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Hamilton: Eric Staal is gone; now Sabres must trade others by April 12 deadline

The Sabres traded veteran center Eric Staal to Montreal for a third and fifth-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Many of you may be wondering that if the Sabres were willing to keep half of Eric Staal’s salary which equals $1.625 million, why they only got a third and a fifth-round pick in 2021 from the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for the center.

To me the reason is simple: that likely was the best offer Kevyn Adams was going to get because Staal has not even come close to playing well this season.

In 32 games, all Staal could produce was three goals and seven assists for 10 points. Over 82 games that would come out to seven goals and 18 assists for 25 points. Last season in Minnesota, Staal was on pace for 24 goals and 35 assists for 59 points.

The Sabres are a very bad team, but Staal contributed to that with horrible turnovers on a semi-nightly basis and lackadaisical play at times, which included giving up on backchecks and doing a drive-by around the net. What Staal did give the team was, what I’ve been told, superb leadership in the locker room. Staal admitted that he really didn’t know Jack Eichel yet, so I don’t know what’s up with that, but he was a very good mentor for Dylan Cozens.

Montreal has scouts, and they weren’t going to up the anti knowing they’re out of salary cap room after the trade. They just have to hope that being such drastically better team than the Sabres, Staal will be more like he was in Minnesota.

It’s being reported that Montreal was on Staal’s 10-team list of teams that Buffalo couldn’t trade him to, but he was willing to waive that to go to a team that has a shot at the playoffs. The Canadiens hold down the fourth and final playoff spot in the North Division, two points in front of the Vancouver Canucks and four points ahead of the Calgary Flames.

After Thursday’s game, Taylor Hall said he would absolutely listen if Adams came to him with a trade offer to a contending team. Hall has a full no-movement clause in his contract.

Adams has been asking for a first-round pick for Hall, and frankly, I don’t blame him for going high in what he wants, but Hall is another that has been a huge disappointment with two goals and 15 assists for 17 points in 32 games. Over 82 games that comes out to five goals and 38 assists for 43 points. With the New Jersey Devils and Arizona Coyotes last season, Hall was on a pace for 20 goals and 45 assists for 65 points.

Talking to people around the league, I’d be shocked if Buffalo got a first-round pick for Hall.

Brandon Montour has an expiring contract and, in a huge overpayment, cost Buffalo a first-round pick and former second-round pick Brendan Guhle in return. If Adams is able to trade Montour, I would think it would be for a third-round pick or lower.

Jake McCabe would’ve been a piece to move had he not been injured, but he’s out long-term and will likely resign with Buffalo in the off season.

Others who will be unrestricted free agents after this season are Tobi Rieder, Riley Sheahan, Matt Irwin, and injured goaltender Carter Hutton. I think for a low-round pick you could probably move Rieder, Sheahan and Irwin. None of them would be in the lineup of a contending team, but would provide good depth for teams with some salary cap room. Rieder performed very well for the Flames in last year’s playoffs.

The Canadian government relaxing its quarantine restriction from 14 days to seven days is going to give us more trades before the April 12 deadline than I think we were going to get before. After quarantine, Staal will be available to Montreal somewhere around April 3 or April 4. That will give him a full month on the ice with his teammates.

We’ve never had a trade deadline in an international pandemic, so trying to predict how it will go is pointless. Teams have lost millions upon millions of dollars this season and borderline playoff teams may not want to add to their payrolls.

The one thing I can guarantee is Adams would like to have a totally different roster minus many of these guys by April 13.