TAMPA, Fla. — Ryan Miller and Steve Ott are already gone and the Buffalo Sabres’ fire sale concludes today when the NHL trade deadline hits at 3 p.m.
The Sabres took Tuesday off and will practice today in the Tampa Bay Times Forum in preparation for Thursday night’s game against the Lightning. After practice, several players will be nervously awaiting their fate.
The Sabres are the top seller on a small list of teams whose playoff hopes are already toast. The others are the New York Islanders, Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames and Florida Panthers, and the big prize from that group is Islanders winger and former Sabres star Thomas Vanek. He was scratched from the lineup for Tuesday’s game at Winnipeg, making a trade appear imminent.
The Panthers made a big splash Tuesday by acquiring goaltender Roberto Luongo from Vancouver, and it’s a good bet he will make his return to the Florida net Friday night when the Sabres are the opponent in BB&T Center.
New general manager Tim Murray will be shepherding his first deadline day with his hockey department at First Niagara Center while the team is here. Murray is then expected to join the club here on Thursday.
The Sabres’ rental most likely to go is winger Matt Moulson, who was acquired in October for Vanek and was widely speculated to be leaving as soon as he arrived.
Moulson reiterated to The Buffalo News here Tuesday morning that the Sabres have not approached with him with a contract offer and he fully expects today to be his last day with the Blue and Gold.
“I’ve enjoyed my time in Buffalo, and I’ve been treated great by everyone,” Moulson said. “They have directions they want to take the team. They have to make business moves, and I understand that, so we’ll just see what happens.”
“It’s obviously been a pretty eventful week with everything that’s gone on,” Moulson said, referring to the big trade and the departure of Pat LaFontaine. “It’s tough not to think about this and think about what might happen.”
Moulson has a 19-month-old daughter and a 5-month-old son, so the trade talk has been especially tough on him.
“In the back of my mind is my family and making sure that if something happens, we get them there as soon as possible,” he said. “Those are things you think of. The games are over until the deadline and it’s been a little mentally stressful the last week for sure.”
The Los Angeles Kings are considered a prime destination for Moulson, but several other teams are known to have inquired. The Anaheim Ducks and Pittsburgh Penguins seem to be growing choices as well.
Moulson has 17 goals and 21 assists this season in 55 games between the Islanders and Buffalo. He caused a stir Monday in Dallas by not taking the morning skate, but he played in the 3-2 loss and assisted on the Sabres’ two goals by Tyler Ennis.
“Before I got injured (Feb. 3 at Colorado) and when I came back after the Olympics, our line is probably playing near the best we’ve played all year,” Moulson said. “Staff [Drew Stafford] is playing great and Enzo is playing great, too. It’s kind of fitting we’re playing some of our best hockey and it’s right before the trade deadline.”
The Sabres have plenty of salary cap room for all sorts of deals, but one complicating factor to their situation is the fact they can’t retain salary on any more players they trade.
Under the new CBA, teams are limited to three salary retentions at any one time and the Sabres kept money for Miller ($1.75 million), Vanek ($1.4 million) and Jason Pominville ($795,000).
In addition to Moulson, there’s plenty of other Buffalo players sure to draw attention today. Here’s a quick rundown of the names you hear most on the rumor mill.
• Jaroslav Halak. The goaltender acquired for Miller is expected to be flipped somewhere, but the market got tight when Minnesota, Halak’s top rumored destination, took Ilya Bryzgalov from Edmonton. And it would appear Florida will make Tim Thomas available now that it has Luongo. Washington still might be a match for Halak.
• Christian Ehrhoff. The Sabres will risk cap recapture penalties of $10 million if Ehrhoff is traded and retires before his contract runs out in 2021. So while there’s risk, it could force great reward if any teams rumored to be interested (Los Angeles, Detroit, Montreal, Boston or Pittsburgh) want to offer a big package.
• Tyler Myers. The Sabres aren’t actively shopping him, but of course they’ll take calls on pretty much any player on their roster and are known to have gotten several on Myers. Any team wanting Myers will have to part with frontline NHL talent, and not just picks and/or prospects.
• Chris Stewart. The Sabres are certainly gauging interest in the big winger, who was acquired with Halak and has been linked with Ottawa. But Stewart has another year on his deal at $4.15 million and could be a nice rental pickup next year.
• Henrik Tallinder. At age 35, the Sabres could get a mid-round draft choice for him from a team like the Penguins or Bruins needing help on the blueline because of injuries (Kris Letang, Paul Martin, Dennis Seidenberg). And remember, Tallinder has played in three Eastern Conference finals, two with Buffalo and one with New Jersey. The 2012 Devils lost the Cup final to Los Angeles.
• Drew Stafford. The veteran winger has been playing well of late with Moulson and Tyler Ennis and could draw some interest. Minnesota is one team that is rumored to be kicking tires on a Stafford deal.
• Zenon Konopka. If a contender is looking for a fourth-line guy to take faceoffs, they could offer a low-round pick for Konopka – the NHL leader at 63.2 percent.