This Tank Knows No Bounds……. 18 & Counting

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When the season began, I had some hope for this Sabres team. We had acquired some veteran talent in the offseason, we’d re-signed some valued players that left at the trade deadline, and our young defensemen looked pretty solid. Perhaps it was wishful thinking; perhaps it was a distinct lack of will to accept the fate of the tank. Whatever it was that lead me to actually publish this and ruin any credit my name had in regard to sports, I did it, and I was wrong. So, so wrong. And just when I thought I really couldn’t be more wrong, Tim Murray goes and makes me wronger. His early afternoon transaction dismissing the brick wall that was Michal Neuvirth wasn’t enough; Murray found a way to also deal Brian Flynn and Torrey Mitchell to Montreal and standout winger Chris Stewart to Minnesota. In return, Murray obtained an NFL showboat – wait; not Ocho Cinco?  A goalie, worse than the one we’ve already got? I can’t…Murray also picked up some prospects, maybe a conditional first born child, a bag of pucks or two, a bill for $2 million and some more draft picks.

It's nice to see Flynn head to a playoff team.  Photo from zimbio.com

It’s nice to see Flynn head to a playoff team. Photo from zimbio.com

As the day wore on, reports made the Stewart transaction look nearly impossible. Early action involving wingers was said to have diminished Stewart’s value; several sources indicated that offers of a fourth round pick were being tossed out and only if the Sabres would eat half of Stewart’s contract. It seemed as though Murray might be better off holding onto the winger who had been scoring consistently as the deadline approached – something the Sabres have been sorely lacking this season. I even went so far as to tweet “If we deal Stewart, it costs us $2 million. If we keep him, it costs us nothing.” I know the math doesn’t necessarily stand up, but the logic does. Again, Murray made me look like a damned fool. He probably called Minnesota GM Chuck Fletcher via Facetime and looked deep into the soul of the Wild front man. Fletcher stared back at Murray’s cold, dead brimstone eyes and was powerless; he sent a 2017 2nd round pick back our way. It is difficult, though, to imagine Fletcher as some sort of hard-line, take-care-of-business type guy after finding out he relented to the wishes of an 11-year-old. In his defense, it was a hand-written letter, so it obviously meant more.

Mitchell contributed to the stagnant offense in recent games, but he wasn't staying long-term.  Photo from zimbio.com

Mitchell contributed to the stagnant offense in recent games, but he wasn’t staying long-term. Photo from zimbio.com

On the surface, it seems odd for a team like Montreal to mine the ‘talent’ of the Sabres 3rd and 4th lines, but Buffalo has played several close games against the Habs this season, and I’m sure their GM was taking notes while his team was dislodged from first place earlier this year by what was — even then — the laughing stock of the league. All in all, Montreal gave up very little – a 5th and a 7th round pick in 2016 and a no-name prospect who will likely never break into the NHL. Trading Flynn was a shock – he had been a steady player for Buffalo. But Murray was definitely a seller on deadline day, and the pick may turn out to be valuable in the offseason, where goaltending will need to be addressed.

Tank jokes aside, Murray did exactly what he needed to do. He unloaded his unrestricted free agents before they could skip town and leave us holding the bag. He got some picks that he can either deal for veteran talent this summer, or he can hold on to the picks and grab some skilled youth when the team is on the upswing. Of course, it didn’t hurt the cause; Murray all but assured the 30th place finish. While we’ll still have an 80% chance of ending up with Jack Eichel on draft day, let it never be said that it was from lack of trying.

I’ll close with some positives for Sabres fans. We’re going to get a good look at some of our Rochester boys. Larson has spent some time in blue and gold and has looked alright. Varone is enjoying some top-line ice time and seems to be developing some chemistry with players like Ennis and Gionta – guys who will likely be here for a while. Tim Schaller has made the trip to Florida, and while he won’t see major ice time, we’ll get a glimpse of him at the premier level. Expect to see a lot of goaltender Matt Hackett as he needs to play seven games before the end of the season, or Buffalo will lose their RFA privileges and Hackett will become a UFA. By the end of the season, there may be games where we could easily be the Buffalo Americans, but there is some solace in knowing that we’ve pretty much hit rock bottom. We can only go up from here

"How many picks is that?" "A lot."

“How many picks is that?” “A lot.”

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Thanks for reading, and, as always, join the conversation on Twitter (@SchlagsWrites) and on Facebook as Schlags Writes.

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