As the N.H.L. trade deadline rapidly approaches the Buffalo Sabres find themselves in an interesting situation.
Will they buy or sell at the deadline? Who could be on the move if the Sabres are active?
These are some of the questions we'll address in the weeks leading up to the deadline while counting down five Sabres skaters that could be on the move.
Pending Free Agents:
UFA - RW - Brian Gionta -- 57GP: 12G, 15A, 27P (38-years-old)
UFA - D - Dmitry Kulikov -- 31GP: 1G, 1A, 2P (26-years-old)
UFA - D - Cody Franson -- 51GP: 3G, 13A, 16P (29-years-old)
UFA -C - Cal O'Reilly -- 11GP, 0G, 1A, 1P (30-years-old)
UFA - D - Taylor Fedun -- 25 GP, 0G, 7A, 7P (28-years-old)
UFA - G - Anders Nilsson -- 20GP -- 9-7-4, 2.67 GAA, .922 sv%
RFA - LW - Marcus Foligno -- 57GP: 9G, 7A, 16P (25-years-old)
RFA - C - Zemgus Girgensons -- 53GP: 6G, 7A, 13P (23-years-old)
RFA - C - Johan Larsson -- 36GP: 6G, 5A, 11P (24-years-old)
RFA - C - Evan Rodrigues -- 5GP, 0G, 1A, 1P (23-years-old)
RFA - G - Robin Lehner -- 39GP -- 15-16-6, 2.55 GAA, .924 sv% (25-years-old)
Sabres biggest needs:
Young players that can contribute beyond this season.
The Sabres desperately need help on the blue line and could benefit from adding two young defenders to round out their top-six next year.
On offense, the Sabres need another pure goal scorer to spread the wealth on their top-three lines. This season the Sabres have relied heavily on their first and second lines for scoring but good teams get contributions from at least their top three lines. Just look at the Pittsburgh Penguins last season.
On to our list of potential assets for the Sabres approaching the deadline:
#5 -- Cody Franson
Everyone seems to have a stance on Cody Franson and it's amazing how different those opinions can be. A few weeks ago someone who covers the Toronto Maple Leafs tweeted that Franson was the Sabres best defenseman. Twitter basically exploded.
— Matthew Bové (@Matt_Bove) January 22, 2017
Franson's currently sidelined after blocking a shot last week against the Anaheim Ducks. The injury isn't expected to be 'long-term' and Sabres head coach Dan Bylsma is planning on Franson returning sometime around the deadline.
What makes Franson so polarizing is his impressive numbers. In 51 games Franson has 16 points, the second most from a defender on the Sabres. What's even crazier is his -1 plus/minus rating. By no means is this a perfect stat, but Franson actually has a better plus/minus than Ristolainen (-3), Kulikov (-9) and Zach Bogosian (-13).
Cody Franson needs to go to the bench and stay there.
— Matthew Bové (@Matt_Bove) January 7, 2017
Personally, I think he's played better as the year has gone on, but he really had nowhere to go but up. His best hockey came when paired with Jake McCabe, but the McCabe and Ristolainen pairing is just too solid to be messed with.
It's no secret that Franson has his flaws, but he's also been asked to do a lot more than expected due to all the injuries on the blue line. If Franson played in a more limited role I'd imagine the criticism and takes wouldn't be nearly as hot when his name is brought up.
Why he could be moved:
Franson could be an attractive addition to a team with an already solid blue line in the case of an injury. He can step in and play 18 minutes a night without issue and help most teams second power play unit.
Remember when the Sabres traded Mike Weber to the Washington Capitals? It was a move by a good team to add some depth for a playoff run. I can absolutely see something similar happening with Franson.
Don't expect a king's ransom if the Sabres send Cody Franson to greener pastures. I'd bet General Manager Tim Murray would be content with a third round pick. Weber was traded for a third, but the Sabres retained some of his salary. If Franson isn't part of the plan for next year then the Sabres should get something for him, instead of just letting him walk in July.