This is the start of a new era. There will be no tank this season, there will be trading of good players for picks to make this team worse. The goal is now to make the playoffs. Tim Murray has said it repeatedly since the end of last season. The majority of the team this year will be new. Meaning we will see improvement. The only question is, how much?
Ted Nolan (head coach), Andre Benoit, Zac Dalpe, Jhonas Enroth, Brian Flynn, Mikhail Grigorenko, Matt Hackett, Cody Hodgson, Joel Armia, Anders Lindback, Andrej Meszaros, Torrey Mitchell, Tyler Myers, Michal Neuvirth, Drew Stafford, Tyson Strachan, Chris Stewart, Nikita Zadorov
There are 17 players that played for the Sabres last season, that are no longer apart of the organization. Whether it be by trade, waivers, or contract expiration, the Sabres did not lose any impact players without getting anything in return. The only players to walk away for nothing such as Anders Lindback, Tyson Strachan, Andre Benoit, etc. were players that were only in the NHL because of the tank. Otherwise they are AHLers. Ted Nolan leaving as coach does nothing to make the team worse in anyway. Ted Nolan is a very good motivator, but when it comes to the X's and O's, he is well behind his time. There were some cases where he didn't even know players on the opposing team
Eichel is of course the big fish that we all cannot wait to see. He's the reason we bottomed out last season, and it's time to see our work pay off. Eichel played great in the pre-season and looks like he'll be a productive player right away, with the capabilities to win the Calder Trophy. Every other addition the Sabres made will serve a role on this team. From Kane's goal scoring, to Legwand's sound 4th line play, everyone will help this team. Comparing the talent of the additions to the subtractions is what makes this team a candidate for one of the biggest season to season improvements in history.
Dan Byslma is a Stanley Cup winning coach, and he was our second choice. After Mike Babcock backed out of a deal with the Sabres to go to Toronto, the Sabres quickly scooped up Byslma. He has a proven track recored with stars like Sydney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Byslma also coached Jack Eichel at the World Championships this past summer. Had Babcock not opted to leave Detroit, Bylsma would have been the best coaching candidate on the market, and the Sabres got him. He's much more knowledgable about analytics than Ted Nolan was. We just see an immediate improvement on which players start in the o-zone or d-zone, defensive pairings, etc. The Sabres may not have got their first choice, but they made an enormous upgrade at head coach.
Ennis- O'Reilly- Kane gives the Sabres their most formidable first line in years. Maybe our best one since the Drury- Briere days. All three possess great offensive talent, as well as a good two way game.
The second line is a bit of a wild card. The talent is there, but there are questions on how good Eichel will be right away, and how much Gionta has left in the tank. All signs point to Eichel being able to put up around 50 to 60 points right away, and Gionta looks to still have enough left to be able to score around 20 goals. If both can reach those points, the second line will be very productive.
Both the third and fourth line are physical, tough, defensive, and have goal scoring ability. Girgensons is a top six forward, forced to the third line because of the sudden influx of center depth. McGinn is a proven 20 goal scorer, and Larsson, Foligno, and Deslauriers are all young forwards wanting to prove themselves. David Legwand may do better offensively than most think. Just two years ago the veteran center scored 51 points, before being reduced to a reduced role in Ottawa. While he'll have a similar role in Buffalo, Foligno and Deslauriers are better than what he had last year in Chris Neil and Zack Smith.
Sam Reinhart is another wild card. The rookie had a solid pre-season, but showed signs that he still isn't ready for the NHL. While he did put up points, he still looks a little behind the pace of the league, and still gets pushed around more than he should. Some time in Rochester wouldn't hurt Reinhart.
The Sabres have a lot of average defenseman with upside, but no one they know they can count on. Ristolainen and Pysyk look like great talents going forward, but at the moment they are still unproven. Both have shown flashes, so it'll be all about consistency.
Bogosian is only 25 years old, but has never found the elite level that got him drafted 3rd overall once upon a time. He's the Sabres most physical defenseman, but he is also the teams most injury prone one. Already Bogosian is week to week as the season begins.
The defense also finds itself thin on left handed defenseman. Josh Gorges gives them a nice veteran presence on the left side, but he like Bogosian is injury prone. Weber is nothing more than a 6th or 7th defensemen, and Jake McCabe may need a little more seasoning in the AHL. Anyway you look at it, they have no shut down first pairing defenseman on the left side.
For the power play Cody Franson will be the go to guy. He's the 6th most efficient power play defenseman in the NHL over the last five years. Getting him at such a bargain the offseason was the Sabres best free agent signing.
The teams biggest question mark is in goal. The team traded a 1st round pick for Robin Lehner, putting a lot of pressure on him from fans. Lehner has never been a full time starter in the NHL, so no one should expect consistency to start. If the team wants to have a shot at the playoffs, the hope is he catches fire towards the end of the season.
Chad Johnson is a serviceable backup, but don't expect him to make a large impact on this team even if he sees extended playing time at some point.
Player with the most to prove:
Foligno finds himself in an interesting spot. He will be a regular on the team, but mostly as a third and fourth liner. When he came into the NHL and went on a scoring tear, many thought he could develop into a top liner. Now he's having trouble cracking the third line. If Foligno wants to make his career into more than just a role playing, energy giving fourth liner he'll need to make a big progression offensively. With just 26 goals in 192 career games, he'll need a massive jump if he ever wants to be in the top six.
Sabres Projected Stats
How the rest of the Atlantic Division stacks up:
The Tampa Bay Lightining will likely own this division. They have by far the best roster, and the only thing standing in their way from back to back Atlantic titles is a man name Carey Price. Barring a few role players, the Lightning will be getting every player back from last years team. With such a young team, its scary to think about, but Tampa Bay might get even better. Nikita Kucherov, Tyler Johnson, and Ondrej Palat all still have room to grow, and they're already impactful players.
The Montreal Canadiens roster is not much better than the Sabres in my opinion. However, they have Carey Price. He showed last season that he could carry the Canadiens into the playoffs and even win a series or two. While the Canadiens are not the biggest threat to win a championship, Carey Price will surely keep them firmly above Buffalo in the standings.
This is where the division starts to get interesting. The Ottawa Senators made the playoffs as the divisions third best team last season, but they are not a contending team. The Sens edged out the fading Bruins only to get beat by Montreal in the first round.
The Bruins made many head scratching moves in the offseason. They traded away maybe their best defenseman in Dougie Hamilton, and traded away the face of their identity in Milan Lucic. The Bruins roster actually might be worse than the Sabres. With Tuukka Rask in net they'll be a favorite to finish ahead of Buffalo.
The Panthers are also interesting. They have a lot of young talent headlined by Aaron Ekblad. A young core of forwards in Nic Bjugstad, Alexsander Barkov, and Jonathan Huberdeau gives this team a lot of upside. And once again the Sabres lose out in the goaltending department, as Roberto Luongo is a more than proven number one goalie.
The Leafs are in a full rebuild, and couldn't even challenge anyone to an arm wrestling match and win.
Atlantic Division Prediction:
1. Tampa Bay Lightning
2. Montreal Canadiens
3. Florida Panthers
4. Detroit Red Wings
5. Buffalo Sabres
I do believe the Sabres will challenge for a playoff spot, but if they cannot get the 3rd division spot, I don't think they'll pull it off. The Metropolitan division is very good and is likely to eat up both wild card spots.
6. Ottawa Senators
7. Boston Bruins
8. Toronto Maple Leafs