The Buffalo Sabres made the 2014 NHL Trade Deadline a lot more interesting in one fell swoop Friday night.
As expected, the Sabres moved one of the biggest assets on the market in goaltender and franchise icon Ryan Miller, setting off a potential feeding frenzy before the March 5 deadline.
The destination and the haul for the 2010 Vezina Trophy winner are likely to make the next five days even more interesting. It's also a safe bet that the Sabres will remain one of the primary players in whatever drama develops in the coming days.
"It’s the start of an exciting five days, I’m sure," Anaheim Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said Friday night after his team beat the Blues 1-0.
Miller and Buffalo captain Steve Ott were sent to the Blues in exchange for goalie Jaroslav Halak, power forward Chris Stewart, prospect William Carrier, a first-round pick in 2015 and a conditional pick that the Sabres say could net them the Blues' first-rounder in June if St. Louis makes the Western Conference Final or Miller re-signs with his new team.
GAA: 2.72 | SVP: 0.923
"We just think this gives us a better opportunity to have success this year and it also allows us to keep our prime assets," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said. "There's a few players that were discussed we wouldn't part with, some of our signed players that are currently with our team. We wanted to keep the guys like Jake Allen, Dmitrij Jaskin and maybe one or two other players. When we were able to keep those players, it seemed like a deal that made sense for us."
It's up to the Anaheim Ducks, Chicago Blackhawks and San Jose Sharks to decide how much the expected improvement by the Blues affects their own plans at the deadline. Those four teams are separated by five points at the top of the Western Conference standings.
Additionally, the Sabres made sure they received marketable assets in return for moving their marquee player, assuring they will remain a focus in the swap meet still to develop during the five days.
Make no mistake, the Sabres still control a lot of what will happen in this trade market as it develops. They hold too many desirable chips not to be on the speed-dial of any general manager looking to better his team.
"There are lots of guys that teams have shown interest on," Buffalo GM Tim Murray said, "so I'm just listening."
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Reports surfaced earlier Friday that defenseman Christian Ehrhoff has been asked where he would be willing to be traded to negate the no-trade protection in his deal. High-scoring forward Matt Moulson, a potential unrestricted free agent acquired in a deal for Thomas Vanek in October, has been seen by many as a potential rental who could be flipped for even more assets.
Even Stewart could be in play. He has one year remaining on his contract and could be an attractive commodity for a club looking to add a generally hard-to-find combination of grit and scoring touch.
"If somebody feels he's a missing piece, then I have to talk about it," Murray said of Stewart. "The same with the goalie (Halak)."
Pat LaFontaine, Buffalo's president of hockey operations, is not shy about stockpiling draft picks and prospects as ammunition in executing his rebuilding vision. Murray, hired from the Ottawa Senators on Jan. 9, clearly shares that vision, judging by the haul he received for Miller and Ott.
In the rebuild, started by former GM Darcy Regier before his dismissal earlier this season, Buffalo has amassed an enviable trove of high draft picks. It is a bounty rarely seen in the annals of the NHL.
With the first-round pick obtained in the Miller trade, the Sabres have made or hold a total of 18 first- or second-round picks in a four-year span from 2012 to 2015. It could be 19 if Miller re-signs with the Blues or St. Louis makes the conference final.
No team has made more than 15 selections in the first two rounds in a four-year span in the past two decades. The Washington Capitals had 15 from 2004-07 (and 19 in five years from 2004-08). The Colorado Avalanche also had 15 from 1997-2000, including an astounding seven of the top 53 picks in the 1998 NHL Draft.
The assets from those picks, both in present prospects and futures, gives Buffalo incredible flexibility to move in any direction it desires. The Sabres are still a team to watch, even if they did unload their biggest asset five days before the deadline.