Among the names rumoured to be on the block heading into the trade freeze before the expansion draft was Montreal Canadiens defenceman Nathan Beaulieu. He was indeed traded by the Habs to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for a third-round pick in this year’s Entry Draft.
Beaulieu is a restricted free agent this offseason.
When the Sabres hired Jason Botterill to be their new GM last month, I intimated that the focus for him would be rebuilding the blue line. This is hardly a unique notion; anyone with a computer and/or eyeballs knew that the Buffalo defence corps needed an overhaul. This is part of that overhaul.
More importantly, however, is this gives the Sabres another puck-moving defenceman. People can say what they want about Beaulieu, and to be fair, he did not develop into the rearguard the Habs had hoped he’d be. One thing he can do is help generate offence – Montreal managed more shots on goal per minute of five-on-five play with him on the ice than the average of their team, and he has more primary assists per 60 minutes at five-on-five than either Shea Weber or Jeff Petry over the last three seasons.
Perhaps the Sabres didn’t address their need of adding a defenceman who can help suppress the opposing offence, but they did get one that can help generate offence of their own. That is an upgrade on most of the current Buffalo blue line.
The last note here is that this gives Buffalo another option on the power play. This isn’t to say that he’s going to immediately supplant Rasmus Ristolainen on the top unit right away, or at all. It is to say that at the very least, they have that option now if the top power-play unit doesn’t click early in the season, or goes cold at some point during the year. Ristolainen’s fantasy value is heavily tied to his power-play production, and any hit to that is going to be hard for him to make up elsewhere.
For now, this is Buffalo adding a capable puck-moving NHL defenceman. In six months, he could have fantasy value depending how he’s used. If he doesn’t get those coveted top power-play minutes, however, he won’t have much value outside of deep leagues.