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Why the Sabres Are Winning the Mittelstadt Trade

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Casey Mittelstadt Bowen Byram Colorado Avalanche Buffalo Sabres

We’re just over 70 days from the one-for-one trade of Casey Mittelstadt for Bowen Byram between the Buffalo Sabres and Colorado Avalanche. One player, Mittelstadt, is still alive in the Stanley Cup Playoffs while the other, Byram, has failed to reach the NHL postseason. Byram is now competing in the World Championships for Team Canada at a point-per-game pace.

Must Read: How Seth Appert Can Help the Sabres Powerplay

Mittelstadt scored on a key third-period go-ahead goal for the Avs on Wednesday on an opportunistic bounce. So Colorado is winning the trade, right?

Not so fast…

Avalanche POV

The Avalanche are thrilled with the offensive upgrade Mittelstadt has been in the second-line center role. Ryan Johansen was acquired in the offseason to fill the spot and was a major letdown and shipped away. Ross Colton was another offseason acquisition at center and has been good, but is better suited for the third line.

In his 18 regular season games for the Avalanche, Mittelstadt recorded four goals and six assists. The 0.56 point-per-game pace was less than the 0.76 recorded in his 62 games with the Sabres. The postseason tells a different tale, as Mittelstadt has nine points in 10 playoff games. Altogether, that’s a 0.68 point-per-game pace with Colorado.

WAR

The WAR metrics – wins above replacement – also took a tumble once Mittelstadt got to Colorado. According to Evolving-Hockey, he added 2.3 wins more than a replacement-level player to the Buffalo Sabres. Contrast that to his regular season play with the Avalanche, where he was barely above replacement level at 0.1 wins added.

This isn’t only due to the drop in production, but also the negative marks on the defensive end and the powerplay in Colorado. Mittelstadt’s time with the man advantage is nearly non-existent thanks to the heavy minutes Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen demand.

Relative Statistics

The relative-to-teammate stats show that, when Mittelstadt is on the ice, the Avalanche are generating more shot attempts. However, he’s hurting his teammates’ shots on net percentage, shot quality percentage, and goals scored for and against. It was the opposite case in Buffalo, suggesting that Mittelstadt may not be the best fit.

An adjustment period could be warranted, but Mittelstadt’s underlying statistics with the Avalanche are alarming. Colorado fans may be satisfied with the production. However, it’s a low bar to clear due to the vacancy they’ve had at the position since the departures of Nazem Kadri, J.T. Compher, and Alex Newhook.

Sabres POV

Bowen Byram exploded onto the scene in Buffalo, with five points in his first four games with the Sabres. He managed only one point over the next 11 games before finishing strong with a point in each of his last three. His half-point-per-game pace was better overall than in Colorado, where he had 20 points in 55 games.

WAR

The WAR metrics are great for Byram all the way around, with negative impacts on defense and the powerplay hindering the positive even-strength offense he brings. His decline in Buffalo wasn’t nearly as drastic as Mittelstadt’s with the Avalanche, so the gaps in his game can’t be attributed as much to a new dynamic.

Relative Statistics

The relative-to-teammate statistics aren’t great either, with Byram negatively affecting his teammates in all facets of event-based measurement.

Sabres Grades: Casey Mittelstadt, Kyle Okposo, and Erik Johnson

Mittelstadt vs. Byram

The argument of who’s winning the trade comes down to the big picture. Mittelstadt is a pending restricted free agent who is turning 26 this season. That means his value as an asset will change this summer, regardless of whether he helps Colorado win the Stanley Cup. Evolving-Hockey’s contract projections have him at a three-year deal of just under $6 million per year. If he signs long-term, his average annual value will shoot up to $7 million or $8 million.

That’s a big jump from the $2.5 million he cost this season. If the Avalanche sign him, it’ll come at the expense of another important player or two on the roster.

Byram on the other hand is cost-controlled for another season at $3.85 million. He’ll then become a restricted free agent, who can be locked in long-term before that at age 23. Typically that means that Byram will be a value for one season pre-contract, and about three to four seasons at the end of a new deal.

Mittelstadt is who he is at this point, as 26 years old is usually the peak of a forward’s development. He’s posted two straight seasons of points in the high-50s.

Byram is 22 years old, and a defenseman’s development curve is much slower. His goals and points have increased each season, showing a linear development path. Mittelstadt is the better player now, but consider Byram’s draft capital combined with the opportunity ahead of him.

Byram’s Potential

As a former fourth overall pick, Byram joins elite company drafted in the top five in recent seasons:

2022

  • Simon Nemec [4]

2021

  • Owen Power [1]
  • Luke Hughes [4]

2020

  • Jake Sanderson [5]

2019

  • Bowen Byram [4]

2018

  • Rasmus Dahlin [1]

2017

  • Miro Heiskanen [3]
  • Cale Makar [4]

Dahlin, Heiskanen, and Makar are among the NHL’s best and are only a year or two older than Byram. Sanderson, Hughes, Power, and Nemec are all bonafide top-four defensemen, each showing elite potential.

This puts Byram’s ceiling much higher than Mittelstadt’s. A borderline second-line center that only contributes at even strength can be found much easier than an elite all-situations defenseman.

If Byram can take the next step in development and live up to his potential, then the Sabres will have done well in a Byram for Mittelstadt trade.

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