GM Jason Botterill had been working the phones since the offseason began for the Sabres in early April. There was one name that rose above all others, and that was Ryan O'Reilly.
It was reported that there were multiple teams in on the "O'Reilly sweepstakes" including the Montreal Canadiens, the St. Louis Blues, and a few others. But, the Blues were the ones who gave GMJB exactly what he wanted.
GMJB is very open about what he looks for from his trading partners as it often gets out what he wants in exchange for his big name guys. Like during the Evander Kane negotiations and now including these negotiations.
GMJB made it clear that he was looking for a first-rounder, a second-rounder, a prospect, and at least one or two NHL proven players and boy did he get that tonight.
July 1st marked the start of the NHL free agency period which got off to a great start including John Tavares finally picking a team, James Van Riemsdyk getting overpaid, and teams locking up their centerpiece defensemen in L.A. and Tampa Bay, and Arizona.
GMJB has been a solid pick for the Sabres so far as GM in my opinion, and the O'Reilly deal just shows why even more.
After months of speculation, it finally happened. Ryan O'Reilly was traded to the St. Louis Blues who appear to be stocking up to try to make a run at the Stanley Cup. All St. Louis got was O'Reilly, but GMJB got so much more.
St. Louis gave up their first-round selection in the 2019 draft (top-ten protected), their second-round selection in the 2020 draft, Vladimir Sobotka, Tage Thompson, and Patrik Berglund. GMJB also got St. Louis to pay O'Reilly's $7.5 million roster bonus that he was due at midnight on July 1st.
There was no added protection to the first, there were no other players from Buffalo's side, and there was no salary retention by Buffalo either. This was one player getting overvalued by a team and getting a GM exactly what he wanted.
According to GMJB, this was about a culture change. He had stated from the beginning of his tenure in Buffalo that the league was shifting to speed and he was going to bring Buffalo into that era.
The trade ends O'Reilly three-year tenure with the Sabres, and even though he was heavily used and produced massive production for the team, his three years all ended in failure.
"We'll certainly miss Ryan's productivity because he is a top-end player for us," Botterill said on a conference call Sunday night. "But that's why it was key to get NHL players back. ... We felt as a management group at the end of the season we had to change the dynamic. The bottom line was there's a lot of great people in that locker room but when you finish 31st, you have to look to make changes. And that's why we felt there was a good balance in making this move."
So, for GMJB this was all about culture change, which is great. He also stated on that conference call that if O'Reilly would have come back, and no deal would've been struck, he still would've been a huge part of the rebuild.
What the Sabres got was something that makes GM's Hall of Famers, and after the Connor Sheary trade and the trade for Brandon Hickey, why should we expect anything less?
Thompson is only 20-years-old and played his first season in the NHL just last season where he played in 41 games. The 6'5", 205lb player only had nine points in those 41 games, but he was largely underused by a team that was tanking (or whatever it was they did last year.)
"We're looking for more scoring from our wings," Botterill said. "What we see with Tage is a kid with a great shot, great size, has a really good reach on the ice, played NHL games as a 20-year-old, had an opportunity to win a World Junior gold medal (with Team USA in 2017). We think he's a player that's going to be able to step in our lineup and grow with our young centermen."
Buffalo Sabre fans should be excited about this kid even though he isn't Robert Thomas or Colton Paryako, he still has a high ceiling and he's another young guy that can set Buffalo up for years to come.
Patrik Berglund is 30-years-old but can add some scoring punch to a team that was severely lacking it last season. He scored 17 goals in 57 games last season and has broken the 20-goal mark four different times in his career.
Vladimir Sobotka is also 30 and after a three-year stint in the KHL returned to play with the Blues last season. He had 11 goals and 20 assists in 81 games.
Berglund is signed for the next four years with $3.85 million owed, Sobtoka is signed for the next two years at $3.5 million, and Thompson still has two years left on his entry-level deal worth $925,000.
Where does this leave Buffalo?
O'Reilly did bring a lot of production to Buffalo. He had one penalty last year, so he was on the ice a lot especially to kill off penalties with an average ice time of around 20 minutes.
He was depended on heavily in the faceoff dot winning 60% of faceoffs and breaking the record for most faceoffs won in a year. He put up 24 goals and added 37 assists to total 61 points.
Now, to lose 61 points is a lot for a struggling team like the Sabres, but think about this way. If Casey Mittelstadt or Sobtoka (he can play center, but I'm not sure if Buffalo will put him there) win at least 55% or better of their faceoffs, and one of the three new players from St. Louis is able to put up at least 15-20 goals or more... then O'Reilly's production is replaced.
That isn't always the easiest thing to do when getting new players on your team, especially when they are aging veterans, to thrust high expectations on them, but all Berglund has to do is just be consistent from last year.
To me, Buffalo won this trade.
They didn't have to pay the bonus. They got a really good prospect in Thompson. They now have three first round picks in 2019, and added scoring depth, plus they didn't have to retain any salary. They also get rid of a pretty terrible contract in the process.
O'Reilly will be good for the Blues, and I wish him the best of luck, but looking at this roster, things are starting to come together. The playoffs aren't here yet, but I do see that light at the end of the tunnel and it is certainly getting closer.
If the Vegas Golden Knights taught us anything it's that if you put the right people together to perform, anything can happen.
Who do you think won the trade? What are your thoughts on it? Tell me in the comments below!