Trade deadline day. One of two days a year where people in the hockey community will actually alter their work and education schedules to take in all the happenings on TSN, NHL Network, and Twitter. A big day from a fans perspective to get something done, anything. Trade deadline day is the last chance for your team to improve itself either short term or long term for another 4 months. Sellers need to sell for future assets, and the buyers need that shiny new piece that will take them over the top to Stanley Cup glory.
In the world of the Buffalo Sabres it is not as easy. Half of the people you talk to want them to be buyers at the deadline. The Sabres are only 6 points back in the standings with three games in hand on the Winnipeg Jets. It is just not in some fans DNA to root against the playoffs.
The other half want to be sellers with the Sabres being only 4 points from the bottom of the Eastern Conference and 6 points away from being 2nd worst in the NHL. Lottery pick seems within reach and looks appealing compared to the assumed beating the Sabres would take playing against the Bruins or Rangers in round 1.
Throughout the morning of deadline day there was the normal discussion between fans. The typical back and forth about what the Sabres should do, why they should do it, and each side would give their opinions. Both sides expecting one or the other to eventually happen. Deadline day to this point was a bust league wide. TSN started broadcasting at 8 AM and by 11AM people were wondering when they were going to pull out the old “Who will be on Canada’s 2014 Olympic roster?” because of the lack of moves.
Naturally Sabre fans, like most, were becoming restless and wanted something, anything to happen. By 1 PM Sabre faithful feared the worst. Was Darcy going to actually do neither
buy or sell and just let the current roster sit moving forward? Viva La Core! It was looking like. Not the situation most fans had in mind.
By 2 PM even the most faithful of Sabre fans had to start wondering if Regier was going to make a move. Some questioned whether he was even out of bed yet.
Paul Gaustad is the player that is most likely going to be traded and the market appeared to be shrinking due to potential suitors for him making other moves combined with Regier’s asking price (1st round pick). Gaustad and Columbus’ Sami Pahlsson were the two best defensive centers on the market that were most attractive. But that market got quite a bit smaller because Vancouver had just acquired Sami Pahlsson for two 4th round picks. This was the same Vancouver team which was rumored to be interested in Gaustad. Was Darcy going to price himself out of the market? Only 1 hour to go.
Fans were not thrilled and their dismay was starting to come through:
“I cant believe I took off of work for this garbage.”
“Why did I skip class, I would have been happier there”
Even Comic Book Guy chimed in. “Worst. Deadline. Ever.”
Just a calendar year prior there was much optimism in Buffalo. Things were changing, Hockey Heaven was going to take off and there was a fresh feeling around the Sabres organization. But deadline day to this point was the complete opposite of that. Same frustrating Darcy, sticking to his core and the status quo which has done nothing but mere the Sabres in mediocrity.
3PM strikes and even though deals can still be announced everybody figured Regier was out to lunch again.
“We did nothing. Wow.”
And then much like the news of Pegula buying the Sabres that came out of nowhere last season, there was a sign of life.
Paul Gaustad and a 4th round pick has been traded to the Nashville Predators for a 1st round pick.
Disbelief, shock, utter surprise. Not only did Darcy actually make a move, but he also got the ridiculous asking price that he was ridiculed about all day by most level headed fans/analysts.
It was something. It was a quality return on a long time core player. It was a break from the norm. Darcy actually moved a core piece and he actually did well on it, great in fact. There was relief that at least the Sabres decided to do something. Most people could be content, even though it was a mostly frustrating day with the waiting. By acquiring Nashville’s first round pick the Sabres now have 4 picks in the top 60 of the 2012 entry draft (two 1sts, two 2nds)
But good things can come to those that wait, and they did. Then out of the blue and on nobody’s radar:
The Sabres have moved Zack Kassian and Marc Andre Gragnani for Cody Hodgson and Alexander Sulzer
In what was the slickest move of the entire trade deadline, Darcy Regier, the same guy that people made fun of for being asleep at 2PM, hit it out of the park.
Darcy Regier without overpaying and without intentionally tanking for the draft had acquired the long coveted young top 6 center the Sabres have been so sorely lacking. Not only that but a player that already has quality NHL experience and can help right now. Did somebody perform the surgery from the movie Faceoff with Darcy Regier and Ken Holland?
Regier had actually traded from a position of strength in the organization (winger, soft puck moving d man) to acquire its #1 need.
Zack Kassian was drafted most in part to define a new kind of Sabre player. Big, tough, physical, on the edge guy that you just don’t mess with but with the ability to score goals. The Sabres Milan Lucic. The Sabres were tired of being pushed around. However the reasons the Sabres drafted him were starting to also hurt Kassian. He started to find himself suspended, sometimes significantly and in bad spots. He was suspended 20 games in the OHL. Then on the World Junior stage and in all places Buffalo, NY for 2 games. There was also an assault charge that stemmed from a Windsor, ON bar incident in 2010. Kassian would have to dial it back a bit.
Unfortunately with Kassian playing not to cross the line, his play was not as dynamic as the Sabres would have liked. In Rochester his offensive numbers were just so so and even more damning; his work ethic was starting to be called into question. Kassian was a winger in a system that has nothing but a surplus of wingers. He was supposed to be the one that stood out and brought something different. In his young career to this point there was nothing pointing to him reaching these goals within the Sabres organization. Without a consistent work ethic how was he going to pass up other wingers on the loaded depth chart? Pominville and Stafford are making the big money and play the same RW position. Was Kassian going to bump them out of the top 6 in the near future?
The answer to that question was answered by Darcy Regier on Monday. No, Kassian was not going to fit into the longer term plans.
In Hodgson the Sabres are acquiring the Canucks #1 prospect and one that many are very upset to see leave. Hodgson is an excellent skating centerman who also has a high hockey IQ to set the table for players like Vanek and Pominville. He is accountable in all 3 zones and appears to be very well rounded. The Sabres are a small team and they do get smaller with the Hodgson/Kassian swap, but the need for a top 6 center was the #1 need and should have been addressed no matter what, and it was. Hodgson also comes with his rookie contract still in tact which will help the Sabres cap situation. Always nice to have a top 6 center making less than 2M/yr (1.66M). Not to be underrated but Hodgson will also benefit from a little familiarity as both Tyler Myers and Tyler Ennis were teammates of his in the 2009 World Junior Championship for Team Canada. That should help his transition.
For me the reason this trade is so surprising is that it was Darcy actually making a “hockey trade”. Instead of just trying to win the trade like he usually does, he was willing to give up a high quality asset to obtain a pressing need. The Sabres have desired more from their top 6 center play since the departure of Briere and Drury in 2007, they have made a bold move to try and change that with Hodgson.
From Vancouver’s perspective they felt like they needed to toughen up. The Canucks have taken quite a bit of heat after last year’s Stanley Cup Finals for being a soft team that lacks grit. Kassian is still super young and by no means should be written off. The change of scenery could be very beneficial as his supporting cast in Vancouver will be much superior. Instead of trying to play into a top 6 role right away he can learn the ropes in a bottom 6 role while learning the offensive side of the game from one of the best power forwards in the league in Ryan Kesler. Vancouver is able to be more patient with a player like Kassian as they are in a much better spot currently than the Sabres are as a franchise. Kassian provides a style that Vancouver could really use. Now it is up to Kassian to develop a consistent work ethic and take on the responsibilities of being a professional in the NHL.
Both teams traded from strength and addressed a weakness. Long term I think this will benefit both the players and the teams involved. I am as big of a critic of Darcy Regier as there is, but you have to give credit where it is due. Regier was bold, stuck to his guns on Gaustad’s asking price, and was clever in striking on the Hodgson deal knowing that the acquisition of Pahlsson made him expendable.
In a lot of ways deadline day is a lot like Christmas. Everybody is exchanging gifts and everybody has a wish list. There is plenty of judging that goes on based on what everyone receives, and not everybody gets what they want. But just like Christmas, you can’t really judge it all until you have given and received the last presents. A lesson that rings true as Sabre fans will tell you on their roller coaster deadline day.
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