Darcy Regier was able to find a happy medium between buying and selling yesterday which left most fans satisfied with the day’s final outcome. Regier completed two trades in what ended up being a fairly eventful day for the Sabres’ front office. Regier was able to get significant value from one of the team’s impending unrestricted free agent as well as re-tooling the teams future outlook by making a deal involving two of the league’s top prospects.
Paul Gaustad and Buffalo’s 2013 4th round pick for Nashville’s 2012 1st round pick
General managers and the media community alike were flabbergasted upon the news that Darcy Regier was seeking a 1st round draft pick for free-agent-to-be Paul Gaustad. Most said it was a ridiculous price that he would never get. Well, in typical Regier fashion he waited and waited until that 1st round pick was finally offered by Nashville. In a market where Dominic Moore netted a 2nd round pick and Andrei Kostitsyn garnered a return of a 2nd round pick and a conditional 5th round pick, it should not be shocking that Darcy Regier was seeking a 1st round pick. Getting a 1st round pick for an impending UFA was a great move on Regier’s part and one that will certainly improve the organization long term.
Gaustad will bolster Nashville’s lineup to make a deep run into the playoffs. He is an impending free agent and likely to be your typical rental player for the Nashville Predators who are clearly going all in on this season before losing defensive anchor Ryan Suter. Gaustad faced extremely difficult minutes in Buffalo as he was saddled the most difficult quality of competition as well as having the lowest offensive zone start percentage among forwards. He will likely face the same assignment in Nashville, this will free up some other forwards to focus on the offensive side of the puck.
Gaustad will certainly be a significant loss moving forward but he is not somebody that would be lumped into the irreplaceable grouping by any means. Given that Gaustad will be a free agent as of July 1st, there is the possibility that he could choose to come back here at that point, though that situation still remains unlikely. One could not blame the 30 year old Gaustad whose body takes a beating night in and night out for seeking what could be his one and only big pay day of his career on the open market.
Zack Kassian and Marc-Andre Gragnani for Cody Hodgson and Alexander Sulzer
Upon Bob McKenzie’s first tweet of a trade going down involving Zack Kassian being traded to Vancouver, mass hysteria prevailed in Sabreland. As the pieces began to fall into place it appeared to be more and more of a good move on the Sabres end. A player in the mold of Zack Kassian is extremely difficult to find; a young, huge, offensively talented player who could develop into a premier power-forward. However, this trade speaks a lot to the organizations feeling on Marcus Foligno and the sentiment that he could replace a lot of what Kassian brings to the table.
Foligno’s development curve over the past 18 months has been tremendous. He went from 39 points in 67 games (.58 PPG) in his draft year to 59 points in 47 games (1.26 PPG) as captain of the Sudbury Wolves last season, all the while remaining an intimidating presence on the Wolves top line. This season started out relatively slow before the offensive side really started coming around for Foligno in his first professional season. Foligno is on a run right now which has seen him gather 12 points in his last 13 games as he has been consistently improving in every aspect of the game. Foligno likely will never develop the offensive game that Kassian boasts but he does bring a very similar physical game to Kassian along with a leadership element that Kassian lacks at this point in time.
Marc-Andre Gragnani was set to become an unrestricted free agent with Buffalo given his unique Group 6 Free Agent status. However, Gragnani still has potential to play the 21 games needed over the course of the regular season and playoffs with the Vancouver Canucks to remain a restricted free agent rather than an unrestricted free agent.
Cody Hodgson brings a component to the Sabres that they have been lacking since Drury and Briere left; scoring center depth. Hodgson is ready now to step into a top six center spot at 22 years old. Hodgson was receiving sheltered minutes in Vancouver as his offensive zone starts ranked second among centers (behind Sedin) while his quality of competition ranked last among regular centers on the Canucks. Hodgson will be exposed to better defense pairings without having Sedin or Kesler ahead of him for opponents to key in on. However, it’s likely that Hodgson will also receive more ice time than the 12:43 per game he was receiving in Vancouver. The move from Vancouver’s end was simple, Hodgson is not going to pass Sedin or Kesler any time soon on the depth chart and they were in desperate need of a big bodied winger. The trade really makes a lot of sense for both teams.
What Hodgson brings to the table is a tremendous shot, fantastic offensive instincts, and great vision. Hodgson is not the greatest skater but it is an area he has made great strides (no pun intended) since being drafted. Hodgson can develop into the type of player you simply cannot find without drafting them. He has the skill set to develop into a high end #1 center with captaincy potential, a special player.
The biggest concern in losing Kassian and Gaustad is certainly the size and physicality aspect that this roster was already thin on, and now woefully thin on. However, Darcy Regier’s assessment is difficult to disagree with that size and physicality is much easier to acquire via the draft or free agency than a player of Cody Hodgson’s caliber. You may not find a replacement for Zack Kassian (though Foligno may fill part of that role), but you can certainly fill the void in size via drafting and free agency. Tropp, Foligno, and McNabb can certainly ease that loss in the size/grit department as soon as next season.
In these two trades there is Marc-Andre Gragnani who has been a healthy scratch in 12 of the last 13 games for the Sabres, Zack Kassian who has been shuttled back and forth from Rochester several times this season, and Alexander Sulzer who is likely to take Gragnani’s place in the press box for now. If we were to break these trades down and over simplify them to extract the true impact on the Sabres roster for the remaining 20 games, we could assume the impact of Gragnani and Sulzer to be negligible. Kassian certainly has made some impact but one that is intermittent and difficult to quantify due to his sporadic call-ups and playing time. The meat and potatoes of these two deals for this season boils down to Gaustad for Hodgson. Thus, the two trades yesterday certainly do not preclude the Sabres from making the playoffs in any way, shape, or form.
Given the fact that the Sabres had not talked to Gaustad about a contract extension yet and Gragnani was set to be a UFA, the Sabres were likely to lose both over the offseason. Furthermore, given the organizational depth at defense and Sulzer’s impending UFA status, it’s likely he will be gone at the end of the season as well. Beyond the end of the regular season the trade essentially boils down to Zack Kassian and a 4th round pick in 2013 for Cody Hodgson and a 1st round pick in 2012. This is of course an overly simplistic view of yesterday’s outcome given that we don’t truly know whether Buffalo would’ve retained Gaustad or Gragnani, but certainly most signs pointed to the two parties parting ways at the end of the season.
All in all, Regier afforded himself some more flexibility heading into the draft with four picks in the top 45 overall picks. Given the amount of high picks they will have, it leaves the possibility of potentially packaging picks to move into the top 3 of the draft to get an impact player that could potentially make the roster as soon as next season. He cut bait with an impending UFA to do it and while trading out Zack Kassian hurts the organization, getting Cody Hodgson in return eases that pain as he is precisely what the Sabres needed from an offensive perspective.