Tyler Ennis took the opening faceoff Monday night for the last-place Buffalo Sabres. Would they be in that lowly position if the center had been Tyler Seguin?
It could have been.
Buffalo and Boston discussed a trade package that would have sent Thomas Vanek to the Bruins in exchange for Seguin, multiple sources told The News on Monday. It’s not clear why the talks, held at the draft in June, fell through, but it is known the Bruins were seeking another NHL-ready player off the Sabres’ roster.
The lack of a No. 1 center is Buffalo’s biggest problem, and Seguin would have solved that. Traded from Boston to Dallas in July, Seguin has emerged as one of the league’s top young middle men. The 22-year-old entered Monday’s schedule tied for 12th in the NHL in goals (24) and points (54).
The Sabres’ highest-scoring center is Cody Hodgson, who is tied for 127th in the league with 30 points, including an assist in Monday’s 3-2 loss to the Edmonton Oilers.
Boston selected Seguin second overall in the 2010 draft but put him on the market because of maturity issues. Dallas acquired Seguin, forward Rich Peverley and defense prospect Ryan Button in exchange for wingers Loui Eriksson and Reilly Smith, defense prospect Joe Morrow and forward prospect Matt Fraser.
Former Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier ultimately sent Vanek to the New York Islanders in October. Buffalo received left wing Matt Moulson, the Isles’ first-round pick in either 2014 or 2015, and New York’s second-round pick in 2015.
Moulson, set to become an unrestricted free agent, is available via trade from Buffalo. He has totaled 15 goals and 33 points in 51 games.
The details emerged Monday because Vanek is also back on the trading block. The pending unrestricted free agent has turned down a contract extension from the Isles, who will move the left winger before the March 5 trade deadline. Vanek has totaled 19 goals and 47 points in 54 games with the Sabres and Islanders.
Seguin has excelled playing in the middle of Stars captain Jamie Benn (22 goals, 50 points) and Russian rookie Valeri Nichushkin (11 goals, 26 points). There’s no way to estimate how many goals or points Seguin would have put up with the Sabres, but he certainly would have bolstered the lineup.
Having Seguin as the top center would allow Buffalo to use Ennis on the second line, which is more suited to his all-around skills. The 23-year-old Hodgson would have been allowed to grow as the third-line anchor. Ennis and Hodgson are a combined minus-31 this season.
Buffalo’s third-line center against the Oilers was rookie Zemgus Girgensons, who had spent nearly the entire season on the wing before being shifted to the middle Monday.
A lineup with more balance and talent down the middle likely wouldn’t be 15-32-8 and in 30th place in the NHL. They fell further into last with the loss to Edmonton.
As expected, the meeting with the 29th-place Oilers was a sloppy affair filled with plenty of whistles and penalties. The announced crowd of 18,531 saw 13 minor infractions, which led to short-handed goals for each team and a power-play goal for Buffalo.
“It was an ugly game both ways,” Edmonton coach Dallas Eakins said.
The teams entered the third period tied, 2-2, but the Oilers’ vocal backers rose from their chairs in the opening minute. The Sabres couldn’t get the handle on the puck during a power play, allowing Matt Hendricks to skate in alone on Enroth. He easily beat the netminder for the short-handed goal with 57 seconds gone.
“We were on the wrong side of the special-teams battle,” said Sabres right wing Drew Stafford, who joined Steve Ott in goal column to give Buffalo a 2-1 lead after one period.
The night started inauspiciously for the Sabres when defenseman Jeff Petry slip a backhand past goaltender Jhonas Enroth just 32 seconds into the game. Justin Schultz made it 2-2 with 3:15 left in the second period.
Goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov closed out the comeback, stopping all 31 shots in the second and third periods to finish with 42 saves. Edmonton is 19-33-6 and has six more points than Buffalo with three extra games played.