Could the Penguins and Sabres — with obvious ties and connections between Pens’ GM Jim Rutherford and his counterpart and former lieutenant Jason Botterill in Buffalo — be a trade match? It was floated on a Buffalo radio station yesterday by Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman.
Friedman - I don't think much has changed on the trade fronts. I think the #Sabres are still talking to Calgray, there's been some rumblings that they've talked to Pittsburgh. But it's the usual suspects that are available. Talks continue to look for a forward.— WGR 550 (@WGR550) November 26, 2019
“Talks” aren’t necessarily an indicator that a deal is close, but it is always interesting to hear what teams may be in discussions with each other. Typically “talks” can drag on weeks or even months and culminate in a deal eventually, or maybe nothing at all if the fit or value isn’t right for both teams.
We know that Rutherford likes his team and doesn’t anticipate making any more trades, saying just a few weeks ago:
“I’m not working on anything now,” Rutherford said. “If somebody calls me today with some idea that makes sense for our team, I would have to look at it. But I’m not calling other teams. I’m satisfied with where we’re at. I don’t know if this will be the team after the trade deadline. We’ve got lots of time to look at it.”
The Pens are also 7-2-4 in their last 13 games, usually getting points despite making it through an injury crunch. But Rutherford has been open he likes the way the team is playing — as he should, they’re doing excellent defensively and have been scoring a lot of goals as well.
Then again, would the Pens and Sabres be a good trade fit somewhere down the line this season?
First, you have to know what Buffalo is interested in. Friedman recently also said Buffalo’s motives are going to be to trade where they are overly deep (defense) in the hopes of improving where they are weak (a top six forward).
This isn’t news, but the Sabres face a roster crunch. They are sitting NHL-calibre defenders every night (Colin Miller, Marco Scandella). It’s tough to make a good deal when everyone else sees the situation, and GM Jason Botterill wisely is trying to use every second he can. Zach Bogosian is close to a return, which adds cap chaos to the equation. Almost everyone else is capped out, too. It’s a delicate dance. They want a top-six forward that can help them.
Buffalo facing a roster crunch plus being 2-7-1 in their last 10 games and dropping out of the playoff picture is a good team to be talking to. They might just be getting a little antsy or in a position to feel the need to pull the trigger on a trade to boost their season before it slips away again.
But what do the Pens have that Buffalo would want? A streaky Alex Galchenyuk who has been more cold than hot? Nothing else fits the mold of a “top six forward”, or at least, there’s not anything else Pittsburgh would be probably even think about making available to trade talks at this point. Even then, with Galchenyuk finally showing signs of life, it makes sense to hold onto him for a while longer to see what he can do.
And from Pittsburgh side does it make a lot of sense to add a Marco Scandella or Colin Miller to the team right now? Could probably argue that’s unnecessary, especially if it would require weakening an aspect of the team (skilled, offensive-minded wingers) that is already a fairly weak spot on the team right now. If it weren’t for John Marino, maybe a player like Miller would move the needle a bit more for Pittsburgh. But unless they know something they’re not yet saying about just how long term the injury is to Justin Schultz, that doesn’t really make a lot of sense for the Pens to add a defender right now either.
For the Pens and Sabres, there doesn’t look like a great match. Now that Pittsburgh has some cap space, are playing pretty well, they’re still in a “wait and see” type mode to look at how this team meshes and plays as they seek the elusive healthy lineup. Buffalo is no doubt motivated to add a forward for a defenseman, but the Penguins don’t have a lot of trade-able candidates at the moment.
All in all, if there’s been “talks” between Pittsburgh and Buffalo, it’s likely to take the temperature of each other and figure out what might be a possibility in the future. It doesn’t seem to be a great match in the immediate future (especially given Buffalo’s cap issues and big time defense overload) for these teams to consummate a deal in the near future. But, you never know until you talk.