Grading the Buffalo Sabres’ Trade Deadline

(photo: Adam Glanzman + Jim Davis / Getty Images)

Another NHL Trade Deadline has come and past. So you know what that means: time to get critical! I will take a look at all three Sabres’ trades over the past few weeks and will assign them a letter grade. So let’s get right into it:

Buffalo gets: 2021 3rd round pick and 2021 5th round pick
Montreal gets: Eric Staal (50% retained)

Trade Grade: A-

This trade happened on March 26th, so not exactly a deadline deal, but close enough. It is pretty clear that Eric Staal’s game has really hit its dropoff point this season. He had to learn a new system under Ralph Krueger, had absolutely no on-ice shooting luck at 5v5, and had to deal with being a 36 years old in the NHL. It has certainly been a season he would like to forget.

staal Grading the Buffalo Sabres' Trade Deadline

He managed to drive some decent expected numbers on offense, but the finishing ability seemingly disappeared whenever he stepped on the ice. The Sabres only shot a measly 3.8% with Eric Staal at 5v5, giving him the 7th worst on-ice shooting % of any NHLer with at least 300 minutes of ice time.

Other than the poor finishing, one could say that Staal performed ok in a Sabres uniform. It was really just a whole bunch of average which is probably the best you can get out of a 36 year-old. With the Sabres eyeing down a 31st-place finish and Eric Staal possibly contemplating his NHL future, it made sense for both parties to move on at the trade deadline.

GM Kevyn Adams’ return for Eric Staal was pretty solid. I am sure that many were not expecting more than a 3rd round pick in return, so adding that 5th round pick to the deal was a nice little bonus for retaining some salary.

Buffalo gets: 2021 3rd round pick
Florida gets: Brandon Montour

Trade Grade: A-

Brandon Montour is the defenseman who never really became who people thought he was. He showed flashes of being a skilled, agile defenseman who thrived in transition while in Anaheim and the Sabres placed a hefty bet (2019 1st round pick and Brendan Guhle, to be exact) on him reaching a higher trajectory in Buffalo.

Unfortunately for the Sabres, that was not the case. Montour struggled at turning his transition plays into offensive results and really struggled playing in his own end. Over the past two seasons, he had the 11th worst Defensive Goals Above Replacement of any NHL defenseman according to Evolving-Hockey’s model.

montour62 Grading the Buffalo Sabres' Trade Deadline
Chart via HockeyViz

Montour is a player who has some nice tools and could be useful in a role that utilizes his strengths. At the end of the day, that is not a player who many teams would want on their roster at a $3.85 million cap hit. 

So, I would certainly be happy with the outcome of this deal if I were the Sabres. They managed to secure a 3rd round pick without having to retain any salary. They also finally realized the sunk cost of this Botterill-era trade and are ready to move on from a defenseman who has been sub-replacement level in Buffalo.

Buffalo gets: 2021 2nd round pick and Anders Bjork
Boston gets: Taylor Hall (50% retained) and Curtis Lazar

Trade Grade: B-

This trade has so many layers to it that make it tricky to evaluate without being in the same room as Kevyn Adams leading up to the trade deadline. It is very important to note that Taylor Hall’s contract with the Sabres contained a full no-movement clause. That means a team cannot trade, waive, or loan the player without their approval.

Nobody knows how much hardball Hall played by using his no-movement clause as leverage. According to the post-trade interviews from both parties, it does sound like there was some interest from Hall to specifically be dealt to Boston. So, that adjusts the lens in which I analyze this trade through.

I would like to note that I am a Taylor Hall truther. I would have gladly given up a late 2021 1st round pick if he was interested in joining my team at a $4 million cap hit. Corey Sznajder’s tracking data has Hall at 1st in the league in High Danger Passes/60, 2nd in Scoring Chance Assists/60, and 4th in Zone Entries Leading to Scoring Chances/60. His playmaking is absolutely still there, he was just suffering from a very poor 2.3 shooting % in Buffalo. He is a classic case of a “buy the dip” type of player.

However, the Sabres look like their hands may have been tied here with the full no-movement clause, so a 2nd round pick is a passable return. It may be a slightly disappointing return, but one that a team is willing to take if they are just looking to get something of value from an upcoming unrestricted free agent.

Let’s take a quick look at the other half of the trade. I do not believe the Sabres extract much more value from the Curtis Lazar and Anders Bjork swap. Both skaters on-ice results profile very similarly and they both are a similar age (Lazar is 18 months older than Bjork). The only real difference is cap hit: Lazar is in the final year of contract with a $800k cap hit while Anders Bjork comes in with a contract at a $1.6M yearly cap hit that expires in 2023.

bjorklazar Grading the Buffalo Sabres' Trade Deadline

One can certainly argue that Bjork has some more runway to develop his game in a different role, but I think the difference in cap hit makes this swap a wash. I would have preferred to acquire one of Boston’s goalie prospects, Daniel Vladar or Jeremy Swayman, but Boston wisely rejected that offer. I also would have had some interest in forward prospect Jakub Lauko.

At the end of the day, I probably cannot complain too much about the Sabres trade return since I do not know what went on behind the scenes. So I will begrudgingly accept this return if I am the Sabres and hope that I can select a Nikita Kucherov with that 2nd round pick.

Data via:
Natural Stat Trick

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