Would the Buffalo Sabres be in the Stanley Cup finals right now if they'd kept Daniel Paille? That's doubtful.
But would they be better off? That's entirely possible.
Paille kicked off his 15 minutes of fame late Saturday after scoring the overtime game-winner for the Boston Bruins to help them even the series at 1-1 with the Chicago Blackhawks. Game three is at 8 p.m. tonight on the NBC Sports Network.
That was his third goal of these playoffs and his second game-winner. So, while hardly a prolific scorer (he had 10 goals and seven assists in the regular season), he can come through in the clutch.
More importantly, the 29-year-old left winger has been steady on the third line for the Bruins since they traded for him two games into the 2009-10 season. He's been steady on the penalty kill and has added at least one short-handed goal every year for the Bruins.
In other words, he's everything the Sabres missed this past season.
Despite scoring 19 goals in his first full season with the Sabres in 2006-07, the club made up its mind two years later he was expendable. The Sabres had Thomas Vanek, Clarke MacArthur, Matt Ellis and Tim Kennedy on the roster at left wing entering that season. Despite Paille's relatively low cost ($1.3 million for 2009-10), Buffalo made him the odd man out and shipped him to Boston for a third-round 2010 draft pick and conditional fourth-rounder that never came (Paille failed to meet his goals scored minimum for the pick to come to fruition).
Paille has gone on to three 10-goal campaigns in four seasons in Boston. Buffalo, meanwhile, ended up letting Tim Kennedy leave due to an arbitration dispute. That pick, meanwhile, turned out to be Kevin Sundher. Now 21, he spent his first professional season in 2012-13 with Rochester, where he put up four goals and nine assists in 38 games. So while it's still a bit early to call the trade a complete bust, it's headed squarely in that direction.
Paille is now playing under a three-year, $3.9 million contract. Consider comparably paid players Buffalo had this past season:
- Patrick Kaleta ($1.25 million), one goal in 34 games
- Nathan Gerbe ($1.45 million), five goals and five assists in 42 games
- Jochen Hecht ($1 million), five goals and nine assists in 47 games
None of these performances are stellar, but Buffalo could have that sort of production – or better – in Paille and had his defensive capabilities, which are lacking in these other players, by comparison.
Paille was a first-round pick in 2002 and probably deserved more time in Buffalo to better craft his game. He was not a difference-maker, but rather he's another checkmark in the "con" column against GM Darcy Regier, who's made some truly great moves with the Sabres but more bad ones (you still can't say "Chris Drury" or "Daniel Briere" in Sabres Country without attracting groans). Paille could have been a good piece to a club that would be perennially in the playoffs – like, say, the Bruins.
Instead, you have a second straight season of no playoffs and little hope of an eventful turnaround in 2013-14.
Good for Paille if he can hoist his second Stanley Cup with Boston in a week or two. He certainly would not be the first former Sabres player to do so.