BUFFALO – It can be hard to argue with the philosophy that has helped the Sabres quickly morph into a playoff contender.
For two years, general manager Kevyn Adams has stuck to his plan, refusing to make any moves that might jeopardize the Sabres’ long-term future. He has trusted his young talent, and they’ve rewarded him by becoming one of the NHL’s slickest young teams.
In rising up the standings and arriving ahead of schedule, an interesting dilemma has been created for Adams.
The Sabres began Thursday’s road game against the Boston Bruins just three points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for the Eastern Conference’s last wild card spot. They have games in hand on the Penguins and the four teams immediately behind them.
Their first playoff berth since 2011 is a real possibility, and the lure of making a big move before today’s 3 p.m. trade deadline must be awfully enticing.
Ending the longest playoff drought in NHL history would lift a black cloud that has hung over the franchise and further energize a fan base excited by the current team. The significance of simply getting into the postseason can’t be understated.
Of course, in the big picture, would it be worth it to give up top prospects or draft picks just to get in and, say, get swept by the Bruins in the first round? So far, Adams’ patient approach has worked.
He certainly has the assets, including salary cap space, to pry away some talent. He drafted three forwards in the first round last year. In addition to his first-round pick this year, he has three second-rounders. They’ve recently drafted some intriguing prospects in the middle and late rounds, so some teams could be interested in them.
But in his last chat with the media Sunday, Adams did not sound too interested in veering off course and suddenly pursuing something big.
He did, however, acknowledge that with first-line winger Alex Tuch sidelined at least a few weeks with a lower-body injury, he was more open to some things than before Tuch went down.
“But at the same time, we’re not going to compromise, do anything short-term that sets us back long-term,” Adams said.
Teams have been unusually active in the two weeks leading up the deadline, with more than 40 trades having transpired as of late Thursday afternoon.
The Sabres had made two, acquiring defenseman Riley Stillman from the Vancouver Canucks on Monday in exchange for prospect Josh Bloom and sending winger Anders Bjork to the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday for future considerations.
Those deal, of course, are minor ones.
Most of the big names have already been dealt. The next wave of significant movement will be this summer around the NHL Draft and free agency.
A strong argument can made the Sabres have come this far in a hurry, so why not stay the course and let them try to battle for a playoff berth without any major outside help? Even if they fall short, they will have gained significant experience.
On Tuesday, Sabres coach Don Granato did not sound enthralled with the idea of a big move this week.
“This time of the year and July 1, everybody’s talking about the big guys and the big moves,” he said. “We as an organization have been just making sure we keep moving forward, and by virtue of our age, by virtue of our young skill, we know we’re not in a situation where we’re desperate to make a big move. We’re getting better every day, so the experience we can allow our young guys to immerse in right now competing for a playoff spot means these young guys will be better next week than they were this week because they’re playing more intense hockey and they never experienced that.
“So to keep bringing in people to bump them out and they don’t get that experience means they don’t develop and it may stunt their development.”
The Sabres displayed a patient approach before last season’s deadline, and they compiled a 10-6-3 mark to close the season.
“We could’ve brought in guys, we could’ve unloaded guys, but Kevyn let that locker room know a year ago that, hey, I have confidence in you that you guys are gonna have a great stretch line after the trade deadline. We didn’t feel we needed to make any big moves, and it turned out to be the best move of all was not to make any big (moves). It was the same thing with the summertime here.
“Here we are as one of the top-scoring teams in the league and continue to show signs of growth. This is a growth opportunity. We don’t want to boot somebody out to take that ice time away from growth opportunity unless it’s impactful and it doesn’t jeopardize our progress.”