Last season – 14th in the Eastern Conference
It’s been a long time since the Sabres-fans saw exciting hockey in Buffalo. About ten seasons to be exact, as the last good team played in 2007. With changing of their core graduately happening, for the worse. Murray kicked it up a notch and dumped whatever asset he could to obtain the benefits of finishing among the worst teams in the league.
GM – Tim Murray
Going into his third season as the GM of the Sabres. Murray has been the one to put the team through the full rebuild process. He is also known for saying as little as possible at the NHL-draft, so go look that up for some amusement. Murray has done a good job so far, acquiring young talent through draft and more seasoned, but not over the hill players through trade and free agency.
Head Coach – Dan Bylsma
Bylsma in his first season managed to bring the Sabres back to 35 wins for the first time in 4 seasons. They still missed the playoffs for the 5th straight season, but not because Bylsma were doing anything wrong. He looks to be a very good choice for a young team who’s focus still would be to keep improving the abilities all over the roster.
Kyle Okposo (RW), Dmitry Kulikov (D), Anders Nilsson (G),
33rd overall pick 2016 (Rasmus Asplund, C), Justin Falk (D), Jimmy Vesey (UFA rights, later signed with Rangers)
Mark Pysyk (D), Chad Johnson
38th overall pick 2016 (Adam Mascherin, F), 89th overall pick (Linus Nassen (D), 3rd round pick 2016, 5th round pick 2017, Jimmy Vesey (UFA rights expired)
Much weren’t expected of the Sabres this offseason, but they did manage to sign one of the prime offseason free agents in winger Kyle Okposo. This could be an absolute steal and provide a solid confidence boost for their first line, who will get a proper scoring winger on their line.
Murray missed the target with his attempt to sign Vesey, but got Ristolainen locked up after his stellar rookie season, where he provided 41 points from the blueline.
Goaltending – 4/10
Lehner still haven’t stabilized himself as a number one starter in the league. Is this the season to get there? Possibly. But, neither him or Nilsson will be able to keep the Sabres in a playoffs-push this season. Sabres are best put to keep developing these guys.
The good thing for the Sabres, is that Lehner has been a proven winner before, and a number one spot is his for the taking. He just has to grab it. Nilsson who has proven himself in the KHL and in the World Championships before, is the perfect backup to make a good developing duo, and if Lehner fails to grab the change, Nilsson might step up.
Defense – 6/10
With Ristolainen signed long-term, their defense doesn’t look horrible. It’s actually fairly decent compared with what you might have imagined. It’s a fine mix between youth and veterans, but be clear, this is not a playoffs-defense. At least not yet. At with all the questions marks regarding several of them, who knows how these pairs look like after the trade deadline.
Kulikov – Ristolainen
McCabe – Bogosian
Gorges – Franson
Falk – Nelson
Forwards – 7/10
The forward lines are looking better than previously, and we should expect them see further improvement throughout the year. There are some questions though in terms of Eichel’s possible sophomore slump, Okposo’s first year and how he fits into the roster, and what will happen with Kane? Their depth is a bit meh…at the moment, but the potential is huge for the Sabres.
Kane – R. O’Reilly – Okposo
Ennis – Eichel – Reinhart
Moulson – Girgensons – Deslauriers
Foligno – Larsson – Gionta
Grant – C. O’Reilly – Fasching
Team Composition – 6/10
The whole roster is marked with question marks, and is nowhere near being a playoffs team, and especially a contending team. A lot of youth and the veteran presence here isn’t what will bring them over the hump down the stretch. There is still a lot of holes in the roster, that is either temporary filled or under construction. However, we are starting to see a plan coming together in regards to how the lines and defensive pairs are getting structured.
Leadership presence – 5/10
There are some, but, the Sabres youth might be better off finding their own way going forward. Seasoning and good experiences is what this roster need.
Skill Value – 6/10
They got one of the most exciting talents in Eichel, a possible great 2nd line center in O’Reilly a couple of years from now, and seasoned scoring winger in the new guy Okposo. Adding to that, young pieces in their defense who should end up as their core. However, at this moment there is still too much mediocre or over the hill in the lineup.