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New Sabres Trade Candidate Has Emerged

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Although the Buffalo Sabres have been active in free agency, the lack of acquiring a forward via trade as expected has left the lineup with a couple of holes. Big names like Mitch Marner, Nikolaj Ehlers, and Pavel Buchnevich have not been moved by their respective teams, with Buchnevich receiving a big contract extension. One team is still in the market to add a forward, and their already overabundant group makes them a candidate to partner with the Sabres in a trade – the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Pittsburgh has about $3.5 million left in cap space heading into next season, after adding forwards Kevin Hayes, Blake Lizotte, Anthony Beauvillier, and defensemen Matt Grzelcyk and Sebastian Aho. Having 15 NHL forwards and 7 NHL defensemen signed suggests they may be set.

However, there is chatter that the Penguins are actively pursuing forward Vladimir Tarasenko. A leaked premature email to season ticket holders actually included Tarasenko’s name, furthering suspicion. Tarasenko is expected to draw north of $5 million per season, so the Penguins need clear cap space to sign him.

Post-edit: Vladimir Tarasenko has signed with the Detroit Red Wings

This opens up two potential trade candidates on the Penguins’ current roster. The Sabres need either a top-six forward, a third-line center, or both. Pittsburgh has two players that fit the bill – one of each.

More on Tarasenko: Top Remaining Free Agent Fits for Sabres

Lars Eller

Lars Eller Pittsburgh Penguins Buffalo Sabres trade

The Sabres are looking for a third-line center, and Lars Eller was just that for the Penguins last season. Eller’s been around the league a long time and knows how to play defensively responsible two-way hockey. The 35-year-old center registered 15 goals and 31 points for the Penguins last season, adding some secondary production to complement Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

After such a nice season, why would Pittsburgh part with Eller? Hayes, one of his top comps, just signed with the team. Lizotte is a bottom-six center as well, and the Penguins already have Noel Acciari filling the fourth-line center role.

Eller would either have to shift to the wing or beat out Hayes for the job. Per Pittsburgh Hockey Now’s Dan Kingerski, Penguins general manager Kyle Dubas envisions Hayes as a center, which doesn’t leave much wiggle room for Eller.

Adding a 6’2″ defensively aware center would be a perfect fit between Zach Benson and Jordan Greenway, and would fall right in line with new head coach Lindy Ruff’s philosophy. The cost to trade for Eller would likely be a day-two draft pick, which the Sabres should not be too shy to part with.

Eller has one year remaining on his contract at $2.45 million.

Rickard Rakell

Rickard Rakell Pittsburgh Penguins Buffalo Sabres trade

If you’re hoping the Sabres make a bigger move, then you may be in luck. Rickard Rakell is the most likely cap casualty should Tarasenko sign in Pittsburgh. Heading into next season, Rakell has four years remaining on his deal and carries a $5 million cap hit.

The Penguins originally brought in Rakell to produce with Crosby and Malkin. The versatile Swedish forward did just that – scoring 13 points in 19 regular season games after the 2022 trade deadline. He followed it up with 28 goals and 60 points in 82 games the next season.

2023-2024 was rough for Rakell, however, opening up his trade potential. He had 15 goals and 37 points in 70 games and was removed from Pittsburgh’s struggling top powerplay.

Rakell’s known as a willing shooter who can help drive play up the ice. On the Sabres, he’d give Ruff a lot of lineup freedom, as he can play wing and center. He’d likely begin on Buffalo’s second line, moving newly acquired Jason Zucker into a third-line scoring role.

He can also play center, which could transform the third line from a defense-centric trio to a complementary scoring threat. Whether the Sabres target Rakell or Eller, the Penguins are starting to look like the ideal trade partner.