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 days leading up to the deadline while counting down five Sabres skaters that could be on the move.
Pending Free Agents:
UFA - RW - Brian Gionta -- 60GP: 12G, 15A, 27P (38-years-old)
UFA - D - Dmitry Kulikov -- 34GP: 1G, 1A, 2P (26-years-old)
UFA - D - Cody Franson -- 53GP: 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 -- 60 GP: 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 -- 8GP, 0G, 2A, 2P (23-years-old)
RFA - G - Robin Lehner -- 42GP -- 17-17-6, 2.54 GAA, .925 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:
#2 - Dmitry Kulikov
The 2016-2017 season has not been kind to Dmitry Kulikov, and that may be putting things lightly. Kulikov, 26, has played in 34 games and has only two points and a -13 plus/minus rating.
Kulikov was acquired in a trade at the draft last year that sent former Sabres defender Mark Pysyk to the Florida Panthers. The teams also swapped second-round picks in the deal [Buffalo selected Rasmus Asplund].
When the deal was made the Sabres thought they were trading for a reliable, physical defender who could log top-four minutes. Instead, they got a player that has been incredibly inconsistent and at times made some really head-scratching plays.
See tweet from February 12:
Dmitry Kulikov plays hockey like that guy in beer league who used to be really good 15 years ago, but now is just pretty average #Sabres
— Matthew Bové (@Matt_Bove) February 13, 2017
In Kulikov's defense, it's not easy to come to a new team and immediately deal with a lingering injury. At times he's looked like the player that General Manager Tim Murray envisioned in the Sabres lineup, but that hasn't been the case very often. That likely has a lot to do with Kulikov's health, but with an expiring contract in the summer, it makes sense to move him now unless he's part of the long term plan.
Why he could be moved:
This hasn't been a good year for the young defender, but you can tell he's a talented player. With the playoffs right around the corner, plenty of teams are looking to add a big defenseman, and Kulikov may just be one of the most attractive options.
There's no denying that Kevin Shattenkirk from the St. Louis Blues will be the most sought-after blueliner, but for teams who miss out on Shattenkirk, Kulikov may make sense.
According to TSN, Kulikov is the third highest rated defenseman at this year's deadline. He hasn't had a good year, but come playoff time Kulikov could be a nice piece for a team in either their second or third pairing.
Not to sound like a broken record, but I'd imagine Kulikov could be moved for a third round pick. If a team that misses out on Shattenkirk really wants to make a move then maybe Kulikov could bring in a second, but from the way he's played this year that may be a little lofty.
The big question with Kulikov is his health. If a team thinks he's good to go then maybe the return will be greater than expected.