June 15, 2024

Describing the Buffalo Sabres as being at a pivotal moment hardly captures the gravity of their situation. Enduring a playoff drought spanning 14 years, the organization is now in an unprecedented “win now” mindset. This urgency demands a significant trade, ideally for Ottawa Senators forward Brady Tkachuk.

While such a move may seem improbable, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility. Trading within the division is typically frowned upon, especially when it involves top-tier players. However, it’s not unprecedented. Therefore, the Sabres must leverage all their available prospects and draft picks to reignite their playoff ambitions.

Brady Tkachuk on being named captain, staying true to himself and putting  the team first | NHLPA.com

The Biggest Issues With the Buffalo Sabres

Buffalo faces three primary challenges, with one potentially addressable internally: enhancing their power play, improving performance in the faceoff circle, and elevating their physical and mental resilience on the ice.

Sabres Power Play

The initial issue, ideally, will find a resolution from within the organization. The primary focus is on restructuring the coaching staff. Reinstated head coach Lindy Ruff has enlisted the assistance of Seth Appert, previously with the Rochester Americans. Appert has played a pivotal role in the development of several players on the Sabres’ roster, including Mattias Samuelsson, Jack Quinn, J.J. Peterka, and others.

The Sabres’ power play, once among the league’s elite in the 2022-23 season, plummeted to 28th place this season, operating at a mere 16.6%. This decline must be reversed. With offensive talents such as Tage Thompson, Alex Tuch, Jeff Skinner, and Rasmus Dahlin, the power play unit cannot afford to languish at the bottom. Appert’s expertise is anticipated to rejuvenate this aspect of the team’s performance.

Nevertheless, the acquisition of Tkachuk would significantly bolster the team’s offensive arsenal. Having tallied 30 or more goals in each of the past three seasons, including a career-best of 37 in 2023-24, Tkachuk brings a formidable scoring threat. His proficiency, particularly evident with 18 power-play goals in the preceding season, adds a crucial dimension in front of the net, an area where the Sabres currently lack a dominant presence.

Sabres Must Be Tough to Play Against

To address the crux of the issue, let’s hear from one of the foundational figures of the team, Dylan Cozens. Following a 6-2 defeat to the Carolina Hurricanes in December 2023, Cozens expressed his sentiments to Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News:

“I think we definitely play way too soft. We’re too easy to play against, and we need a little ‘FU’ in our game. I think we had more of that last year. We’re way too soft this year. I feel like we don’t kill plays. We kind of get bullied and stuff, and we know we need to be way harder to play against. We’re too easy to play against right now.”

There are two avenues to tackle this issue. Fortunately, the first step should stem from the coaching transition. Ruff, known for his no-nonsense approach, is expected to instill accountability among the players. This entails igniting a sense of urgency and toughness, starting with intensified practices.

The second solution lies in external acquisitions. This brings us to the crux of the matter: the imperative for the Sabres to pursue a trade for Tkachuk.

Sabres Need to Trade for Brady Tkachuk

Brady Tkachuk Ottawa Senators

Finding a solution is rarely straightforward. However, incorporating a player of Tkachuk’s caliber would effectively address many of these challenges. Firstly, he stands as one of the premier power forwards in the NHL, blending physicality with skill unlike many others in the league.

His mere presence would provide a significant uplift, capable of slotting into the top six lines, making contributions on the power play, and thriving in crucial game situations. Moreover, his relentless competitiveness would likely set the standard for the team, as he consistently perseveres and engages in battles, even amidst second and third attempts.

Tkachuk could be a difference-maker for the Sabres like few others on the roster. He also adds size that the group sorely lacks on the wings, especially in the top six.

What Would it Cost to Land Tkachuk?

This brings us to the significant hurdle: acquiring Tkachuk would require an extraordinary effort. Being a player from a divisional rival, the Sabres would likely need to outbid other potential suitors, making it a precarious proposition at best.

Any potential deal would likely start with the Sabres offering their 11th overall pick in this year’s draft. Given their openness to potentially trading it and the depth of their prospect pool, relinquishing a first-round pick isn’t a significant concern.

Speaking of prospects, this is where the Sabres hold considerable leverage. They boast the top prospect pool in the league, with a youthful roster comprised of previous draft selections. Within their system, players like Devon Levi, Jiri Kulich, Noah Ostlund, Matt Savoie, Gavin McCarthy, and others are waiting for their opportunity. Realistically, acquiring Tkachuk may necessitate parting ways with one or both of Ostlund and Kulich, and possibly another B-level prospect.

Additionally, a roster player would likely be included in any trade discussions. Names such as Peterka, Quinn, Cozens, and Peyton Krebs may be mentioned. While it would be regrettable to lose a natural goal-scorer like Quinn, his inclusion might be necessary as an overpayment to secure Tkachuk.

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