We get closer every day, closer to Deadline Day in a Sabres season that was lost as soon as it started. Buffalo began 0-7, 1-10, 2-14, removing any intrigue about the playoffs in a sport where most teams make it and almost all contend for a berth.
Granted, we're still two calendar flips away -- January to February, February to March -- but February is the shortest month. (I use this "point" with my children to make our March trip to Florida seem closer than it is.) We do have the Olympic diversion this year in hockey, perhaps adding some urgency to trade talks this many weeks ahead of the deadline.
The Sabres, rather famously, have three unrestricted free agents-to-be: Ryan Miller, Matt Moulson, Steve Ott. I expect all of them to be traded, or signed. I doubt new GM Tim Murray keeps any of them past the deadline without a new contract.
I think trading these guys should be pretty easy for Murray, especially the two forwards. There is plenty of precedent in each case of what players comparable to Moulson and Ott command on the trade market. Sure, there would be difference of opinion in which specific players the Sabres might want back, but the kind of package they'd receive is easy to figure out: a relatively high draft pick, a young player with promise, or both.
Miller to me is pretty much the same deal except that he won't be of interest to as many teams as the goal scorer Moulson or the feisty Ott. Murray might be more inclined to take a good offer early on Miller, just so the rare team in the market for a rental goalie doesn't slip away on some five- or six-game winning streak.
It's after these three guys that Murray's challenge gets good.
Building a championship team isn't much more about selling off your best assets as building a dream house is about razing the outdated abode already on the lot. You still need to think up the rest. Carrying that forth one more step, the assets acquired for the UFAs are like money used to spend on the build. But they are not themselves the build.
The Sabres have three second-round picks coming up in both the 2014 and 2015 drafts. That's in Murray's starting hand. Heck, he conceivably could trade Henrik Tallinder for a second-round pick. These picks are nice but they are low-impact. They can be useful on draft day in an effort to move up but on their own they're not likely to land the Sabres important players, especially in what's considered a weaker draft like this year's.
The kind of trade that would impress me is more the opposite of one lowly teams like the Sabres are expected to make. Instead of trading outgoing veterans for youth, trade some of that youth. There are still only 20 roster spots.
Murray needs to ask himself, Who are the players in my organization right now that I can win with? The more important the player, or more highly paid, the more important it is to ask this question and get it right.
Tyler Ennis is interesting to me for this. I'm not crazy about the idea of signing Ennis to a new contract, one that might pay him $4M a year for four years or more. To me, that would tie up a spot for an OK player and would make it tougher for the Sabres to win big. Ennis can't play on a checking or energy-type line. He needs to be Top 6 to be useful, and the Sabres should shoot higher.
Can they trade him? Is there a good team that thinks Tyler Ennis up top is an upgrade? I wonder. I think a trade could work with another lesser team, maybe Calgary, one that could see Ennis as a potential find.
How about all these young defensemen? Mark Pysyk, Brayden McNabb, Tyler Myers, Jake McCabe, Ristolainen and Zadorov ... how many do I need? I have Christian Ehrhoff locked in, and when I'm ready to win I'll probably want one or two veterans that like to stand in front of the net and punch people (thinking Bob Boughner at the moment). If Murray picked one of these guys out and moved him for scoring, or even just to change the makeup of his roster, I'd find that an interesting move. He can afford to do that, just like Darcy Regier could all those years but was perhaps spooked by how thin he got on defense in 2006.
I think Regier worked from negativity. Either Buffalo couldn't afford the top players, or couldn't attract them, but however he felt at a given point it was about what couldn't be accomplished, not what could. I hope Murray, with all the money being spent above and around him, brings a different attitude. There is no reason for Murray to feel beaten down; he just got here, and surely he thinks his owner will do whatever he can for him.
One thing, reflective of the state of the team, is the same as it often was when Darcy was here: Murray can do anything he wants with this bunch and I won't mind.