Ryan O’Reilly. Corey Perry. Alex Tanguay. Jarome Iginla. Paul Stastny. Michael Cammalleri. Stephen Weiss. These are just some of the names that have been tossed around this shortened NHL season. They are either players that are expected to test free-agency, or players on cellar-dwelling teams who might be shipped out in order to clear some cap space and make way for the next generation of players. In other words: they are trade bait.
The Pittsburgh Penguins. The Boston Bruins. The Detroit Red Wings. The Los Angeles Kings. The Montreal Canadiens. These are just some of the NHL teams who keep getting mentioned as players in the trade game, teams who are looking to tweak their line-ups in order to give them an edge come playoffs time. In other words, these are the sharks swimming in the trade waters.
Please, dear reader, notice that the Buffalo Sabres are not being mentioned during much, if any, of the trade discussions. Which prompts me to ask the question, why not?
(Actually, it would sound more like, “Why the <expletive> not?” but you get the point.)
Yes, the Sabres are in last place in the Northeast Division. This doesn’t exactly make them prime real estate for free agents. I highly doubt someone like Jarome Iginla is in his GM’s office right now, demanding a trade to the Buffalo Sabres. Yes, the Sabres play in Buffalo, which doesn’t exactly make them media darlings. Aside from local media, Buffalo really only gets discussed when they are either playing really well, or, more often than not, playing very poorly. Most of the news you have read about the Sabres this year is negative, and that is just the way it’s always going to be when it comes to the Buffalo Sabres.
Still – the Sabres currently sit 4 points behind the New York Rangers for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. (See why that overtime loss on Sunday was big deal, folks?) The Sabres have a team that is literally just a player or two shy of being an actual factor to be reckoned with. The Sabres, in short, are not a team that you should be looking at and saying, “This team has no shot of making the playoffs. Blow them up, shoot for a lottery pick, whatever – let’s just look forward to next year.”
Not in my humble, and, as it just so happens to be, correct opinion.
Maybe I’m wrong in hoping that the Sabres could go out and get an elite player to solidify their roster, but I’m not wrong in thinking that this team is right on the brink of being good enough to make some noise in the East. That’s kind of been the problem with the Sabres the last few years, hasn’t it? Good enough to give their fans hope, but not a finished product. Constantly on the outside, looking in. And here we are again.
So why, if the Sabres don’t feel like they can successfully deal for a first line-caliber player, are the Sabres not even pursuing a player who can add some offense to their second or third lines? I can make the case that Alex Tanguay would be a great addition to a line that included Tyler Ennis and Mikhail Grigorenko (I just want to try him on the second line, please!). Tanguay tallied 49 points last year, and already has 17 (6 goals, 11 assists) for a Calgary team that IS in need of being blown up. Bleacher report has him listed as one of their “16 NHL Characters That Make Any Team They Play On Better,” because you can never say that picking him up was a mistake. He’ll never be “the guy,” but as we all know, there are countless examples of athletes who were “the guy” who wound up retiring with no championships to their name, because they never had a strong supporting cast. We also know of teams that won, not because they had “the guy,” but because they had a system, and a group of players who executed it to perfection. If the Sabres cannot, or will not, go out and land a superstar, shouldn’t they at least be giving someone like Alex Tanguay a look?
Another secondary player worth considering, who also happens to be playing for Calgary, is the slightly-younger Mike Cammalleri, who has 8 goals and 8 assists this season. Those numbers would make him the fourth highest goal scorer, and fifth highest scorer overall, on the Sabres team this season. Throwing him on the second line would free up Tyler Ennis to move back to the wing position, which is where I honestly feel he fits the best, and just like picking up Tanguay, it would in all likelihood give the Sabres a second line almost equal in quality to the Thomas Vanek – Jason Pominville – Cody Hodgson line. The Flames tried to make a big move when they attempted to steal Ryan O’Reilly from Colorado – but they failed, and are for all intents and purposes dead in the water. Where is the harm in picking up the phone and throwing an idea out to their GM, Jay Feaster? That team is practically begging for other teams to come shopping.
Some fans of the Sabres are praying that the team will just stink it up the rest of the season in order to land a good draft pick, but is that what we really want – another prospect who might pan out in four-five years? I think the Sabres have some good, young talent and a good, just not great, team right now. I don’t expect the Sabres to win the Cup this year, but I do want to see them make a concerted effort to get into the playoffs. As a fan, the lack of activity on the part of this organization bothers me, since it indicates they either are happy with what they have, content to be “just okay,” or resigned to the fact that they are playing for a lottery pick this year. None of those options are acceptable to me. The season may be halfway done, but being only four points out of the playoff race should embolden the Sabres organization to go all-out the second half of the year. That deficit is not insurmountable, and recent history proves that a team that plays its best hockey at the end of the season is often a tough out in the playoffs (hello, Los Angeles Kings). There are plenty of options right now for the Sabres to consider; failure to pursue any options is inexcusable.
Should the Sabres spend big money to land a top-tier player? Should they bring in a reliable secondary scorer like Alex Tanguay? Or should they fold their tents and look ahead to the lottery? Leave your comments below, send me a carrier pigeon, or follow me @theaveragedick!