Buffalo Sabres 2016 New Years resolutions

Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

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2015 was arguably the most impactful year in Buffalo Sabres history. The team saw the climax of "the tank" in the second half of the 2014-15 season. The Sabres did in fact finish in last place, lost the draft lottery, and drafted Jack Eichel with the 2nd overall pick of the 2015 NHL Draft. Drafting Eichel may be the most important moment in Sabres history. Tim Murray made the year even more of a page turner by trading for Ryan O'Reilly, Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian, and Robin Lehner. All four players were brought in to play key roles going forward for the team. 

In the 38 games the Sabres played in this season, the team has 34 points, which is 3rd last in the NHL. New Year's day just one year ago, the Sabres were 3rd last in the NHL. And with that, here are the Sabres New Year's resolutions. 

#5: Resign Rasmus Ristolainen, Zemgus Girgensons, and other RFA's

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This comes in at #5 considering that this is the easiest to get done. Tim Murray will have six restricted free agents on his current roster when July 1st comes around. The players that are must signs are Ristolainen and Girgensons. That being said there is zero chance either one don't get a new contract. There may be a disagreement between Ristolainen's camp and the Sabres camp on what kind of contract he deserves, but that will come in time. Risto will certainly feel that he has earned the big contract while Tim Murray may be looking to sign him to more of a bridge deal. 

Other RFA's for the Sabres are Nicolas Deslauriers, Marcus Foligno, Johan Larsson , and Jake McCabe. Deslauriers and McCabe should no doubt get new contracts. Foligno in my opinion should, but his situation is more up in the air. Larsson has done nothing to earn a new contract, so at this point my guess is he will not get a new contract from Buffalo. 

#4: Resign Jamie McGinn and David Legwand

Some may agree with McGinn more than Legwand, but I believe the Sabres should resign both players after the season. McGinn has been reliable on every single line. He's a versatile player that can fill any role. Legwand is the best 4th line center the Sabres have had in years. He doesn't make mistakes, wins face-offs, kills penalties, and can chip in offensively even more than the coaches are allowing him to. 

 Both players are coming off contracts where they were paid $3 million annually. That dollar amount makes sense again for McGinn, while Legwand should be getting a pay cut. Legwand will be 36 years old so a 1 year $2 million makes sense. McGinn's contract will be trickier. He will certainly want a deal with longer term on it. If I were Tim Murray I would be comfortable signing him to a 3 year contract with a $3.5 million cap hit annually. 

#3: Make a run at a marquee free agent

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No it doesn't have to be Steven Stamkos, but the Sabres need to flex their muscles as a superior hockey market and contend for a marquee free agent. To this point there are still several great players set to be UFA's on July 1st. The list includes Stamkos, Anze Kopitar, Dustin Byfuglien, Eric Staal, David Backes, Kyle Okposo, Andrew Ladd, Brian Campbell, Alex Goligoski, Milan Lucic, and Jaromir Jagr

Stamkos and Kopitar are certainly the top two. Stamkos makes some sense as a possible guy that would want to come to Buffalo as outlined here While the Sabres need a defenseman and Byfuglien is the top guy, his past history with Evander Kane would make that far fetched. 

A Brian Campbell reunion wouldn't be so bad. While he is 36 years old, he is known for being in phenomenal shape, and that shows when he plays over 25 minutes a night all the time. Another option on the blue line would be the younger Goligoski, who is the same type of player, but is only 30 years old. 

#2: Get a draft pick in the top 3

If the Sabres miss the playoffs, they will have a shot at any of the top 3 picks. Different from last year, the draft lottery will determine the top 3 picks, not just the 1st. The top 2 in the draft are Auston Matthews and Jesse Puljujarvi. At the moment both are dominating the World Juniors. There is also Sarnia Sting defenseman Jakub Chychrun who is a man child, and touted as the top defenseman in the draft. While the top of this years draft class isn't getting as much love as the "McEichel draft", it looks better on paper than the 2014 draft. Matthews, Puljujarvi, and Chychrun should all go to the NHL right away, and all are teetering on the generational status quo. 

#1: Make a run at the playoffs

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This team is talented. The Sabres are better than the 28th place team in the league. In their last two losses against playoff caliber teams in the Islanders and Capitals, the Sabres had more shots on goal. They just haven't been able to finish their opportunities. So are the Sabres snakebitten? No, but they are unlucky to an extent. While this team isn't presently good enough to make the playoffs, they are good enough to contend for a spot. If Robin Lehner can come back and be a consistently good starter, that will help even more. Don't expect any moves from now until the end of the season to help this team get better for the short term though.