For Sabres fans, Deadline Day was quite the roller coaster. Three pm arrived and virtually nothing of interest had been reported. The Wild and Oilers had exchanged defensemen, the Leafs and Bolts had swapped prospects and the Kostistsyn brothers were reunited in Nashville, but no transactions had been called in from Western New York. Most of the Sabres coverage on TSN’s Trade Center was the show’s panel ripping on General Manager Darcy Regier for asking too high a price, a first round draft pick, for center Paul Gaustad.
Then, not a minute past the deadline bell, news broke that the veteran of seven NHL seasons was in-fact on the move, off to a Predators team building for a Cup run; in exchange for the club’s first round pick. Darcy had played the market, gotten his return and things were looking up. Several minutes later, however, Bob McKenzie announced that Derek Roy was staying put and hopes for another big move seemed dim. But the Sabres still had assets, and some contenders, namely Vancouver still had deals to announce. As Twitter sources checked off the teams that were done for the day, the Sabres remained live. With Roy off the board, perhaps a team looking to bolster its defense was moving on Leopold?
Twenty two minutes later, a rumor surfaced that permanently changed the tenor of the afternoon. A poster on the Sabresfans forums has submitted a thread on a potentially blockbuster move between the Sabres and Canucks, a deal that would send center Cody Hodgson to Buffalo and power-forward Zack Kassian out West. When the Trade Center confirmed that Kassian was indeed a Canuck, initial skepticism gave way to waves of surprise, excitement and outright shock. Fans were disappointed to lose a prospect that had long been billed as the answer to the division’s goons, but couldn’t resist getting excited over a former top-ten pick with a ridiculous pedigree, from a draft class that had already given the team three of its most promising young players.
The excitement is justified. The Hodgson deal communicates two fundamentally important things about the Sabres’ outlook going forward. First they aren’t afraid to sell high on a guy they aren’t sure of. Regier is famous for holding onto his prospects, until they bust and considering Kassian’s potential both on the ice and as a fan-favorite, this move is a welcome break from tradition. Secondly, Darcy understands that only centers can solve this team’s deficiencies down the middle. This trade is an incredibly risky move for both franchises, and Regier probably isn’t signing on if he thinks that he has the solution to the Sabres’ dearth of pivots somewhere on his roster or prospect pool. Darcy agreeing to this deal displays his comprehension of the importance of high potential centers; a trait unforeseen in previous transactions and a trend that hopefully continues through the draft.
One place where Regier could have done more, however, was in replacing some of the grit the team shipped out. While Gaustad wasn’t exactly an imposing presence, and Kassian hasn’t shown the mean streak that gets Milan Lucic booed at First Niagara Center, both guys still contributed some sandpaper to the lineup that was not replaced with their departures. Swinging a mid round pick for an enforcer like Matt Carkner would’ve rounded out the day nicely, especially considering Hodgson’s relatively small stature and injury history.
At the end of the day, Regier’s break from the ho-hum of flipping second round picks for mediocre forwards was a welcome sight. The Sabres got great value out of Gaustad, and turned Kassian’s enigmatic potential into the future top-six center the team has been searching for since 2007. While the Sabres failed to bulk up at the deadline, Regier had emphasized the need for the team to get bigger even when Kassian was on the roster, and it is expected that the GM will look to add grit in the offseason.
All in all, the Sabres were one of Monday’s biggest winners.