The Buffalo Sabres don’t yet have a scouting staff, but now they have a legit No. 2. center behind Jack Eichel and veteran leadership. Buffalo also has a fading prospect on the outs with the organization, expensive defensemen, and a glaring need in goal, which plays directly into the Pittsburgh Penguins trade needs.
So, what could the Buffalo Sabres offer for Penguins goalie Matt Murray?
New Buffalo GM Kevyn Adams is leading a team for the first time, and his previous responsibilities were on the business side. Adams might be living the dream or nightmare of business folks across the NHL who peer down the hallway and wonder. A handful of scouts remain from the great Buffalo management purge of August, but unless Adams has made unannounced hires, it’s a skeleton crew.
Last week, Minnesota Wild GM Bill Guerin broke the Buffalo ice with a gift-wrapped trade. Buffalo acquired 35-year-old center Eric Staal in exchange for the somewhat disappointing forward Marcus Johansson, who makes $1.25 million more than Staal.
So, Buffalo has its top-six primarily set. Also, it’s blueline is mostly set, though Brandon Montour is an RFA who could command too much money, and Rasmus Ristolainen has been beaten up pretty well in the public square for mistake-filled play. Speculation put Ristolainen on the trade block this season, but that talk has cooled for the 25-year-old defenseman who makes $5.4 million for the next two seasons.
Despite some hankering in the Penguins fanbase, folks we chatted with who have covered Buffalo, and industry sources, didn’t think Sam Reinhart was a realistic target, so we’ve excluded him (but we knew you’d ask).
Also, Buffalo is believed to have an internal salary cap in the low-to-mid 70s. So, the top three answers on the board. Name something the Buffalo Sabres could use to entice the Pittsburgh Penguins trade:
Penguins Trade Potentials: Buffalo Sabres
1. Casey Mittelstadt
The 2017 eighth overall pick has a high hockey IQ, slick playmaking skills, and great hands. He was the 2018 World Juniors tournament MVP and best player, but he hasn’t smoothly transitioned to the NHL. Buffalo sent Mittelstadt to the AHL last December, where he remained for the rest of the season.
Mittelstadt scored nine points (5g, 4a) in 31 NHL games. He scored 25 points (9g, 16a) in 36 AHL games, but was a minus-15. With only 11 hits and eight blocks in 31 games, the 6-foot-1, 199-pound Mittelstadt hasn’t learned to score or play with a hard nose.
His potential is through the roof, but time is running out. The center hasn’t yet played enough games to become an RFA eligible to receive offers (10.2 status), so an acquiring team would have more time to develop him.
He could be the “first-round pick” which Rutherford seeks for Murray, though there would be a substantial risk.
2. Brandon Montour
It would not be the first time Rutherford has inquired about Brandon Montour on the other end of a Penguins trade. When Montour was available in Anaheim, the Penguins kicked the tires.
The right side defenseman comes with a bit of offensive pop and the ability to run a power play. He’s a 26-year-old RFA with arbitration rights, so his salary could climb to over $4 million.
Montour is a high-risk, high reward defenseman with top-end speed. Buffalo spent a fading prospect and a first-round pick to get Montour, so the price tag is in line with the Penguins valuation on Murray.
3. Second-Tier Prospects
Ryan Johnson was selected 31st overall in 2019. He’s a lanky, agile, puck-moving defenseman. Jonson is 6-foot, 173-pounds, and will enter his sophomore season at the University of
His pedigree would fit the futures of first-round pedigree, which Rutherford seeks.
Jacob Bryson, 22, is a defenseman with some promise but suffers from a lack of size. At 5-foot-9, 179-pounds, he just completed his rookie professional season with Rochester of the AHL. The important statistic is that he scored 16 points in his final 21 games.
The scouting reports say Bryson is quick, he knows how to carry the puck and knows how to move it well.