Sword Play: Buffalo Sabres - Florida Panthers Preview

By Matt Clouden
Kim Klement – US PRESSWIRE

This may be it folks.

With the Pittsburgh Penguins landing the most talked about fish in the pond this morning, the trade deadline market is truly open for business. The Jarome Iginla deal has sent ripples through the entire NHL, especially for the handful of teams that were unable to land the aging superstar, and the sort of desperation that contenders can only feel has started to settle in.

That’s where the Buffalo Sabres come in.

This game against the Florida Panthers tonight isn’t a marquee matchup in any way. It’s the 12th team in the East versus the 15th team in the East. The Sabres looked listless in their game Tuesday night against the struggling Tampa Bay Lightning and the Panthers have had very few bright spots this season.

But in reality, it may come down to this game for Sabres’ general manager Darcy Regier in a few respects. In a more short-term way, a loss tonight may be the deciding factor in Regier selling all or most of his to-be unrestricted free agents at the deadline. In the long-term, a loss here may cement the notion that the remaining games of the season are what amounts to a lame duck term of a presidency.

So now with more Ryan Miller rumors flying, Jordan Leopold and Robyn Regehr likely candidates to move, and now with Drew Stafford falling out of favor, the Sabres could really use the deadline to semi-retool for the future.

Here’s the dilemma, though. A win tonight puts the Sabres within four points of eighth place – not three, remember they cannot tie for eighth because they are behind all the teams ahead of them in regulation and overtime wins – which is feasible, but not necessarily likely.

A loss tonight makes it a completely different story. If the New York Rangers were to beat the Ottawa Senators tonight and the Sabres lose, that puts them six points out of the playoffs with only 14 games remaining. Last week the remaining schedule was broken down and of those 14 games, six are against division leaders and ten are against playoff teams. So it’s not an easy road.

One can assume that a loss tonight will open the floodgates for Regier and a foray into the trade market. The rental defenseman market seems to be set at two second rounders, but if Leopold or Regehr re-sign, a first rounder may not be out of the question. If the Sabres can get two first rounders, they should be able to set themselves up well for the future.

I guess we’ll see tonight.

One bit of news that should factor into the outcome: Thomas Vanek will miss the game tonight

Follow me on Twitter for NHL and Sabres news all season: @SwordPlay18.

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