The Buffalo Sabres trade for Evander Kane from the Winnipeg Jets is a high risk, high reward deal for both teams.
The controversial winger was dealt to the Sabres on Wednesday along with defenseman Zach Bogosian and unsigned college goaltender Jason Kasdorf in exchange for Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford, Joel Armia, Brendan Lemieux and a first-round pick in the 2015 draft.
It’s the sort of multiplayer blockbuster that’s been almost impossible to pull off in the salary cap era, a move made all the more astounding because Winnipeg GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has so far been reluctant to make player-for-player swaps in his first three years on the job.
The deal has so many moving parts that it’s impossible to anoint either team as the winner. On the surface, though, it looks like a swap with tremendous potential for both sides.
Buffalo, desperate for NHL-ready players, get the best asset in Kane, who was a good soldier on the ice, but whose behavior off it has long suggested that he’d benefit from a change of scenery. The Sabres will have to wait a while to see how he’ll fit in—Kane will be sidelined four to six months by shoulder surgery, a happy coincidence for a team looking to maximize its draft lottery chances—but this may be the fresh start he needs to realize his vast potential.
Buffalo obviously believes that Kane is better than his numbers this season (10-12-22) suggest. The Sabres will expect him to fill a higher-profile role than the third-line/penalty-kill duty he pulled for the Jets. Paired with one of Buffalo’s promising young centers (perhaps even 2015 draft superprospects Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel), Kane could easily top 30 goals and 70 points, and establish himself as one of the league’s premier power forwards.
Of course, there’s some risk. For all his talent, Kane comes loaded with baggage. As Elliotte Friedman wrote recently, Kane hasn’t yet shown a willingness to exist within a team dynamic. If he can make it work with the Sabres, he has a chance to be part of a team that could contend for the Stanley Cup in the next five years. If not, well, the Buffalo has itself a problem.
Bogosian is a risk as well, but a more measured one. He’s a big, physical shutdown defenseman with a hint of potential to become something more. At 24, he’s further along the developmental curve than most of the Sabres’ blueliners, and he’s young enough to still be in his prime when this team becomes a contender. He’s been plagued by injuries through the years, but is signed through 2019 at a reasonable hit of just over $5 million per season.
Kasdorf, a 2011 sixth-round selection, has good size at 6' 4" and some upside to his game, but is struggling with injuries and playing for a bad RPI team this season. There’s potential, but Buffalo is taking a flyer on a player the Jets weren't likely to sign with Connor Hellebuyck and Jamie Phillips in the system.
For Winnipeg, this is all about adding depth to a team that’s in contention for the team’s first playoff berth since the NHL returned to the city in 2011. The key to the deal for the Jets is the towering 6' 8" Myers, who will step into the lineup immediately, likely on the second pair, and try to prove that his brutal possession numbers are the product of playing with the woeful Sabres rather than a reflection of his own limitations. He’s never quite regained the form that earned him the Calder Trophy in ’09–10, but he’s turned a performance corner during the past year and has arguably been Buffalo’s most valuable player. Asking him to play fewer minutes than the 25 that he routinely handled for the Sabres might be the key to unlocking his best performance.
Stafford is an interesting addition. The pending UFA will be given every chance to slide onto the second line—freeing Dustin Byfuglien to return to the blue line—but if Stafford is a poor fit he could be shipped out ahead of the deadline for another asset.
Armia, Buffalo’s first-round pick in 2011, is a promising but injury-plagued forward with top-six potential. There are still holes in his game, but he’s worked hard to improve, especially when playing without the puck. He could see action this season, especially if Stafford falters, but would be better served by more time in the minors.
Lemieux, the son of four-time Stanley Cup winner Claude Lemieux, is a gritty top-nine winger cut from the same cloth as his high-intensity father. He’s a beast on the power play who could be a nice fit with Winnipeg’s young talent (Nic Petan, Nikolaj Ehlers), which is still a year or two away.
The first round pick that the Jets acquired will not be the one that could well turn out to be the first in this year’s draft. The Sabres instead parted with the selection that they will get from either the Islanders or the Blues, whichever is lower in the standings. It’s possible that Winnipeg will end up flipping this asset before the trade deadline if Stafford and Armia don’t fill the need on the second line.
In the end, you have to give high marks to both general managers. Cheveldayoff took a distressed asset and made an excellent hockey deal that improves his club both immediately and into the future. And Buffalo's Tim Murray manages to make his lottery-bound team worse this season and undeniably better next, and he did it without giving up any of his top assets. Nice job by both.