Thank you, Jeff Skinner.
You made life much easier for general manager Kevyn Adams and the rest of the Buffalo Sabres brain trust as they put together their protection list for next week’s Seattle Expansion Draft.
The Sabres will likely choose the option that allows them to protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender. Skinner would have had to be protected since his contract included a no-movement clause, but he agreed to waive that clause so he can now be left unprotected by the Sabres.
It means the Sabres don’t have to worry about losing one of their young, and hopefully up-and-coming forwards to the Seattle Kraken come Wednesday.
Barring a trade before Saturday’s Expansion Draft roster freeze, the Sabres will be protecting Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart, Victor Olofsson and Casey Mittelstadt. You can lock in those four, and Skinner would have been the fifth forward on the list.
That would have left two spots for three players worth protecting at this point in Rasmus Asplund, Tage Thompson and Andres Bjork. I think it's safe to say players like Kyle Okposo, Cody Eakin and Zemgus Girgensons will be made available for the Kraken to select.
Although I would tell you there’s just the slightest possibility they would protect Girgensons, I would hope they don’t. However, they could look at him as one of the few remaining veterans on, what will be, a very young squad next season, and they might see him as a piece to help set an example for those younger players.
Adams has been talking about finding players who take pride in wearing the Sabres jersey and come to play every night. Girgensons certainly does that, and he would be a bottom-six piece who is a solid two-way forward and can be a regular on the penalty kill. I don’t think the Sabres would pick him over one of the other three, but if they do that would likely be their thinking.
With Skinner agreeing to waive his no-movement clause, there is no tough decision that has to be made. It's very simple. You protect Asplund, Thompson and Bjork.
Asplund can handle the same role Girgensons has, and Asplund can play wing or center. If the Sabres end up trading Eichel and/or Reinhart, the depth chart at center takes a hit. Asplund could be one of the players they look to for help down the middle.
Adams seemed really high on Bjork when he made the Taylor Hall trade with the Boston Bruins, and Thompson finally began to show some potential after the head coaching change was made and Don Granato took over.
All of this means the Sabres have one decision to make: Who is the third defenseman to protect?
The first two are easy with Rasmus Dahlin and Henri Jokiharju. It only comes down to Rasmus Ristolainen or Will Borgen. Colin Miller should definitely be left unprotected.
For most Sabres fans, this is a no-brainer. You keep the younger player in Borgen and make Ristiolainen available. It makes perfect sense since Ristolainen is going into the final year of his contract, and I think I’ve got a better shot of having my hair miraculously growing back than Ristolainen does of getting another contract from the Sabres.
But I will play devil's advocate here. If they protect Ristolainen over Borgen, and Sabres Twitter will have a field day with this, it could be a combination of things:
Perhaps they want to hold on to the veteran blue liner because they feel he could still be traded in return for some kind of asset, whether it's before the season begins or as a rental pickup by the NHL Trade Deadline next season.
Maybe the Sabres don’t see a spot for Borgen down the road. Dahlin and Jokiharju aren’t going anywhere (hopefully), and other young defensemen who could be here next season or within the next few years include Mattias Samuelsson, Jacob Bryson, Casey Fitzgerald, Ryan Johnson and the player the Sabres will probably take with the first overall pick in the NHL Draft next Friday, Owen Power.
Maybe they even re-sign Jake McCabe, who is about to enter unrestricted free agency on Wednesday, July 28.
It's basically a numbers game, and Borgen, in theory, could be the odd man out. That would be a mistake by the Sabres. You keep the 24-year-old player who, by the way, is one of the few Sabres defensemen that loves to throw his body around in the defensive zone.
There’s no need to hang on to Ristolainen because of a potential trade piece. What are the Sabres thinking Ristolainen is worth at this point with one year left and a $5.4 million cap hit? I doubt they would get anything higher than a third round pick, and that is probably wishful thinking on my part.
There’s no need to overthink this.
Skinner made this an easy exercise for the Sabres' hockey operations department. Now we just have to wait and see what the Sabres decide.
The team must submit their protection list to the NHL offices by 5 p.m. ET on Saturday.