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Sabres’ Trade Fit With the Avalanche



Bowen Byram Samuel Girard Colorado Avalanche Buffalo Sabres trade

Are the Buffalo Sabres and Colorado Avalanche working on a trade?

Sabres assistant general manager Jason Karmanos has been in attendance for the Avalanche’s last two home games, sparking some speculation as to who he could want to see firsthand. The Sabres are looking for talent to help now and going forward, according to general manager Kevyn Adams. Two specific players in the same role for the Avalanche fit that criteria – defensemen Bowen Byram and Samuel Girard.

The Avalanche currently sit two points out of the division lead in the Central and are third in the Western Conference. They’re not in the business of selling top talent. They do have one glaring hole in their lineup, however, that the Sabres might be able to fill.

Second-Line Center

Despite scoring twice Tuesday night, Ryan Johansen has not been the number two center the Avalanche had hoped for when acquired over the summer. He is only on a 32-point pace and has seen more goals go in his net than the opposition’s net when on the ice.

Finding a low cap hit to fit within their tight salary cap restrictions was a priority for Colorado. Johansen’s $4 million cap hit after salary retention is proving to be restrictive even still, leaving the Avs in a bind.

That’s where Casey Mittelstadt’s name comes in. Mittelstadt is posting a career year for the Sabres, leading the team in points with 44. He’s on a much more respectable 66-point pace for a second-line center. Adams made it clear that the team is not shopping the pending restricted free agent, but that hasn’t stopped teams from calling.

Must Read: Sabres Not Shopping Casey Mittelstadt

Mittelstadt carries a $2.5 million cap hit this season, which leaves plenty of cap flexibility for an acquiring team. A team like Colorado could reap the benefits of a natural playmaker now through a playoff run, while also having plenty of time in the offseason to shuffle pieces around to make room for a long-term deal.

Bowen Byram

If Buffalo does part with Mittelstadt – a player they identify as part of their core – then they’d need a young-ish, talented NHL player in return. Bowen Byram is the first name that springs to mind, as the agile puck-moving defenseman was drafted fourth overall in the 2019 draft. The Sabres are leaning too heavily on Rasmus Dahlin with Owen Power out, which exposes their thinness at the position.

Byram now has parts of four seasons under his belt in the NHL and is only 22 years old. He scored 10 goals as a defenseman in only 42 games last season, which is a 20-goal pace over a full season. The offensive upside is encouraging, and there are elite skating and IQ attributes to his game as well that should make him effective in all situations.

The only problem is that he’s struggling. Of all the defensemen to suit up for the Avalanche this season, Byram is the only one posting a negative goal-differential value this season per PuckLuck. Yes, he already has eight goals again this season, but the well-roundedness displayed on his scouting profile just hasn’t been there.

Of course, a change of scenery can always help. Byram’s been mostly relegated to play on a pair with the aging Jack Johnson, so perhaps a more prolific defense partner or greater teammates at forward can help smooth out the wrinkles in his game.

With another season left on his bridge deal at a $3.85 million cap hit, the Sabres would have some financial flexibility still next season before dealing with his restricted free agency.

Samuel Girard

Samuel Girard is currently occupying the role the Avalanche probably hoped Byram would fill at this point. Colorado’s not complaining though, because the undersized defenseman has been perhaps the team’s best after Cale Makar this season.

Girard, according to Evolving-Hockey, is second among Colorado defensemen with 1.3 wins above replacement. When comparing to Byram, our Colorado Hockey Now’s own Evan Rawal provided some extra insight.

“Right now, Girard is the far more consistent player. [It] depends on if [Adams] wants to bet on Byram’s future.”

While Byram is the younger of the two, Girard still fits Buffalo’s timeline at 25 years old. What makes him even more enticing is that he’s locked up long-term at a decent cap hit – $5 million flat through 2026-2027.

Girard’s game is similar to Byram’s in that he’s a very good skater and puck-mover. He relies on getting the puck up-ice on the stick of his forwards so as not to chase the game in his end too often. Girard also can provide quality special teams minutes, although his success on the powerplay is really in the hands of his teammates as he’s not a big shooter himself.

Girard and Byram have played both left and right defense, although Girard is more natural on the right side than Byram. He’d be a great fit alongside a healthy Power and could help the Sabres regain some of the transition offense they’ve craved through the majority of the season.

Karmanos in Colorado

While it’s notable when an executive of Karmanos’ status is stationed at a team’s arena over a three-day span, that doesn’t always mean that a trade is in the works. Pro scouting is an extensive, inclusive process that can simply include bumping shoulders with other scouts and executives. It could also mean Karmanos just happened to be in the area on a trip and is taking advantage of being out west.

He could be scouting the Arizona Coyotes or the Vancouver Canucks as well, as those were Colorado’s opponents on Sunday and Tuesday, respectively.

Speculation could also lead you to say maybe the Avalanche are interested in reacquiring known commodities Erik Johnson or Tyson Jost for depth purposes, and Karmanos wanted a better look at Colorado’s depth.

There’s no denying that if the Sabres were willing to part with Mittelstadt, however, the Avalanche are one of the very few teams able to part with a young, top-four defensive talent. Girard was the subject of some trade rumors last season. Byram’s struggles could make him expendable as well.

The Sabres would do well in a trade of this nature, by flipping a top-six forward for a position of need. They have a prospect pipeline pushing for NHL forward spots next season.