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Wheelerin' and Dealerin'

2017-11-13

“Winter has come.” 

It has been quite the week in Buffalo.  First, after much negotiation, GM Ian Thornton acquired Blake Wheeler from the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for Eric Haula, Ryan Nugent Hopkins and goalie prospect Ilya Sororkin.  Thornton said, “We’ve had our eye on Wheeler for a while now and when it became apparent that he might be available, we stepped up our pursuit.  It is always tough to see young talent go from the team like Nuge and Hauls, however, Blake is a young guy that can play big minutes for us this year and for the next couple years.  He is solid defensively, vastly improves our power-play and can even kill penalties.” 

The Sabres GM did not stop there and shipped off RFA Galchenyuk and top forward prospect Gabriel Vilardi to acquire Brad Marchand.  Thornton commented, “Listen, I get that there will be owners and fans will be butthurt with this move and may genuinely feel we gave up too much in order to acquire Brad.  It really boils down to the fact that guys with Brad’s skill, compete level and all around intangibles both don’t often become available and don’t come cheap.  But we looked at our roster and especially the core players that we have and felt that we are in a position to contend now and that we should do all that we can to try to accomplish that.  And who knows, if Brad loves what we are trying to do here, we will do everything in our power to try to keep him here for years to come.” 

GM Thornton said he spoke to all players leaving the club in these two deals.  He thanked them for what they gave to the organization.  “Nuge and Chuckie will benefit from a fresh start in their new team.  Both were poised to lose valuable minutes with the acquisition of Blake and they fully get it was part of the business of playing in the DCHL.  Hauls, on the other hand, was just coming into his own and logging important minutes so we need young guys like Hyms to step up and take those minutes.”  When asked how Vilardi felt being traded before ever playing a game for the team, GM Thornton said, “I called Gabe in Windsor.   He is rehabbing from his summer back injury and said he is looking forward to getting back on the ice to show GM Clarke exactly why he made the move he did to get him.  Gabe will always be the first draft pick of my tenure here in Buffalo and we genuinely thought that he would be a critical component of this team moving forwards, but, sometimes, the future has to be now.” 

The Sabres currently sit at 10-6-1 but have won 4 in a row and 6 of their last 8.  2 of their losses on the season were one-goal games against the 2017 Stanley Cup champion San Jose Sharks.  Coach Keefe commented, “Although we have had what must be considered a positive start to the season, what we lacked so far this year was consistency in both ends of the ice.  We’d have some great games where we were able to come out on top but then we’d have games like we did against Boston and LA where we simply did not show up and were no match for the genius of the other team’s line combinations.  Having two players like this, that can slot into your top line yet play a responsible defensive game will hopefully yield immediate consistent results and bring up the level of the play of the entire team.   Our fans should be excited.” 

While riding a stationary bike after practice, team captain Erik Karlsson said, “The dressing room is buzzing.  Seeing our GM have the confidence in the core of our roster and to make moves like this to give our team the best chance to bring home the championship in 2018 will surely force each and every one of us to give 110% every shift, in every game.” 

In looking at the whole of the Sabres organization, even with giving up the youth that he did, the future is still bright for this team.  If the season ended right now, they would  be returning all 4 of their top defensemen and 5 of their top 6 forwards (and if Marchand resigns as an UFA, potentially, all 6).  Young guys currently with the big club like Zach Hyman, Gustav Forsling, Richard Panik and Christian Fischer should improve and could be counted on to play bigger roles.  On the farm, the Sabres have Will Butcher, Andreas Borgman, Evgeni Dadonov and Anders Bjork (3 of whom were Thornton’s 2017 draft picks) that should be able to make the jump to the big club next year.  “It is this depth that helped make these moves,” GM Thornton said while wrapping up his press conference. 

Although we rightfully and respectfully honour those that paid the ultimate sacrifice on November 11, this was truly a week to remember in Buffalo.