The Vancouver Canucks.
The Edmonton Oilers.
One team is about to lose a player for a few games due to suspension.
The other needs to decide how it will replace a young center whose injury will keep him out of the game for far longer than a few games.
Enter the Buffalo Sabres?
Here’s the deal: after taking a careless high stick from ex-Sabres prospect Zack Kassian, 24 year-old Edmonton Oilers center Sam Gagner is nursing a broken jaw that will require a metal plate or two to be inserted as part of the repair. Gagner’s injury is a huge blow to the Oilers – this isn’t a third-line player we are talking about; Gagner is the Oiler’s second-line center, and was set to become the team captain. There was even talk of Gagner beginning the season on the first-line, due to regular starter Ryan Nugent-Hopkins‘ recent shoulder surgery keep him out of some early season action, and even though the Oilers decided to ask Taylor Hall to fill in for the Nuge, Gagner would have been more than able to step up if Hall struggled. He will not be easy to replace, especially with the Oilers already stretched thin at the center position.
Now, the Oilers could hope and pray that Nugent-Hopkins is ready to play come opening night, or soon thereafter. They should also pray that Boyd Gordon or one of their prospects can step up and hold the fort on the second line for 6-8 weeks while Gagner recovers. Hell, they could pray for Christmas in October, too – ain’t none of these prayers coming true.
The Oilers have under-achieved with their young cast so far, and expectations were high for this team heading into the preseason. Now, they face a 6-8 week stretch of uncertainty and possible disastrous play that could force them to spend the rest of the season playing out of their minds in order to make up ground in the playoff chase.
Back to my question: enter the Buffalo Sabres?
The Sabres have no shortage of talent at the center position. Granted, most of the Sabres’ talent is young, which doesn’t make them a huge improvement over what the Oilers currently have – but still: Boyd Gordon‘s best season saw him put up 29 points in 71 games with the Washington Capitals back in 2006-2007. Not exactly a powerhouse of offense. The Oilers would almost certainly prefer to get a bit more out of their second-line center than 29 points . . . well, if they want to stay afloat in the hopes of making the playoffs, that is.
The Sabres could offer someone like Brian Flynn, who put up 11 points in 26 games, which translates into roughly 35 points over the course of an 82-game season. Those numbers actually would not constitute much of a drop-off from Gagner’s, whose best year saw him go for 13-36-49. Flynn is still developing his game, so if he shows even the slightest bit of progress this year, he could actually match Gagner’s numbers, which would give the Oilers a nice upgrade on the third line once Gagner returns. Kevin Porter also would be an option, although his numbers last year project out to 24 points in an 82-game season, which means the Oilers would probably move Gordon up to the second-line and fill Porter in on the third for the time being.
What if the Oilers prefer to acquire a more “proven” player? There’s plenty of fans who would not be against seeing the Sabres offer Tyler Ennis, whose career-best was also 49 points. Even more so than Flynn, Ennis could hold the fort on the second line until he returns, and then provide an upgrade to the Oiler’s third line when Gagner returns to the lineup.
What would Buffalo stand to gain by making such a trade? A draft pick or two, for starters, or role player of their choice, all with the comfort of knowing that they are not giving away talent that cannot be replaced. Flynn’s, Porter’s or Ennis’ roster slot easily can be filled in by a prospect such as Joel Armia, or Johan Larsson, and the timing of all of this couldn’t be better, as the Sabres are in the middle of a rebuild, anyway. Even if Armia or Larsson fail to replace Ennis’ numbers in 2013-2014, they would get a ton of valuable playing time, and besides – the Sabres are an extreme longshot to make the playoffs this year. There is very little risk in making such a move.
This is all speculation of course, but it would behoove Darcy Regier to consider reaching out to Oilers GM Craig MacTavish and propose a deal. With the Oilers looking to qualify for the playoffs, Regier could squeeze a bit more value out of the players I have discussed than he could normally get, which could pay big dividends for the Sabres in the near future.
Think there’s oil to be found in Edmonton? I want to know your thoughts! Leave them below, or @theamzingMrS!