It’s T-minus three weeks and counting to the NHL trade deadline, set back to April 3 this year because of the lockout, and the Buffalo Sabres have 21 games left in the NHL’s shortened season. There were 20 games left when the deadline hit last season, with General Manager Darcy Regier getting a first-round draft pick from Nashville for Paul Gaustad and acquiring Cody Hodgson and Alexander Sulzer from Vancouver for Zack Kassian and Marc-Andre Gragnani.

The Sabres were fighting to get into the playoffs at that point and eventually sneaked into eighth place before a 1-3-1 finish cost them a shot in the postseason. Are they in a playoff push this year? Highly debatable.

Buffalo is 13th in the East and five points behind the teams tied for eighth, the New York Rangers and Winnipeg. They meet tonight in Manitoba, so one of them will go seven points ahead of the Sabres while using up a game in hand.

Prevailing wisdom around the league already has the Sabres among the chief sellers at the deadline, along with clubs like Calgary and Florida. Pending free agents like Robyn Regehr, Jordan Leopold and Jochen Hecht might get some interest and so will struggling winger Drew Stafford.

But what will really bear watching is what the Sabres do with captain Jason Pominville, winger Thomas Vanek and goaltender Ryan Miller. The team’s trio of long-standing stars will be entering the final years of their contracts next season.