Sports Corner: NHL Trade Deadline
The Pens and Sabres find themselves at the opposite end of the spectrum this season -- but the trade deadline can mean a lot to both.
Erie's two local favorite NHL teams – the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Buffalo Sabres – are at opposite ends of the spectrum this season. The Penguins lead the Eastern Conference with 83 points, while the Sabres' season-long struggle has churned out a mere 38 points in 57 games. And the Penguins are poised for a Stanley Cup run, while the Sabres are looking at the possibility of drafting first overall. However, they have one thing in common: Both have pressing needs to take care of at the trade deadline.
The March 5 trade deadline is fast approaching, and some of the NHL's best are making their case at the 2014 Winter Olympics. The Penguins sent seven players to Sochi. The Sabres sent four. Because of the Olympics, not only is there a game break, but there is also a roster freeze. No transactions between teams are permitted until Feb. 23. On that fateful Sunday, trade rumors are sure to heat up based on Olympic performances.
The Sabres' top concern is goaltender Ryan Miller. The American netminder is sharing time with Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick on Team USA. Ever since the Sabres traded away top scorer Thomas Vanek in October, there has been speculation regarding potential landing spots for Miller. Some of the Sabres' most logical options are the Washington Capitals and the St. Louis Blues.
The Washington Capitals pack plenty of offensive firepower with left winger Alex Ovechkin and center Nicklas Backstrom, but their back end is in flux. The Caps have tried three goalies so far this season with little success. They are allowing an average of 2.80 goals per game. At 11th in the East, that figure won't get the Caps far in the playoffs – if at all.
The Sabres would require a heavy price for Miller, but the Caps could pay up with right winger Martin Erat, who has demanded to be traded, or center Brooks Laich, who is dispensable in favor of free agency acquisition Mikhail Grabovski. Erat or Laich is capable of adding veteran presence to a young group of forwards led by center Cody Hodgson, Tyler Ennis, and Zemgus Girgensons.
The case for St. Louis is fairly simple from the Blues' perspective: When it comes to goalies, the more, the merrier. Last season, the Blues finished second in the Central Division. Their strong play can be attributed to strong play in net.
All three goalies on the Blues' roster last season started at least 10 games, had a winning record, and had a goals against average below 2.5. The Blues wouldn't mind bolstering their netminding group, especially if they could also rid themselves of right winger Chris Stewart's hefty cap hit. Stewart, who was drafted 18th overall by the Colorado Avalanche in 2006, is only 26 and has plenty of untapped potential.
The Penguins are in much better shape. Centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are scoring and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury is standing tall in net. However, The Pens could use more defensemen. U.S. Olympian Brooks Orpik's new line mate is former New Jersey Devil Paul Martin. Martin is solid defensively, but he has been on and off of the injured reserve list and is incapable of replacing what defenseman Kris Letang, who recently had a stroke, brought to the Pens' back end.
The Pens have several options worth looking at. Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner could become expendable if Leafs' captain Dion Phaneuf is re-signed. The New York Rangers are struggling to make a deal with shot-blocking machine Dan Girardi. The Florida Panthers' Dmitry Kulikov has failed to live up to Florida's high expectations, but he is still a quality defenseman. New York Islanders defenseman Andrew MacDonald recently denied the Isles' latest offer.
All of these young defensemen could be eyed by the Pens for their run to the cup, but in exchange for whom? Max Talbot never developed into the offensive threat that the Pens were hoping for and his production has dropped off since his shoulder surgery in 2009. The Penguins could also send picks to teams such as the Panthers and the Islanders that aren't having as much success and need to rebuild.
Adam Unger can be contacted at aUnger@ErieReader.com, and you can follow him on Twitter @AdamUnger28.