By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
About two weeks ago, it was easy to wonder how the Buffalo Sabres would approach the upcoming trading deadline. Their playoff hopes appeared to be faint, and it became a fair question about whether the Sabres would be buyers or sellers.
The team’s players helped supply an answer by going 5-1 in the Sabres’ last six games, moving Buffalo six points behind Toronto in the Atlantic Division standings. General manager Jason Botterill opted to add to the roster and alter it rather than subtract from it. When he was done, Buffalo appeared to have a slightly better squad than the one that beat Winnipeg on Sunday afternoon without spoiling the team’s long-term goals.
Late Monday morning Botterill swung a trade by picking up Wayne Simmonds from the New Jersey Devils. The cost was low – a fifth-round draft choice in 2021; it changes to a fourth-rounder if Buffalo qualifies for the playoffs or if Simmonds plays in 10 games for the Sabres.
That trade was followed later in the day with a swap with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Buffalo gave up forwards Conor Sheary and Evan Rodrigues in the transaction, while the Sabres acquired forward Dominik Kahun.
“We’ve been proud of the way the team has responded since the difficult start to the homestand,” Botterill said. “We understand with a young group that we will have disappointments and challenges along the way, but their response has been very positive. This past weekend, we had a difficult win in Pittsburgh and then found a way to grind it out against a very good Winnipeg team. We talked a lot about playing meaningful games in March. We hope the moves we made will set our team up to accept that challenge.’
All about Simmonds
At one point his career, the 6-foot-2, 185-pound Simmonds might have been a prime example of the type of power forward that every team would like to have. He has had five 25-goal seasons during his career, and peaked at 60 points in two different seasons. As recently as two seasons ago, Simmonds had 24 goals and 22 assists for the Flyers.
Since then, the numbers have dropped. He had 30 points divided btween two teams last season (Philadelphia and Nashville). This season with New Jersey, Simmonds, 31, had eight goals and 16 assists for 24 points in 61 games with New Jersey. The rugged winger also has been above the 100 penalty minute mark four different times.
“We talked a lot about adding to our forward group, and we’re exciting about bringing in a forward like Wayne Simmonds,” Botterill said at a Monday afternoon news conference. “We’ve talked about playing meaningful games in March and April, and that’s something Wayne is accustomed to doing. I think you’ve heard Ralph (Krueger, the Sabres coach) talk about net-front presence, and that’s something that comes natural for Wayne.
“We also have a young group, and he has a strong personality. He should help our group out a lot.”
The Devils’ PK Subban offered this statement about Simmonds on the Devils’ Twitter feed: “I’ve known him for a long time. He’s a good guy, a great teammate. He was very important in this locker room, as a part of our leadership group. Just a guy who would do anything for the team to help us win.”
Since 2006, one player taken in the fifth round by the Buffalo Sabres has played in the NHL. That guy is Calvin Petersen in 2013. He’s participated in 15 games as a goalie for the Los Angeles Kings.
Two for one
In the day’s second deal, Sheary heads back to Pittsburgh after coming to Buffalo from the Penguins almost two seasons ago. He had 34 points with the Sabres last season, and had gone 9-10=19 for Buffalo last season. Sheary was slated to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
Rodrigues has been a member of the Sabres organization for portions of five seasons. He hit career highs last season with 74 games, 9 goals, 20 assists and 29 points. However, the forward has had trouble finding regular playing time this season, going 5-4=9 in 38 games. Rodrigues reportedly had asked to be traded around New Year’s Day over unhappiness with his role here.
Arriving in Buffalo is Kahun, who only had been a Penguin since last summer. He had been picked up in a deal with Chicago. Kahun is 24, a 5-11, 175-pound center. This season he had 10 goals and 17 assists for 27 points. Kahun (a restricted free agent) adds a little depth at his position for his new team – especially since he has seen duty at all three forward spots.
“We were happy to bring a younger player into our mix,” Botterill said. “He’s very useful. He can play both wings, and has a skill set. He also has a track record of success over Germany, where he won an Olympic silver medal.”
The Penguins needed depth at forward, as some injuries have left that part of the roster rather barren. Sheary and Rodrigues will supply that. But the price was a young player who can play a variety of roles up front and who appears to have some upside.
It wasn’t a swing for the fences sort of day for Botterill and the Sabres, but that usually doesn’t happen for a team trying to build for the future. Simmonds will provide some low-cost help for the short term. Kahun is a decent young player who was picked up for two players who probably would not be part of the Sabres’ future after this summer.
It might have been nice if a low-cost center could have added to jump-start Jeff Skinner’s season. An unrestricted free agent could have come in to fill that spot this season, and then left to make room for Dylan Cozins and/or Casey Mittlelstadt next season. It’s tough to know if such a move was possible or practical, but it might have given Buffalo its best chance at an offensive boost for the stretch drive. Still, Botterill’s moves seem rational and reasonable under this set of circumstances.
That’s not a bad day’s work, all things considered.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)