The Buffalo Sabres tank just fortified.
The team has never officially announced that it is playing for dead last and the chance to draft once-in-a-generation players Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel, but the deals at Monday’s NHL trade deadline all but spelled it out. The team traded goaltender Michal Neuvirth to the New York Islanders, and forwards Chris Stewart and Torrey Mitchell were also dealt.
The trades leave the Sabres stripped of any depth, with Cody Hodgson leading all healthy players still on the roster with just 11 points. They also chose to go with a pair of struggling goalies — picking up Chad Johnson from the Islanders after grabbing Anders Lindbeck from the Stars last month — instead of Neuvirth and Jhonas Enroth, who both had hot streaks this year and were promptly traded.
Just how bad are Lindbeck and Johnson? They have save percentages of.875 and.889, respectively, ranking No. 78 and No. 71 in the league.
The race to the bottom had gotten a bit tighter in the last couple of weeks. The Sabres have just a three-point cushion between them and Edmonton, and Arizona is coming on strong (if that’s the appropriate word) by losing nine straight games. The Sabres and Coyotes still have two head-to-head matchups this year, and the games could be critical to finishing last and ensuring a pick no worse than No. 2.
Things will only get more difficult in the final 20 or so games of the season, with several other Eastern Conference teams shedding talent on NHL trade deadline day in an attempt to get closer to the running for Connor McDavid.
Buffalo Sabres general manager Tim Murray didn’t mince words on Monday, saying his team is all about the future.
“We’re in 30th place,” Murray said. “Our time is the future, and we added assets for the future. Was it a good day? It’s never a good day trading good people away,” Murray added. “I talked to them all, and they all understood… When you are at the bottom or near the bottom, you trade out guys that can help other teams for future assets.”
Though the Buffalo Sabres may be taking some criticism for tanking this season, Tim Murray is also positioning the team well for the future. The team already traded for talented forward Evander Kane earlier this year, and is expected to have last year’s No. 2 overall pick Samson Reinhart in the lineup next year as well.
[Image via Buffalo Hockey Beat]