The Philadelphia Flyers learned a little bit about themselves and a lot about the Buffalo Sabres during back-to-back games in upstate New York over the weekend.
The Flyers further placed themselves in good shape in the East Division standings after two straight 3-0 shutouts over the Sabres and raised their record to 11-1-1 against teams not named the Boston Bruins. The Flyers were first in the division in terms of points percentage through the weekend.
The Sabres, on the other hand, have hammered home the point of just how far they are from contending by adding a couple of more lackluster performances to an alarming pile in the first quarter of the season. Jack Eichel trade rumors continue to swirl, Jeff Skinner has become a $9 million fourth-line player with just one point in his first 15 games, and the Sabres are in the East basement and are on their way to missing the playoffs for a league-high 10th straight season.
But the Flyers shouldn’t turn their backs on the Sabres completely as the two travel in opposite directions in the standings and as the April 12 trade deadline gets closer.
With another tear-down rebuild on the horizon, and with all the talk of Eichel wanting out of Buffalo, whether actually true or not, there are other pieces on the Sabres’ roster that deserve consideration. Getting Eichel is unlikely, especially considering the haul it would take to land a franchise player of Eichel’s magnitude. Also, the Flyers are set down the middle longterm with Sean Couturier and Kevin Hayes.
While the smoke surrounds Eichel, maybe the Flyers should be looking at Taylor Hall instead.
Buffalo became an unlikely landing spot in October when the 2018 Hart Trophy winner and former No. 1 overall pick signed a one-year, $8 million contract to join the Sabres.
Hall was considered a casualty of a flat salary cap last year and signed short-term with the Sabres in what was ultimately a smart move by Buffalo, despite the inability to capitalize on it with actual victories. They didn’t lose anything in signing him, and can trade Hall to a contender at the deadline for a bunch of assets.
Hall does carry a no-movement clause, but it’s all but certain he will waive for the right circumstance in order to chase a Stanley Cup and ultimately improve his own value, knowing another potentially big payday is waiting for him this summer via unrestricted free agency. He’s made the playoffs just twice in 11 years, but has performed pretty well in a short sample with 12 points in 14 games.
Like anything else in life, it would be a risk to trade for Hall. Even if Buffalo retained part of the cap hit to make a deal work for this year, re-signing Hall would be very challenging for the Flyers, who will need to re-sign Carter Hart, Nolan Patrick and Travis Sanheim in the offseason, with Hart being owed the largest raise from his current $730,833 cap hit. So Hall would, in all likelihood, be a rental.
Under similar circumstances last year, the New Jersey Devils traded Hall to the Arizona Coyotes and received three prospects, a first-round pick and a third-round pick in return. One of the prospects, Nick Merkley, was a 2015 first-round pick.
You could argue that Hall’s value declined a bit in Buffalo, as he has registered just one goal and 11 assists in 19 games through the weekend. But as mentioned above, the situation in Buffalo has become bleak and Hall’s struggles can be attributed team-wide. Even Eichel had recorded just two goals through Sunday.
So what would it take to land Hall? Probably something similar to what the Coyotes paid last year, but amplified considering the need for Buffalo to retain some salary.
Two or three high-end prospects and a first-rounder is a start. And it’s risky considering Hall will probably wear a different uniform next year, but players of his caliber aren’t often available mid-season, and Hall will definitely be available or the Sabres will lose him for nothing.
Sure, the Sabres have other players available on expiring contracts like forwards Eric Staal and Tobias Reider or defenseman Brandon Montour, which would help a team and come at much lower prices. But Hall is the kind of player who can put a team over the top by driving his own line and producing offensive numbers on his own. In his MVP season three years ago, Hall finished with 93 points in 76 games, which was 41 points more than his closest teammate, Nico Hischier, who played all 82 games.
Do the Flyers know enough about themselves to make a bold move to compete for a Stanley Cup? We should know in the next month. ••