Montour sees bright future on rebuilding Sabres

When it comes to evaluating last month’s NHL trade deadline, there are winners and there are losers.

Buffalo Sabres defenceman Brandon Montour (62) controls the puck during the third period of an NHL game against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday, March. 1, 2019, in Buffalo N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes) Jeffrey T. Barnes / AP

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By Michael Traikos

When it comes to evaluating last month’s NHL trade deadline, there are winners and there are losers.

And then there are the Buffalo Sabres, who sort of check off both boxes – even if it doesn’t quite look like it.

On the surface, it’s difficult not to lump them in with the losers who swung and missed at improving their roster.

How else would you explain the downward spiral the team has been on since acquiring former Chatham-Kent ‘AAA’ Cyclones defenceman Brandon Montour before the Feb. 25 deadline? While Vegas and Winnipeg have never looked better since winning the respective bidding wars for Mark Stone and Kevin Hayes, Buffalo has seemingly never looked worse.

At the time of the deal, the Sabres were in 10th place in the Eastern Conference standings, six points back of a wild-card spot after losing 24 of the previous 36 games. Today, they have a better chance of winning the draft lottery than they do of winning a wild-card spot.

Buffalo has just two wins in the past 12 games since acquiring Montour. In the process, the Sabres have dropped from 10th to 12th place in the standings and are only two points ahead of a Rangers team that spent the deadline selling off its biggest assets.

And yet, it’s difficult to blame Montour for how much the team has struggled or to even find fault with GM Jason Botterill, who gave up a first-round pick and a prospect in a trade with Anaheim that has seemingly blown up in Buffalo’s face.

For one, Montour had two goals and six points in 11 games, with a minus-one rating.

If you’re going to point fingers, direct them at a goaltending tandem that has forgotten how to stop the puck or a forward corps that no longer knows how to score.

“We went three games where we didn’t score a goal,” Montour said in a phone interview. “But it’s been fine. It’s only going to get better. It’s one of those things where the season’s been tough, but there’s many younger guys that you can tell it’s going to be a strong team here for a number of years.”

That’s why this trade might not be nearly as bad as the one that Colorado made for Derick Brassard or the gamble that Columbus made in acquiring Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel. While the Sabres hoped Montour might help turn things around, there wasn’t any pressure to do so this year.

Montour requires a new contract at the end of the season, but he’s not a rental. As a restricted free agent, the 24-year-old is under Buffalo’s control for the foreseeable future. And with Rasmus Dahlin, Casey Mittelstadt, Sam Reinhart and Jack Eichel all under the age of 24, the future looks brighter than it may have appeared the past few weeks – especially now that Montour is on a defensive pairing with last year’s No. 1 overall pick.

“I don’t want to think too far ahead, but it’s one of those things that people might want to see,” he said of playing alongside the 18-year-old Dahlin. “He’s a young player in this league and obviously one of the most talented players coming in. I’m young, too, and if they plan on having us two together we can grow together and have a strength for years.”

As for the playoffs, Montour is expecting big things – next year, of course.

“I think that’s the jump that needs to happen,” he said. “The playoffs is what it’s about. That’s where my mindset is.”

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