The Buffalo Sabres have finished the regular season in 30th place for two consecutive seasons now, and Sabres’ fans are growing impatient. The fans want to see improvement and development out of the young players they are unfamiliar with.
When you take a look back to 3 seasons ago in the 2012-13 lockout shortened season, and compare that roster to the current roster, you see a lot of new faces. Ten players from the 2012 season are on the Sabres current roster, and two of them are upcoming free agents. A lot of this can be blamed on a rebuild and deadline fire sale, but one thing is for sure, this team lacks NHL talent.
The Sabres will have a new head coach, making him the 4th coach in 4 years for the Sabres. This is something new to the franchise, as Lindy Ruff held down the fort for 16 seasons in Buffalo.
The Sabres made a huge splash weeks before the trade deadline, acquiring a top line left winger in Evander Kane. They paid a hefty price, but it will take a few years to shake out, to see who the real winner of the trade is.
The Sabres lost the draft lottery over the weekend, missing out on the opportunity to draft Connor McDavid. Even though this is a huge disappointment to Sabres fans, they will still select 2nd, and will be able to grab another future stud in Jack Eichel. There is no word on whether he will return to college or join the Sabres immediately. The Sabres need his services bad, as they do not have a true top line center. Eichel won’t immediately fill that void, but should develop into one.
The Sabres drafted 2nd overall in 2014, missing out on winning the draft lottery. They still landed playmaker Samson Reinhart, and it was rumored Buffalo would’ve selected him first, given the opportunity. Reinhart should be ready for next season, but a season in the AHL, shouldn’t be ruled out.
The Sabres depth is concerning, but the future is bright. There are too many talented centers in the system, and General Manager Tim Murray would be wise to move one or two of them for other positions of need. Zemgus Girgensons is a fan favorite, gritty, high motor player, but would he really excel as a 3rd line center in 2 seasons? Unless a position change is in the works, I feel he can be a great 2nd line center, just not in Buffalo. Zemgus made the all-star game in 2014-2015, and by a landslide at that. He captured 1,574,896 votes, which made him the top vote getter. I feel if you package him with another prospect you can net a young winger with potential to play on the top line.
The Sabres other 2 centers proved their worth this year, who saw a good amount of ice time at the end of the season. Johan Larsson flashed potential while playing on the top line with Ennis and Moulson. The 22 year old looked comfortable and had no problem scoring, as he had 13 points in the teams final 17 games. Larsson was visibly unhappy playing with the teams fourth line during his last call-up earlier in the season, and proved he deserved more time. He has a bright future in Buffalo, and should be the teams 3rd center heading into next season.
The biggest question mark, is whether Mikhail Grigorenko will be on the team next season. The 2012 12th overall selection has had a rough go to his professional career, as he had tough first few years of being too talented for juniors, but not ready for the NHL. He initially refused to return to his junior hockey team, hoping to stick with the Sabres, but ultimately elected to return. The center has immense talent but the risk of him not translating to the NHL is an alarming one. The Colorado Avalanche’s current head coach, was Grig’s head coach in juniors, as has been rumored to be interested in the young center. Buffalo would be wise to gauge his trade value with the Avalanche, and see if they can get another winger in return.
The Sabres wing depth has some talent, but lack a true top line right winger. Tyler Ennis is only 25 years old, but is best fit to be a 2nd line winger. He still has the opportunity to prove me wrong, and should have the chance next season. He showed great chemistry with Matt Moulson, and I would not break up the pairing, in hopes of turning Ennis into a top line winger. 2 wingers are currently UFA’s, and I fully expect them to not be returning to Buffalo next season. Matt Ellis and Buffalo native Patrick Kaleta shouldn’t be resigned, and do not offer any scoring potential, only grit.
Cody Hodgson was acquired from the Canucks on deadline day in 2012, and showed immense potential as a Sabres winger. This year he took a huge step back, only mustering up 13 points in 78 games, which has caused rumors of a buyout in the off-season. Cody had a 19 game goalless drought, and looked extremely lackadaisical on the ice. Cody was thought of to be a top 6 forward, and many fans thought he’d be a staple in the teams rebuild. He may have played his last season in Buffalo.
The Sabres strongest position, and deepest, happens to be defense. The Sabres have 2 young physical defenders in Rasmus Ristolanien and Nikita Zadorov, both drafted in 2013. Ristolanien is the teams best defenseman and is only 20 years old. Zadorov had an up and down season, and might be a trade candidate despite his age(20). Buffalo has 2 talented defenseman in the system, Mark Psysk and Jake McCabe, who should be in Buffalo next season. With Josh Gorges and Zach Bogosian eating top ice time, the team has some room to move a player or two for other positions of need. Zadorov seems to be in Murray’s dog house, and could be shipped out this off-season.
The Sabres have always been spoiled with star goaltenders, with Dominick Hasek and Ryan Miller playing the majority of their careers in Buffalo NY. The current goalie depth chart is alarming, but the NHL has changed in recent years, with the need for a star goalie no longer being a necessity. Buffalo doesn’t need a top level prospect to make a playoff run and shouldn’t worry too much about this in their rebuild.
With everything that has been mentioned, the team has upside in the upcoming seasons, but will not compete for the playoffs in 2015-16, baring a few huge trades. If GMTM swings a few trades that bring in top level talent that will contribute next year, then the outlook becomes brighter. Buffalo’s roster will be more exciting and easier to watch, hopefully not having a roster that can be counted on to blow a late lead, and quit early. Luckily, he Sabres won’t compete for the bottom like the past two seasons, but won’t be as close to 8th place in the Eastern Conference as most fans hope.
Buffalo should see an overall improvement, and fans will become hopefully for the 2016-17 season. Buffalo should have a comparable season to the Carolina Hurricanes, finishing around 14th seed in the East, with close to 3o wins. This would be a huge spike in points, as Buffalo has earned 52 (2013-14) and 54 (2014-15) the past two season. One thing is for sure, the Sabres can only go up from here. Here’s to hoping for a quick rebuild