The Buffalo Sabres made a splash this week. The fan base had been assured that GM Jason Botterill would be back again next year. However, this week, they fired him and most of their management group. Kevyn Adams was immediately hired despite little experience. This has begun speculation regarding the future of Jack Eichel.
Kevyn Adams Needs To Keep Jack Eichel
As soon as the announcement came out, articles began to pop up online. Commentators were linking this new situation with Eichel’s comment about not being satisfied with losing. While this is an easy connection to make, trading Eichel is the worst thing Adams could do.
Replacing the offense that Eichel provides is just one small piece of the puzzle. He was drafted as a generational talent and, while slow to mature, is showing now that he is as good as hoped for. True first-line centres are a hard commodity to obtain. Once you have one you keep them. There are other options to explore that both improve the team and to make Eichel proud to be a Sabre once again.
The Three Step Kevyn Adams Plan
Adams needs to apply laser focus to the job at hand. Make a plan and announce it loudly. Just as the New York Rangers did with their infamous letter of rebuilding.
Examine his roster and prospect pool with an unflinching eye. Make the deals and signings to build a team with the youth he has but also by addressing the lack of leadership in the room. To do this he must Scour the free agent lists for bargain pieces, players past their prime but who still bring the experience and drive to win at all costs that the current team lacks. Players with some veteran leadership to help address the rumored immaturity of Eichel and Sam Reinhart. Quality people to mentor Eichel as he continues to mature and grow. To help him become the type of player who not only scores 100+ points but who also knows how to lead his team through the bad times as well as the good.
Step 1: A Plan, Any Plan
In the three years of his reign, GM Jason Botterill flailed about somewhat with the teams’ direction. His first move was the acquisition of former Sabre Jason Pominville and Marco Scandella for Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno.
This move was designed to add to the veteran core of players but then, just four months into the season, it become evident that Evander Kane was on the way out and Botterill made it clear that his asking price for the rental of Kane was astronomical. This possibly led to a lower return as potential trading partners made other moves and Botterill was left taking a desperation package from San Jose that included AHL player Danny O’Regan, a conditional 1st round pick (29th overall) and a 2020 conditional 4th round pick (122nd overall).
That summer the Kane trade was followed by the difficult trade of Ryan O’Reilly who had recently told reporters that he had “lost the love of the game” and that he was “being okay with losing”. This time the GM did the best he could dealing a devalued asset to the Blues. The return of Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka, Tage Thompson, a 2019 conditional 1st round pick (31st overall) and a 2020 2nd round pick was an clear example or quantity over quality but it is hard to blame a GM when players publicly make statements such as the ones made by O’Reilly.
The Sabres had back to back seasons following these moves of looking vastly improved only to fall apart in the second half. And yet, at the trade deadline this year, Botterill went out and acquired Wayne Simmonds, a pending UFA. Simmonds has shown an incredible drop off in his play after a long and physical career. This trade would be his last move as GM.
Step 2: The Tough Trades
The Sabre’s blue line needs to be addressed. Rasmus Sandin is the keystone going forward but the Sabres have a dilemma with the usage of the rest. Henri Jokiharju will likely lock up a top four spot. After that it gets less clear. Players such as Brandon Montour and Colin Miller have not been used effectively. If Montour is not your power play quarterback, then he should be used as a valuable trade commodity that should be explored quickly. Continuing to destroy his offensive numbers only lowers his value.
The Sabres have an overloaded right side on the back end. They are playing Colin Miller, Rasmus Ristolainen, and Jokiharju there. They have been playing Montour on his off wing to accomodate this depth. Finding a trade to upgrade the left side behind Dahlin should be at the top of Adams list. Assuming Jokiharju is a lock in the top four on the right side that forces the decision of who is their second top four dman on that side.A potential trade partner could be a team like Calgary that has the opposite problem. A Ristolainen or pending RFA Montour swap for the rights to RFA TJ Brodie could benefit both teams.
Up front the heat is really on. Questions regarding Reinhart are still around as he has called out his team more than once. The albatross deal to Jeff Skinner hangs over his head. And the slow development of Casey Mittelstadt are all things that need to be addressed. If moving Reinhart to address some leadership or maturity issues is required now is the time.
Step 3: The Goalie Question
In goal, Linus Ullmark is still improving and is capable of another leap but goaltending is such a key position particularly on such a young a fragile team. Even with the defensive woes of the team in front of him, Ullmark posted a.915 SV%.
Signing a proven 1B in pending UFA Thomas Greiss would be a good upgrade. This would allow Ullmark to have a safety net who could come in and keep the Sabres winning if their starter has a slump of any kind.
But if Adams wants to go in a completely different direction in net he could try to land an established number one goalie with a player like potential UFA Jacob Markstrom if he hits the market.
It is clear that a focused plan and making some bold moves are the order of the day. There are many difficult and potentially tricky trades to make and free agents to evaluate. But if they want to stop the losing streak, the last thing the Buffalo Sabres should do is trade Jack Eichel.