The NHL trade deadline is quickly approaching and general managers across the league are scrambling to make some key moves. Either they are looking to quickly improve their roster for an extended playoff push or perhaps move a current player to bring in draft picks and prospects that will help them in the future.
The Buffalo Sabres know all too well the effect of making poor decisions during a season's trade period. We have seen star-caliber players, such as Mike Grier, J.P. Dumont, Jay McKee, Daniel Briere, and Chris Drury depart without the Sabres having anything to show for it.
Last season, after another year-long debacle in contract talks, the Sabres were forced to move star defenseman Brian Campbell. In a season filled with remarkable disappointment, at least the Sabres were able to walk away with something in return—a first-round pick and Steve Bernier.
Although I'd much rather see No. 51 skating in a Buffalo uniform (for five years and $25 million!!), the Sabres made a move this offseason that brought current captain Craig Rivet to Buffalo. So at least we know that general manager Darcy Regier and Sabres' management have learned from their past mistakes.
This season I believe is a little different. The Sabres have a pretty long list of players who will be unrestricted (UFA) or restricted free agents (RFA) on Jul. 1. But only a few, I believe, are worth anything significant on the trade market, opposed to upcoming UFAs in recent years.
Here is a list of the Sabres' UFAs and RFAs this upcoming offseason that could be traded before the NHL's upcoming trade deadline. Accompanying a brief description, I will give my prediction and value in the form of a letter grade. The higher the letter grade, the more demanding that player will be on the trade market.
Note: This is all just rumor and speculation, but it is still fun to discuss possible trades at this time of the year.
1. UFA-Tim Connolly, Center-Salary, $3.5 million
Probably the most notable and trade-worthy player Regier has to offer, but will also be his toughest decision of the year. A few years ago the Sabres signed the crafty center to a three-year deal worth close to $9 million.
Ever since signing that deal, Connolly has played only 68 of 260 possible games. After a vicious hit by former Ottawa Senator Peter Schaefer in the 2005-06 Eastern Conference Semifinals, which resulted in a concussion, Connolly has been in and out of the lineup quite regularly.
Earlier this season Connolly suffered a fractured vertebrae and then two broken ribs. Not to mention the 27-year-old could be forced into early retirement with one more vicious hit like Schaefer's.
Buffalo fans are aware of what a concussion can do to a player's career and how quickly an injury like that can end it. Pat LaFontaine won the hearts of many Sabre fans in just six seasons in Buffalo before multiple head injuries resulted in post-concussion syndrome and forced management to trade him to the New York Rangers. He only played one season in New York, before being forced into a premature retirement at age 34.
Now with Connolly in the lineup and playing extremely well, Regier is in a bit of a bind. His team is quietly on the rise in the Eastern Conference Standings, but one minor slip-up can cause the team to drop out of contention.
Connolly has 18 points in 18 games this season and has a lot to do with his team's resurgence in the past month. He has eight goals in his last eight games for Buffalo.
Some may say we shouldn't trade him now since he is playing some of the best hockey of his career. But when Jul. 1 comes along, the Sabres could be walking away empty-handed.
Connolly's trade value has sky rocketed over the past month and there are likely many teams out there willing to take a chance on a player of Connolly's caliber to aid them in the playoffs.
Prediction: The Sabres have expressed interest in bolstering their blue line. The league has reverted back to the days when a strong defensive unit is the key to success. If the Sabres can add a top defenseman or two-way center for Connolly, they should make the deal. Youth is also a key factor.
Seeing that Derek Roy, Jason Pominville, and Jochen Hecht make around four and five million dollars each, Connolly would be asking for the same. And with his history of injuries I think that is a chance I'm not willing to take.
2. UFA-Jaroslav Spacek, Defenseman-Salary, $3.3 million
The 34-year-old is the Sabres' leading scorer among defensemen with 23 points (2G, 21A). But with just two goals this season, many might say his production has dropped along with his worth to the team.
When the Sabres brought in Spacek via free agency three years ago, they were not only looking for solid defense and leadership, but also point production. For $3.3 million, it could be argued the Sabres haven't got their money's worth, but I think Spacek has been pretty solid in his three years as a Sabre.
He is very reliable in the defensive zone and can play the point on the power play. However, with rookies Mike Weber and Chris Butler, it seems logical that both players will be top-six defenseman on the Sabres roster next season.
Spacek also hasn't played more than 65 games in his two-and-a-half seasons so far as a Sabre. In fact, he has only played more than 65 games in a season twice in his 13-year career.
Prediction: As far as Sabres' defensemen go, he will bring the most in return. Though I think I'd rather see other defenseman go before him, the Sabres wouldn't be that much worse without Spacek. But in the end I think he will remain a Sabre at least for the remainder of this season.
3. UFA-Ales Kotalik, Right Wing-Salary, $2.5 million
Kotalik is another player who could attract some attention this season. The 6'2", 225-pound winger has one of the hardest shots in the league and also is one of the best in the shootout. This year he is only on pace for 41 points.
Kotalik has been marked as an underachiever for the past few years and once again is living up to that same reputation. His name has been thrown around for the past two seasons during the trade period, but the Sabres have never pulled the trigger on him.
This year would be the most likely if the Sabres can muster together a package deal, sending him off to fill a void at center or to improve the blue line.
Prediction: Kotalik is not a player who is worth much straight up, but a player that can be dealt in a package. His biggest attribute comes in the shootout and since shootouts don't occur in the postseason his worth to the Sabres drops off even more. Other teams may want to add Kotalik as depth and use his shot on the power play.
4. UFA-Maxim Afinogenov, Right Wing-Salary, $3.5 million
Afinogenov is another we could argue that should and could have been traded last season. Since the final year of the Drury-Briere Era, Afinogenov's production has dramatically decreased.
So far this season he has recorded an abysmal 12 points (2G, 10A) for the Sabres and though he is injured right now, he has been a healthy scratch for coach Lindy Ruff multiple times this season.
Right now, the speedy winger is worth a bag of pucks alone, but he also is another player that could be dealt in a package.
Prediction: The only way Afinogenov is not traded is if nobody wants him. If the Sabres can get anything for him on the market, he is 100 percent tradeable. He will not be in a Sabres' uniform next season. There is not even a remote chance the Sabres will resign him.
Other notable RFAs & UFAs
RFAs: Clarke MacArthur, Drew Stafford, Patrick Kaleta, Andrej Sekera, Mark Mancari
Stafford, Kaleta, and Sekera all will likely be resigned after this season. Stafford is slowly maturing into the player we all expected him to be. Before this month Stafford's name was swirling around some trade rumors. I think the Sabres will do all they can to keep these three in place.
Kaleta has filled the role as one of the Sabres most dominant hitters and has also improved his offensive game.
Sekera, when in the lineup this season, has been one, if not the most consistent defenseman for the Sabres. He is a solid offensive defenseman that has a bright future in the league.
MacArthur and Mancari are in a little bit of a different situation. MacArthur has been very streaky for the Sabres and many have said he has commitment issues. He has been a healthy scratch on more than one occasion this season.
Mancari is one of the Sabres' best prospects playing in Portland right now. They should be able to resign him for a good price and maybe he will solidify a roster spot this offseason. He is a big player, with a big shot that could add depth to the Sabres' roster.
UFAs: Teppo Numminen, Andrew Peters, Matt Ellis
Numminen was extended for one more season late this past summer. We all thought he would not play for the Sabres this season, but has played in almost every game this year. He has been only sidelined once after having surgery on a fractured jaw bone.
Though he proved us wrong once, I find it highly unlikely Numminen will return next season. He hasn't expressed any intent on retiring, but it is a possibility as he will turn 41 on Jul. 3.
Peters' time as Sabre may have run out. He is a one-dimensional player that is mostly used to spark his team with a fight. Players like Peters have lost worth in recent years. He has played only 26 games this season, contributing only one point, 81 PIM and averaging only 4:09 minutes of ice time per game.
Ellis is another one of those hard-working players that come out of nowhere. The Sabres claimed him off waivers from the Los Angeles Kings late in the preseason and he has worked his way into the lineup for almost 30 games this season. The Sabres may resign him to a two-way deal.
Other players that may be on the trading block
Henrik Tallinder, Defenseman - Has one year left on his deal which will pay him more than $3 million next season. He has been a disappointment for the Sabres this season and last season after having an excellent season in 2006-07. He is another player I could see being moved in a package deal before the trade deadline.
Nathan Paetsch, Defenseman - Also has one year left on his deal and will only make about $1 million next season. He came into this season as the Sabres seventh defenseman on the depth chart, but now has fallen back as the eighth, maybe even ninth defensemen behind up-and-comers Chris Butler and Mike Weber.
Daniel Paille, Left Wing - The 24-year-old winger showed some promise last season as he scored 19 goals. But this season he has only recorded 15 points (5G, 10A) in 50 games. Last year he saw a lot of time on the penalty kill and the second line with Hecht and Pominville, but this season has been demoted to the third and fourth lines. Before this season he was resigned to a two-year, $2 million deal.
So there you have it. A list of players that may be on the trading block for the Buffalo Sabres.
We shall see a lot of action take place within the next four weeks around the league, but it is tough to say what moves the Sabres will make. Regier has always been very hesitant when it comes to making moves at the trade deadline. This year may be a little different. We will have to wait and see.
Feel free to comment and add your opinion on what you think will or want to happen before the trade deadline on Mar. 4, 2009 at 3 p.m.
I found contract info on nhlnumbers.com.
Also here is a list of all possible upcoming UFAs and RFAs throughout the entire NHL:
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