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 -- 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:
#3 -- Brian Gionta
Gionta has exceeded expectations and has already matched his goal total from last season  and is only six points behind his point total from last year  with 23 games left in the regular season. He's cooled down and hasn't scored a goal in February -- but has been solid all season.
He's not a top-six forward, but he's a nice third line winger that plays a responsible game at both ends of the ice.
The Sabres captain is a leader on and off the ice and that's what makes his future so particularly tricky.
Gionta has said multiple times that he'd like to stay in Buffalo and not be moved at the deadline. That being said, he may be one of the Sabres most attractive players at the deadline because of the aforementioned qualities.
Why he could be moved:
Teams that are primed to make a run for the Stanley Cup want to surround their young players with guys who have been there before. Gionta has won a cup and played in this league since gas was less than $1.50 a gallon.
He's the perfect addition to a contending team because of his versatility. He'll play a bottom-six role if moved but can also chip in on special teams.
The potential return:
Gionta has a no-trade clause, which certainly complicates things. However, there's a small catch -- Gionta can be traded to five teams that he has hand selected. I don't know for sure, but you'd imagine at least one of those teams would be interested in adding Gionta. If the Sabres think they have a deal with another team, Gionta needs to approve the move before the deal is made.
If that happens, Gionta would likely be traded for a second or third round pick. I would lean towards a third round pick as a potential return, but you never know.
Before you say or tweet "The Sabres got a first for Paul Gaustad" --- Remember, that was a long time ago and Darcy Regier got away with highway robbery.
If Gionta decides he wants to keep playing after this year the Sabres could do something similar to what they did with Matt Moulson -- trade him and then resign him in the offseason. Making a move like this could ruffle some feathers in the locker room, and if the Sabres keep winning games it may not be a bad idea to keep Gionta around unless the return is 'worth' it.