R. Aaron Houde \ Aug 16th, 2019
The Buffalo Sabres have not seen the post-season in hockey since 2011, where they lost to the Philadelphia Flyers in the Quarterfinals in seven games. Since then, it has been one disappointing season after another. They finished last season with 76 points, but they started the season surprising everyone, with a record of 17 wins, 7 losses, and 3 overtime losses to finish out November and stayed at over 50% wins until the end of January. Let’s take a look at what they did in the offseason, and if their hope for their club making a playoff appearance will pay off.
The Sabres didn’t make many moves to their roster in the offseason in terms of trades. They picked up Jimmy Vesey from the New York Rangers in exchange for a 2021 3rd Round pick, and Colin Miller from the Vegas Golden Knights for a 2021 2nd Round pick, and a 2022 5th Round pick. They chose Dylan Cozens 7th overall in the 2019 NHL Draft, and Ryan Johnson 31st overall (with a pick gained from the St. Louis Blues that saw Ryan O’Reilly go to the Blues in exchange for Vladimir Sobotka, Patrik Berglund, Tage Thompson, a 2019 1st Round pick and 2021 2nd Round pick). In the Free Agent world, the Sabres got Marcus Johansson and signed him to a 2-Year deal.
The only real significant loss to the Buffalo Sabres was Alexander Nylander, who played a majority of his career for the Sabres AHL affiliate, the Rochester Americans. He was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for Henri Jokiharju. Nylander is not a huge blow to the Sabres organization, but he was a first-round pick by the Sabres in the 2016 NHL Draft (which was, coincidentally, held in Buffalo), selected eighth overall.
Overview of Changes:
For a team that has been in rebuilding mode for the better part of a decade now, it seems like they are putting their faith in the core built around Jack Eichel. Keeping Jeff Skinner in Buffalo will be a big part of keeping their offense significant and giving Eichel a solid winger to play alongside. Vesey could be a good change, after playing for the Rangers which have had a bit of pressure on them as well. If he plays a more relaxed game, it could be a good season for him. Sobotka could end up being put on the trading block which they could leverage for some help on the defensive side of the game.
Will their “Puck Luck” finally change?
After their 10-game winning streak in November of last year, the season turned very dark. But, a lot of their losses were close, and a lot of their younger players like Victor Olofsson are stepping into their own. Their defense has been very injury prone (Zach Bogosian is a prime example), and their goaltending is inconsistent. When Linus Ullmark is on his game, he is great. Same with Carter Hutton. But, as the season wears on, the defense slowly declines, and the goaltenders are left to pick up the slack and Hutton and Ullmark couldn’t bear the load.
The Sabres will surprise the NHL world, but the Atlantic has thrown down the gauntlet for being the toughest division in the NHL. Teams like the Montreal Canadians, Florida Panthers, and even the Rangers are going to have a fight on their hands with the Sabres for the Eastern Conference Wildcard. If their defense stays healthy, and their goaltending is up to snuff, the Sabres will make it interesting.
Final vote – Borderline Wildcard, but not quite there yet.
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Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images