Prompted by recent rumors, Sabres fans have been hot on the trail for a big deal that would see their team pick first overall, or pretty close to it, in the 2013 NHL draft. They want the top pick, and they want a player who can move Buffalo hockey out of its stagnant state. That’s much easier said than done, and given the circumstances surrounding the top three spots in the draft, Sabres fans would be better off tempering their expectations because any of the three teams at the top would be crazy to deal their pick for anything Buffalo has to offer.
With two picks in the top 20 and four in the top 50, it’s easy to see why it makes sense for the Sabres to move up. They have the flexibility and the assets to appeal to a team at the top of the draft. However, when you really consider the landscape, you have to wonder why anyone would treat with Buffalo in such a top heavy draft, even if there is depth beyond the sparkling top three. So with that said, let’s look at each team slotted 1-3 in the draft, and see why exactly they’d be insane to make a deal with the Sabres.
We should start with the assumption that Colorado really should be off limits. Of course they’ll listen to any offer, as any team should, but unless they get half a team in return, it doesn’t make sense. The Avs won’t have another shot at a defensive prospect like Seth Jones for a long time, if ever. They’re so bad along their blue line that they need a home grown superstar to take up the reins for the team and Jones fits the bill. That said, this would be a convenient pairing because the two teams will be out of each other’s way and the Sabres can offer a relatively competitive package. Would the Avalanche consider taking on Thomas Vanek for a year, along with the 8th pick and 16th pick for that top pick? Or perhaps they’d want Miller and even more picks. Varlamov might not be the answer, and you know Patrick Roy is going to want a reliable netminder on his squad. Would the Avalanche bite? They shouldn’t. The Avalanche could potentially be giving up a franchise player where they sit in Jones or even Nathan MacKinnon, but if the Sabres can make a monster offer, they could leap everyone and get whoever they want from this draft (ie MacKinnon).
The problem here, of course, is that the Panthers suck. Badly. They overachieved last year thanks to a free agent splurge necessitated by a rush to the cap floor, then predictably bottomed out in this lockout-shortened 2013 season. The Panthers aren’t deep anywhere at the NHL level, but their prospect pool is among the best in the league. If any team could spare adding a prospect, it’s Florida. But if there’s any team in the NHL more desperate for something exciting this side of Phoenix, it’s Florida. This is a team that needs to build a dynamic top line through its draft. They may not feel like they have another few years to wait for lesser prospects to develop while sharing a division with Buffalo. The Sabres would likely need to add a solid prospect along the blue line (Pysyk?), their 8th and 16th picks, and a 2nd rounder at least to get that high. Is it worth it for Buffalo? Probably. The Panthers need a game changer as badly (or even worse) than the Sabres. Moving back from this pick without getting a king’s ransom would be a major blunder in Florida. Even then, a supposed king’s ransom is rarely worth it for a bona fide superstar, if that’s who’s drafted at two.
Tampa Bay Lightning:
This makes even less sense from the perspective of the team with the high pick. The Lightning have proven themselves capable of scoring plenty of goals while giving up plenty of their own, but they still need to think about the future with their forwards. Some day, Martin St. Louis’ cyborg body will slow down some, and he won’t be around. Neither will Vin Lecavalier. That leaves Steven Stamkos and a wasteland of third liners. The decision here should be a slam dunk. Get Stamkos his linemate of the future now while there are plenty of vets to groom him and the team will flourish.
The Sabres hold one ace in their sleeve here: Tampa Bay is desperate to find a legitimate answer in goal. Sure they might roll the dice with an Anders Lindback/Ben Bishop combination, but GM Steve Yzerman knows he’ll be walking on eggshells there. To secure Ryan Miller at this point and give his team one year to show what it can do with solid netminding could do wonders for his team. Remember, this team’s makeup isn’t much different from that which took them to the Conference Finals a few years ago. The biggest difference then was that Dwayne Roloson was playing out of his mind. Now, they’d have a chance to get someone else. If the Sabres offered the 8th and 16th picks, and Miller, would that be enough for Tampa to bite? Maybe not, but it puts the Sabres in their ball park. It might not be likely, but you know management isn’t going to feel 100% secure with their current goaltenders no matter what they say. A team like the Lightning that isn’t really bad the way the Panthers are might only be a piece or two away from a good playoff run once more. Darcy Regier would need to be aggressive (good luck with that) but it certainly seems like Tampa is a better fit of the two Florida teams to move down, even if it might not be in their best interests in the long term.
If the Sabres trade at all, fans need to be prepared to watch their team overpay for a coveted player. The proposals I’m spitballing are the very low end of what the Sabres can expect to give up. There is likely a high demand to get in the top three and only three teams with a ticket there. Darcy Regier has never been known to allow himself to lose any deal. He’d rather not make a deal at all than overpay for one. This could very well be the case here. It shouldn’t be.
The Sabres need to get moving on this youth movement and they’re one of the few teams in the league with a plethora of picks, cap space, and a few veterans to move. If they have to take a hit to get their guy this year, then they should do it because they can afford to do so. They may not have that luxury in years to come when they run out of veterans to trade for picks, then potentially miss on those mid-range draft picks they make this year. Instead, they should play the odds and make a strong move for the best player they can get so as to speed up this rebuild. If they can fool a team into giving up a top three pick, great. If not, the 8th pick will likely be a good one, or the Sabres could even try to target the 4-6 range and get the guy they want. They have options and flexibility. Now they need to follow through with a vision. Unfortunately, it appears no one at the top of the NHL draft will be willing to help them.
Cory Buck is a Staff Writer for Sabre Noise. You can like him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter @TheBuckMopsHere.