Lance Lysowski of The Buffalo News reported Monday that Buffalo Sabres forward Jack Quinn underwent surgery and will be out for approximately eight weeks. The news comes after Quinn suffered a lower-body injury on an odd fall to the ice in San Jose Saturday.
There’s no doubt about it – the loss of Quinn for two months is a big one. He and his linemates JJ Peterka and Dylan Cozens were just heating up offensively. Also, the Sabres need to add more scoring – not lose it. The injury news also comes at a bad time and puts Buffalo in a bit of a conundrum.
The Sabres currently sit nine points out of a playoff spot with 33 games remaining on the schedule. The Detroit Red Wings inhabit the final Wild Card seat, and they’re on a 95-point pace. In order for the Sabres to reach 95 points, they’ll need 47 points in those 33 games. That is over a 71% point percentage.
Only two NHL teams have greater than a 71% point percentage this season – the Boston Bruins and the Vancouver Canucks.
Before the Sabres can determine how to react to the Quinn injury, they have to assess their odds at leapfrogging five teams and making a serious run to the playoffs. There’s still a good chunk of games remaining, though, and the Sabres are coming off a January run where they won seven of 11 games.
If General Manager Kevyn Adams and the Sabres hockey operations department do not see a great chance of going on a historic run, they may see this as an opportunity to evaluate what they have for next season. One obvious promotion could be rookie Zach Benson to play with Cozens and Peterka, and see if anything clicks.
Benson is not the shooter that Quinn is, but he’s nearly as good at dictating play and tilting the ice in favor of the offensive end. His quality forechecking causes plenty of turnovers and he has proven he can generate shots by finding open teammates. This could complement Cozens and Peterka well.
Benson is also much more defensively responsible than Quinn has been this season. Since Cozens has drawn the toughest matchups on home ice for the majority of the season, this would help.
The problem with promoting Benson means there’s a void left somewhere else in the lineup. There’s only a limited number of scoring wingers available to pair with Casey Mittelstadt. The team’s leading scorer would be left on a bit of an island.
Jiri Kulich & Isak Rosen
The other internal option is to take a good look at one of the Sabres top prospects – Jiri Kulich or Isak Rosen. Kulich’s only played one game with the Sabres this season, so what he can bring to the table is very much still up in the air. One thing we do know from his time in Rochester – he shoots the puck.
Kulich currently leads the Sabres’ AHL affiliate in goals with 16. Six of those have come on the powerplay, which, as a left-handed shot, is an area Buffalo could use some help in. There’s certainly question marks regarding his potential effectiveness in the NHL at only 19 years old. Still, if the Sabres deem themselves too far out of reach of the playoffs that shouldn’t be much of a concern. It’s more about getting him experience and evaluating what they have for next season.
Then there’s Rosen, who is currently tied for the lead in points with the Amerks. Rosen has a seven-game sample with the big club already, but he was only really used in a bottom-six capacity. His speed and ability to draw penalties was apparent, but there wasn’t much of an opportunity to show what he can do offensively.
If the Sabres choose to relinquish hope on a playoff run, these are the safest options. It doesn’t seem to be in Kevyn Adams’ nature to fold it in so early, however, and there’s moves they can make to bring in help without sacrificing the future.
Let’s look at some of those options:
When running PuckLuck‘s player comparison tool, the closest comp to Quinn’s style of play is Taylor Raddysh of the Chicago Blackhawks. Raddysh is currently in the last year of his 3-year, $2.275 million deal. With a season-long cap hit of only $758,333, he would be a cheap, affordable addition to the team. The Blackhawks have yet to commit to him long-term, but being a restricted free agent they will retain his rights into next season (unless he is traded) regardless.
When evaluating Raddysh, think of “Quinn-lite”. He does basically everything Quinn does for your team, but just doesn’t quite do it as well as Quinn does. It may not be the ideal replacement since the Sabres need to get better – not worse – but you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone at Quinn’s level without other deficiencies in their game.
At least with the 25 year-old Raddysh you know what you’re getting. He’d be an immediate fit should he be able to be pried from Chicago.
Arthur Kaliyev’s name is starting to circle the rumor mill, as the fit in Los Angeles just hasn’t been great. One thing we know about Kaliyev is that he’s a willing shooter and can be a powerplay threat. That could seriously help provide the Sabres with more offense.
Kaliyev does not compare closely to Quinn, as to be effective he needs the puck on his stick in the offensive zone. He’s shooting with volume, not efficiency, and his primary points are more of a focus of his game.
Whether his defensive numbers are indicative of his prowess or more of a product of the Kings’ system remains to be seen, but he’s always fared well in that area.
Kaliyev is also a restricted free agent come the offseason and likely warrant a raise on his $894,167 cap hit. He’s only 22 years-old, so he’d fit nicely into the Sabres’ timeline.
Jack Quinn’s fifth-closest comp this season is a name many know well across the league. Especially in Buffalo for perhaps the best assist in NHL history at KeyBank Center. Trevor Zegras has the creative vision, offensive tendencies, and knack for theater that not only rival Quinn, but perhaps top him.
Now before getting too far ahead of ourselves, Zegras carries a big cap hit ($5.75 million) through 2025-2026. He appears on TSN’s latest Trade Bait list, but will likely require a premium asset or two in exchange with Anaheim. He is also on injured reserve with an ankle injury and not expected back until late February.
The Sabres have engaged in a trade with General Manager Pat Verbeek and the Ducks already this season, when they shipped Ilya Lyubushkin out west for a fourth-round pick in 2025. Rumors of groundwork set on a Zegras deal during that time have not been confirmed, but the young forward certainly runs in similar circles of many of the American players rostered by the Sabres.
With Zegras, Buffalo would be able to replace Quinn’s offensive contributions at nearly a one-for-one even swap, and also retain Zegras’ services at a cost-controlled rate for two more seasons.
If the Sabres choose to go the rental route and really bank on pushing for a playoff spot, then Kasperi Kapanen could immediately slot in next to Cozens and Peterka. Kapanen is a pending unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. This means his acquisition wouldn’t block Kulich, Rosen, or any other Sabres prospect from a chance at an NHL roster spot next season.
Kapanen’s aged a bit at 27 years-old, but brings an element of speed and offensive ability that could give the Sabres a bit of a lift. He’s shown the ability to score well above-expected historically. He also has a bit more of a playmaking side to his game.
Kapanen is a bit more reliant on his teammates than a line-driver, which is okay when considering the level Peterka has lifted to this season. Even if he’s not a direct replacement for Quinn, Kapanen could be a nice fit on a line with Mittelstadt and Jordan Greenway.
Kapanen’s currently on injured reserve and out until around mid-February and carries a $3.2 million cap-hit. While those two things make his acquisition less than ideal, it also likely makes the cost to obtain him from St. Louis much cheaper.
Speaking of potentially cheap acquisition cost, Kevin Labanc has completely fallen out of favor in San Jose. The Sharks are rebuilding, and have barely given Labanc a chance at a top-six role. Given his shooting ability, the 28 year-old forward could definitely use a change of scenery.
In a lot of cases, players with a “shooting mentality” aren’t able to score efficiently. That has not been the case with Labanc. Problem is, he’s averaging under 12 minutes per game this season. In turn, the forward has only rattled off 43 total shots in 32 games.
The box score stats show only two goals and seven points. That probably makes you wonder how he can help replace Quinn. However, as you can see in the radar chart, the underlying data suggests he could thrive in the right role.
Labanc’s in the last year of his deal with a $4.725 million cap hit. Given his contract and usage the price would be minimal. In fact, there was talk of the Sharks placing him on waivers early in the season that never came to fruition. He’d be a cheap swing as a boom or bust replacement. He also wouldn’t have to take up a roster spot next season.
Replacing Jack Quinn’s production won’t be easy, but it will be necessary. His absence earlier in the season proved too costly to the Sabres in the standings. They cannot make that mistake again.