Sabres Trying to Escape the Quicksand
The Buffalo Sabres after having a 10-game winning streak early in the season finished with only four more wins than the worst team in hockey by record Ottawa Senators. The team’s money is tied up in Jack Eichel and Jeff Skinner with future anticipation of having to sign Sam Reinhart and Rasmus Dahlin to long term deals.
The team’s last appearance in the playoffs happened in the 2010-2011 season. The team is unlikely to spend heavily in the free agent market, and their pick of Dylan Cozens seventh overall is unlikely to contribute this season. Sabres owner Terry Pegula is looking at significant renovations to Key Bank Center in the future. However, area support to financially support the project will struggle until the Sabres become a winner again. The fanbase frustration is at an all-time high after the team tanked for several years to acquire young talent. The fan’s patience in Buffalo is thin for the club and another losing season will start to impact the Sabres at the box office significantly.
The Sabres will go as far as their young nucleus will take them in 2019-2020. Jack Eichel delivered more than a point a game last season finishing with 82 points in 77 games. However, he held a -11 in plus-minus and needs additional support going forward from others that are not named Skinner and Reinhart. Eichel, Skinner, and Reinhart spent the majority of the season on the same line, and the predicament is without them the team only scored 136 goals in 82 games.
Jason Botterill is squarely sitting on the hot seat in his third year in Buffalo. General managers rarely have the opportunity of hiring three head coaches without producing a contender, and now Botterill is on his second coach in Ralph Krueger. A cloud hangs over Botterill’s head after seemingly losing the Ryan O’Reilly trade to St. Louis. The Sabres final compensation for the deal happened last week with the drafting of defensemen Ryan Johnson. The full outcome at this time is undetermined until Johnson develops. However, a big reason for the deal was the thought that Tage Thompson would come in and contribute. Thompson did not and ended the season in Rochester after a woeful 12 points in 65 games while O’Reilly ended the season as the playoff MVP and a Stanley Cup winner.
Dahlin will continue to improve after a strong rookie season where he appeared in 82 games ending with 44 points. Dahlin held a plus-minus of -13 with an average of 21:09 time on ice per game. Dahlin’s plus-minus compared to fellow defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen who held a -41 in 24:38 time on ice per game is impressive. The former first-round pick Ristolainen is a possible trade move for the Sabres to receive compensation that can help them at forward with their lack of scoring. The speculation around a Ristolainen trade will continue to dominate the conversation in Buffalo this summer.
The Sabres current odds to win the Stanley Cup are 60/1, and the Sabres current odds to win the Eastern Conference are 30/1.
The Sabres current overall grade is C-.
The article is an extended commentary as part of the end of the season NHL State of the Union.
NHL Atlantic Division Offseason (Episode 55)
A look at the offseason for the Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Florida Panthers, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Toronto Maple Leafs.