morning Take. “And Dubas is the kind of guy who would think like that. Now, the price is going to be enormous. That’s the one thing. Toronto doesn’t have a ton of cap room, they don’t have a ton of picks and they want to keep their picks. I don’t know if they have the juice to pull that deal off.”
While it’s a nice idea, Meier-to-Toronto would appear to be more of a long shot than a realistic path. It’s long been thought the team’s priority is to add a defenceman, especially with Jake Muzzin out, and with Morgan Rielly struggling this season.
Of course, Toronto’s team defence has been one of their more notable improvements this season, and Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren have stepped up into valued minutes on the blue line.
“I think (Meier) is an incredibly complicated deal to make for Toronto,” Friedman continued on Tim and Friends. “I actually think he’d be a great fit there, I’m just not convinced that’s what they want. When Jake Muzzin went down early in the year I think they said whatever we do, they don’t have a ton of cap room or a ton of assets, we have to do it for a Muzzin-esque player. I think the way their defence has played has given them a little bit of pause on that.
“I still think it’s more likely than not they go for defence first, but I’m less convinced about that than I was when Muzzin first got injured.”
The market for Meier will be a heated one for Toronto to compete in, and so you have to consider who the other top contenders would be. For that, look no further than the New Jersey Devils, who sit second in the Metro Division, but also have one of the tougher second half schedules to contend with. Meier could be the type of player to really put them over the top, they have assets to move, and with several expiring contracts upcoming, New Jersey could have options on how to keep Meier beyond this season as well.
How about a Swiss line with Nico Hischier and Meier together?
“I think New Jersey has some legit interest there, I think he’s right up their alley,” Friedman said on Friday’s 32 Thoughts Podcast episode. “At this time I don’t think that New Jersey has been able to talk to Meier’s camp, but I think the Devils feel that good players are going to want to stay there. Especially if you’re a winger, you’re going to get a chance to play with a Hughes or a Hischier. I think the Devils are willing to bet on themselves. I’ve heard they are very interested in Meier and I’m curious to see where that goes.
LATEST ON BLUES’ O’REILLY AND TARASENKO
A 5-0 defeat in Arizona on Thursday was St. Louis’ third loss in a row, after dropping games to Buffalo and Chicago at home. They are now six points out of a playoff spot with more games played than the teams they are chasing. More and more the Blues are sliding into the seller’s category.
Vladimir Tarasenko and Ryan O’Reilly have been the two big names we’ve been watching on that team. Both were injured in January and while Tarasenko has been back for two games now (with no points and a minus-3), O’Reilly is still out recovering from a broken foot. He’s still expected to be back some time after all-star and before the deadline.
Since both are set to become UFAs this summer, they are obvious trade candidates. But O’Reilly made some interesting comments this week to Jeremy Rutherford at The Athletic when he suggested he’d be open to some kind of discount to re-sign in St. Louis and that he hoped he wouldn’t get traded.
“I believe he wants to stay but I just don’t see it unless he’s willing to take a short-term deal,” Friedman said on Friday’s 32 Thoughts Podcast.
We explored some potential trade destinations and packages for O’Reilly this week.
Tarasenko is the other big get in St. Louis, and since he had asked for a trade a few years back, it’s far less likely he’d want to stick around now like O’Reilly. Tarasenko had a rebound season a year ago, scoring 34 goals, but has just 10 in 36 games this season. Fine production, but you’d expect more for a 30-goal scorer.
Still, there is interest in this player, and his potential to be a game-breaker come playoff time. And, once again, we look to the Devils as a potential suitor.
“I think the Devils have also talked about Tarasenko in the past,” Friedman said. “I’m under the impression that when St. Louis was trying to see if they could get Matthew Tkachuk in the summer one of the things they had to do was figure out how to trade Tarasenko. He wasn’t going to go to Calgary and Calgary wasn’t interested in him, but I think one of the things that was discussed was if St. Louis got Tkachuk would Tarasenko go to New Jersey?”