Each Monday, we’ll wrap up three of the biggest stories from the weekend and how they’ll play into the coming week.
It’s not often the last-place team grabs all the headlines this late in a season, but the Buffalo Sabres were at the center of two of the league’s top stories this weekend.
On Friday, the Sabres pulled off the biggest trade of the season, sending star goaltender Ryan Miller and team captain Steve Ott to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for Jaroslav Halak, Chris Stewart, a prospect, a first-round pick in 2015, and a conditional pick.
The deal is a classic “going for it” move for St. Louis, as it acquires a former Vezina winner who’s still considered one of the league’s best. Halak and Miller have put up similar stats in recent years, and even Blues GM Doug Armstrong admitted that the deal offered no more than an incremental improvement in the crease. But with St. Louis emerging as one of a handful of top contenders for the Stanley Cup in a very tough Western Conference, even a small upgrade could make the difference between early-round disappointment and the franchise’s first championship. While it didn’t come cheap, the acquisition of Miller has received generally positive reviews.
From the Sabres’ perspective, while it’s always difficult to trade a franchise player, the consensus was that new GM Tim Murray did well in the deal. He got a top prospect and a first-round pick, and there’s a good chance of the conditional pick becoming another first. Given the thin market for goalies over the years, that’s a decent haul on its own. But in Stewart and Halak, he also gets two veteran players whom he can turn around and trade for more futures over the next few days.
Combine those incoming deals with the expected trade of Matt Moulson, as well as possible moves involving players like Tyler Myers and Christian Ehrhoff, and the Sabres should come away from the deadline with an absolute windfall of picks and prospects. That includes multiple firsts in the 2015 draft, which is highlighted by future franchise player Connor McDavid. This is how you do a rebuild. Murray is not screwing around.
All of which served to provide long-suffering Sabres fans with some hope that the organization is finally on the right track. So it goes without saying that the optimism was allowed to last for less than 24 hours before the franchise suffered yet another black eye: the surprise resignation of president of hockey operations Pat LaFontaine on Saturday.
LaFontaine had only been on the job for less than four months, having been hired to great fanfare in November. Now he’s headed back to his old job at the league head office. It’s the second time in LaFontaine’s managerial career that he’s had a stunningly short stint with an NHL team, having lasted just 40 days with the Islanders in 2006.
There’s talk that LaFontaine and Murray weren’t on the same page about Miller, which would explain the conflicting reports coming out of Buffalo leading up to Friday’s deal. Others suggest that there’s something bigger going on. Either way, while LaFontaine may have been higher in the team’s org chart, general managers rarely lose front office power struggles, especially ones that come just weeks after they’ve been hired.
With all due respect to LaFontaine, judging by the work Murray has managed to do so far, Sabres fans have to feel like the right guy kept his job. It was a disruptive weekend in Buffalo, and there’s more to come before Wednesday’s deadline, but for the first time in years this looks like a team with a plan.