Sabres are (naturally) thrilled with another first-rounder, but what about the deals?


Staff member

They kept the pick and took another kid. Hmm.

If you want to, that’s one way to encapsulate the Buffalo Sabres’ night at the NHL draft in the utterly spectacular Sphere. And the connotations of that short sentence aren’t great.

When the Sabres flipped with San Jose on Thursday, moving down from No. 11 to No. 14 and getting an additional second-round pick, the assumption was it was to set the stage for a bigger deal to impact the NHL roster.

Nothing happened. At least not Friday. Instead, the Sabres ended up making the pick for Finnish center Konsta Helenius, and it’s a rough look on a couple of counts.

Konsta Helenius, left, heads to the stage after being selected by the Buffalo Sabres during the first round round of the NHL draft on Friday in Las Vegas. Steve Marcus, Associated Press

First off, as it turned out, they would have had a chance at London Knights defenseman Sam Dickinson (No. 11 to San Jose) and Denver blueliner Zeev Buium, who went to Minnesota at No. 12 after you had seen mock drafts listing him going as high as No. 3 to Anaheim.

You can never have enough good defensemen in the pipeline. Still, it’s easy to scour the internet and find plenty of praise for the pick, too. Helenius is a two-way center who wins faceoffs, and don’t kneejerk that he’s another first-round Smurf.

After watching Zach Benson for the last year, shouldn’t it be obvious that the size of the heart is more important than the size of the body?

“We see a winning hockey player,” General Manager Kevyn Adams said of Helenius, a natural center who excelled in the Finnish men’s league against older competition.

Adams said Helenius is going to have a chance to make this team this year or play in Rochester. He’s certainly far closer to making the NHL than your ordinary No. 14 pick in the first round. He plays a two-way game and is noted for winning faceoffs and this team needs that.

Still, it’s disappointing that nothing happened with the NHL roster Friday night. What about moving down and making a deal? Why didn’t that happen?

Finland’s Konsta Helenius, left, celebrates after scoring during the IIHF World Junior Championship bronze medal game against Czechia. He was picked by the Sabres in the first round on Friday in Las Vegas. Adam Ihse, Associated Press

Without saying who, Adams said one player the Sabres targeted was gone in the top 10 and wouldn’t have been available at No. 11 anyway. There’s multiple possibilities there, although my guess would have been Calgary defenseman Carter Yakemchuk, who went No. 7 to Ottawa, or Spokane center Berkly Catton, who went No. 8 to Seattle.

Adams said the Sabres were looking at deals to acquire NHL talent and didn’t get anyone. But neither did anybody else. Martin Necas is still in Carolina, Nikolaj Ehlers and Eden native Alex Iafallo are still in Winnipeg and so is disgruntled Jets prospect and former Team USA captain Rutger McGroarty. So is anybody else you might have heard on the rumor mill.

“We were aggressive and there weren’t trades that we could get other teams to agree to,” Adams said. “... We were certainly aggressive and that’s just the way these things go. I thought we put together some really strong offers and when that didn’t end up happening, I just thought, ‘OK, it’s a year that teams aren’t going to be willing to move a player for a pick or a package.’ “

The reminder we always have to give in these spots: They’ve got all summer to make a trade. It didn’t have to be Friday night, especially if the only reason would be to placate an understandably agitated fan base.

And just for the record, not a single NHL player went anywhere Friday night. The GMs, who bored us to tears with no moves last year in Nashville, finally got bravado going and made several exchanges of picks but no live bodies.

The Sphere unveiled a train horn and a massive puck on its screen that blared “TRADE ALERT” to signal a move was made and one later in the round prompted Commissioner Gary Bettman to quip, “Yeah, I like that, too” when the fans cheered.

The venue was incredible. Adams said his only quibble was a stiff neck being on the stage and trying to look up at the massive board. Several teams had legends making their pick, with Buffalo’s choice being coach Lindy Ruff in his return to the organization.

Philadelphia native and legendary ring announcer Michael Duffer entertained us when he joined old friend Daniel Briere to make the Flyers’ pick — punctuating it with “weighing in at 187 pounds” and a “Let’s get ready to rummmmmble!”

The Montreal Canadiens took the opportunity to roll out Celine Dion to make their pick and the crowd gasped and roared when Quebec’s songstress of all time confidently strode to the stage with her son, belying the neurological disorder that has shut down a legendary career most recently known for her residency here at Caesars Palace.

It was a show that looked great in person and must have looked wild on TV. We’ll see more of it Saturday morning. The Sabres aren’t giving up hopes of improving the NHL roster right now – and don’t forget it’s still three months before they head to Germany to wrap up training camp.

“I think there’s some things that are still going to continue into tonight,” Adams said. “We have ongoing conversations right now we’ll keep working at but it takes two to make a trade.”

Fair enough. Keep pushing. If you overpay to bulk up this roster, so be it.