Buffalo Sabres Off-Season Report Card

 

Buffalo Sabres Off-Season Report Card

With the NHL Draft and the first week of Free Agency behind us, let's take a look at the Sabres off-season report card. 

Robin Lehner Trade: C+

The Sabres kicked off their off-season day by sending the 21st pick in the draft to the Ottawa Senators in exchange for goaltender Robin Lehner and veteran center David Legwand. The immediate reaction many (myself included) had to this was one word. ‘Overpaid!’ But upon looking deeper this trade makes a bit more sense.

Back in April, I did a piece on who would the Sabres next goalie would be. Robin Lehner was high on my list of options because of Tim Murray’s familiarity with him. (Feel free to look back at what I wrote on about my number three candidate in April.) 

While I still think pick 21 was steep for Lehner, I am okay with it for several reasons:

1. Buffalo still was able to trade for Ryan O’Reilly. When we first traded pick 21 for Lehner I was upset because I viewed this as meaning that the Sabres were out on ROR.
2. Lehner has a very favorable contract. There are two years remaining at 2.225 per, but most importantly, he will still be a RFA at its’ expiration.
3. Lehner is only 23. He fits Tim Murray’s timeline and still has the potential to blossom into a reliable number one goalie. 

Another option would have been picking up a UFA goalie such as Niemi, Ramo, or Neuvirth and drafting a goalie to develop. The highly touted Russian Ilya Samsonov was available at 21, as were other options at 31 (if we then sent 21 instead of 31 to Colorado). Time will tell if the Sabres made the right move here.

Ryan O’Reilly Trade: A-

Right before selecting Jack Eichel, the Sabres made a huge splash by acquiring Ryan O’Reilly from the Colorado Avalanche. Who could have saw that coming??? 

But in all seriousness, this was a big pull for the Sabres and a move I thought wouldn’t happen after pick 21 was shipped out to Ottawa. But give credit to Tim Murray for getting this one done. Ryan O’Reilly will fit in well with Buffalo and have the chance to become a star.

Most importantly, the Sabres were able to lock up ROR with a long term contract. The 7.5 cap hit looks big now, but in a few years salary inflation as the cap rises (500 million dollar expansion fees) might actually make this a favorable contract. Also getting Jamie McGinn thrown into this trade should not be overlooked. McGinn put up career highs (19 goals, 19 assists) in 2013-14 with Colorado and will be a good bottom six forward in Buffalo. 

Jamie McGinn could be an important role player for the Buffalo Sabres. Getty Images

Jamie McGinn could be an important role player for the Buffalo Sabres. Getty Images

The reason this trade gets an A- and not the A is because of the loss of J.T. Compher. The organization was very high on Compher and it is tough to part with him. Zadorov was also tough to lose, but there was a sense that he would have to go back to Colorado as a part of this trade and most Sabres fans considered that fair. Grigorenko and Buffalo were at a crossroads, a trade was best for both parties, and a pick obviously was going to be included. But Compher is the one that hurts. Maybe if the pick going back was 21 not 31, Compher is not included. But that is the opportunity cost of acquiring Robin Lehner for a first rounder. 

Drafting Jack Eichel: A++

I don’t think I need to explain this one. Also note that the Sabres added some defensive depth in the organization through the draft which was needed.

Free Agency: A-

Added organizational depth and did not spend any stupid money, which is more important than you might think. This could have been an A, if a top-4 defenseman was acquired at a reasonable contract. This still could happen with Johnny Oduya or a trade could be made, but regardless this isn’t a glaring hole if the Sabres go with they have currently.

Cumulative Grade: A

When weighing in the Evander Kane trade as well, it has to be an A. That trade in my opinion is one of the most brilliant moves made in Sabres history. Without it, Jack Eichel is most likely not a Sabre. The trade was genius, giving up assets who might ruin the tank for McEichel, while getting Evander Kane, who can’t play the rest of the year- a phenomenal trade! Imagine drafting third overall this year- it would have been sickening. But instead the Sabres have Eichel and Kane. Boom! Honestly, Tim Murray should have won executive of the year.

Many thought I was crazy a few weeks ago when I said the Sabres would be a playoff contender this season, but now the bandwagon is filling up quickly. I anticipated the ROR trade and a quick rebuild. Tim Murray (and Darcy Regier) did an outstanding job at rebuilding the roster. The Sabres core for the next decade is in place, this report card gets an A.