Sometimes, the Team’s Gambles Have Paid Off
Sabres fans love to analyze, agonize and lament over the bad moves Buffalo’s managers have made over the years. It’s understandable. After all, when a team’s been out of the playoffs as long as the Sabres have, it’s a natural reaction. When Die By the Blade recently asked readers which stories they’d like to see, lassathrax responded “maybe do top 10 best and worst (trades) to balance out any negativity”. Since other Sabres pundits have already compiled a list of the worst trades the team has made, this piece will cover some of the best trades Buffalo has pulled off in recent history.
1) Cliff Pu to Carolina for Jeff Skinner
On Aug. 2, 2018, the Carolina Hurricanes traded forward Jeff Skinner to the Buffalo Sabres for prospect Cliff Pu, a 2019 second-round pick, and a 2020 third and sixth-round pick, respectively. Skinner was a steal from the start, getting points and making plays up and down the ice. While he struggled for a few years, this past season Skinner finally got his magic back.
With a career record of 94 goals, 69 assists and 163 total points in Buffalo, Jeff Skinner has become a key part of the team’s offense. No wonder 65% of DBTB’s readers gave the forward an A in a season-ending poll.
Cliff Pu, the prospect that Buffalo traded to Carolina, never played an NHL game. Currently, he’s with the Kunlun Red Star of the KHL. His record in 2021-22 was 3 goals, 3 assists and 6 total points. It’s pretty clear who won this trade.
2) Eichel to Vegas For Alex Tuch and Peyton Krebs
The Buffalo Sabres traded captain Jack Eichel to the Vegas Golden Knights on Nov. 4, 2021 for forwards Alex Tuch and Peyton Krebs. Buffalo also received a future first and second-round draft pick, giving Vegas a third-round pick in return.
At the time, some writers in the hockey world thought that the Sabres were on the losing end of the deal. Alex Tuch was injured and couldn’t play immediately, which seemed to negate any advantage that Buffalo might have gained over a rehabbing Eichel.
However, hindsight was 20-20, at least in this case. Tuch and Krebs have proven to be good, reliable players who both contributed to the Sabres’ season-ending improvement. Vegas, meanwhile, looks like a franchise that paid too much for their Eichel roll of the dice. Not only did the Knights fail to make the playoffs, but the team had to trade top winger Max Pacioretty and depth defenseman Dylan Coughlin to Carolina. Vegas couldn’t afford to keep them and pay Eichel’s bloated contract.
3) The O’Reilly Trade Revisited: Tage Thompson
On July 1, 2018, Buffalo traded Ryan O’Reilly to the St. Louis Blues for Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka, Tage Thompson, a 2019 first-round pick and a 2021 second-round pick. Initially, this looked like a lopsided trade that gave the Blues all the advantages. St. Louis won their first Stanley Cup with O’Reilly and he became the team’s captain, racking up points and wins.
In recent years, as O’Reilly has aged, his numbers have started to drop. At the same time, Tage Thompson’s have begun to improve. Nobody would dispute that Thompson is now one of Buffalo’s top offensive weapons. Still just 24 years old, the center has a long career ahead of him, while O’Reilly’s is winding down. It’s possible this trade was not the mistake many Sabres fans initially thought it was.
4) Sam Reinhart to Florida for Devon Levi and Jiri Kulich.
Sam Reinhart was always a great Sabres player who unfortunately struggled through Buffalo’s prolonged rebuild. When Reinhart went to the Panthers, Sabres fans mourned another loss. In exchange, though, Florida gave up goaltending prospect Devon Levi and a 2022 first-round pick.
I miss Reinhart. I know many fans feel the same way. However, one of Buffalo’s nagging problems as of late has been goaltending. The Sabres haven’t had a goalie who can consistently keep pucks out of the net for any length of time. Levi is a netminder who promises to be one of the pieces in the team’s goaltending puzzle.
First-round pick Jiri Kulich, was “the best skater on the ice in every game I have seen so far” according to Elite Prospects. The Sabres need skaters who can outperform their opponents in the rink and Kulich could be part of the solution.
5) Rasmus Ristolainen to Philadelphia for Robert Hagg and Isak Rosen
The Sabres traded Rasmus Ristolainen to the Flyers on July 23, 2021. Philadelphia gave Buffalo Robert Hagg, the 14th overall pick in the 2021 NHL Draft and a 2023 second-round pick. Ristolainen struggled during his time as a Sabre, and the Flyers were eager to use him to shore up their defensive corps.
Hagg didn’t work out and the Sabres traded him to the Florida Panthers in exchange for a sixth-round draft pick. The Blue and Gold used their 14th overall pick to acquire forward Isak Rosen. Die By the Blade named him #16 in the Buffalo Sabres Top 25 under 25 prospects series. Rosen is known as a dual offensive and defensive threat. Fans look forward to seeing him in a Sabres uniform when the prospect comes to Buffalo.
Meanwhile, it appears the Flyers overpaid for Ristolainen, much the way the Golden Knights broke the bank for Jack Eichel. Philadelphia GM Chuck Fletcher even openly admitted that he “paid a big price” for the veteran defenseman. Risto hasn’t helped the Flyers make the playoffs. If Rosen works out for the Sabres, it could be another successful trade for Buffalo GM Kevyn Adams.
Those are my top five best recent trades. What are yours?