Compared to last year when we were asking "Will the Sabres finish in last place in 2014", discussing whether the Sabres could be competing for a Stanley Cup next season feels a heck of a lot better. So lets do that now shall we? Can the Sabres find themselves in the post season next year? My answer is yes, my basis to this argument is the 2014 Ottawa Senators.
The Senators of 2014 resemble this Buffalo squad in many ways. First off they had a very young team, 19 year old Curtis Lazar, 24 year old Erik Karlsson, and 22 year old Mika Zibanejad led the Senators to a playoff spot. The big three finished with 127 combined points in the regular season. Another similarity was the goaltender position. Ottawa rotated a few guys including Sabres starter Robin Lehner and although that was a weakness in the beginning of the season, it is what got them in the playoffs down the stretch. Expect a similar situation with young skaters leading the Sabres. Although they may start off slow, like the Senators young core, the Sabres core is neck deep in talent.
Who is the competition for the Sabres? Assuming the Sabres are a bottom seed if they make the playoffs, they are going to have to leap frog teams that made the playoffs last year in the Ottawa Senators, and the New York Islanders. Both of those teams have all of their major contributors returning. The division matchups against the Senators will come a long way for Buffalo.
Don't forget the Sabres are not alone in teams with a lot of upside. If the Columbus Blue Jackets did not suffer the worst strain of luck when it came to injuries last season, they would have been at the very least an 8 or 7 seed. Columbus finished sixth in scoring in the east. Throw the Florida Panthers in there and we have a log jam in the east.
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Can the Sabres make the playoffs? Yes. Is it a guarantee? Not even close. For every 2014 Ottawa Senators and 2013 Blue Jackets, there is a 2012 Edmonton Oilers. Having such a young team can result in a roller coaster type season.
I say with new addition Cody Franson being added to the defense, the Sabres now have a complete roster overall. Put me down for the Sabres finishing as the seventh seed in the eastern conference.
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Here are my full pre season predictions for the 2015-2016 eastern conference standings.
Atlantic 1. Tampa Bay Lightning- 115 points
Atlantic 2. Montreal Canadiens- 108 points
Atlantic 3. Buffalo Sabres- 97 points
Metropolitan 1. Washington Capitals- 112 points
Metropolitan 2. New York Rangers- 102 points
Metropolitan 3. Pittsburgh Penguins- 101 points.
Wild Card 1. New York Islanders- 98 points
Wild Card 2. Columbus Blue Jackets- 95 points
Keeping the Detroit Red Wings and Ottawa Senators out of the post season may bring some question marks to my predictions but with Detroit, losing Mike Babcock is going to be a devastating blow. Eventually the luck of finding hidden gems in Detroit will run out. As for the Senators, their goaltending situation is shaky. Craig Anderson and Andrew Hammond are a solid combination, but both have a self destructive trait in them that could cost Ottawa dearly. They also signed Boston College product Matt O'Connor who will play in Binghamton to begin the season. He will need to develop some weaknesses that cost the Terriers a national title last season including inconsistent vision of the puck at certain times in a game.
A lot of hope and optimism is in the air here in Buffalo, New York, looks like I am breathing that air in. The Sabres are a few steps away from being a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.