NHL Season Review: Buffalo Sabres
Welcome to NHL season review: a brand new series that will breakdown every NHL team this off season. You can expect to see a new post everyday until the end of July, starting from the 30th place team, and finishing with the Stanley Cup champions. With so many changes coming in the offseason, some teams will be improving dramatically, while others will be forced to make some tough decisions for the future. It’s going to be a fun month of hockey talk, so sit down, hold on tight and enjoy the ride.
Year in Review
- Record: 23-51-8 (54 points)
- Goals per game: 1.87 (30th in the NHL)
- Goals against per game: 3.28 (29th)
- Power play: 13.4% (30th)
- Penalty kill: 75.1% (30th)
- Shots per game: 24.2 (30th)
- Shots against per game: 35.6 (30th)
To say the Buffalo Sabres had a terrible season is probably an understatement. The team finished last in most offensive categories and was just a mess from start to finish. The good news: they actually improved from the season before!
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It’s not a drastic improvement, but for a team that’s clearly rebuilding, anything is better than nothing. Defensively, Buffalo was a disaster, giving up league high 274 goals. The last time Buffalo gave up that many goals in one season was 1991-92 (297), but they finished that year with 335 goals—double the amount of goals they scored this season. No one expected Buffalo to be that bad, but everyone around the hockey world knew a rebuild was fast approaching after the 2013-14 season. It was difficult for fans to watch their beloved Sabres lose night after night, but better days are coming, and if management can focus on developing players and improving year after year, Sabres fans will be rewarded in the future.
Offseason Game Plan
Buffalo had one of the unluckiest offseason in recent history, which saw them not only lose out on the Mike Babcock sweepstakes to Toronto, but also lose the first overall pick to Edmonton. Despite that, management was able to hire former Penguins bench boss Dan Bylsma and draft Boston College superstar Jack Eichel. Both additions will help the Sabres in the near future, but they still remain far away from being a playoff contender.
One area that needed to be addressed was goaltending. The Sabres addressed that issue at the draft by acquiring goaltender Robin Lehner and forward David Legwand from the Ottawa Senators in exchange for the 21st pick in the draft. Lehner will get the chance to establish himself as a number one goalie now that he’s healthy and not stuck behind Craig Anderson. Barring any offseason changes, Chad Johnson will be the backup in Buffalo this upcoming season and poses no real threat to Lehner or his starting job. We shouldn’t expect Buffalo’s goaltending situation to suddenly improve next season, but with Lehner only being 24, the kid has all the time in the world to work on his craft.
The real question becomes what does Buffalo do on defense. According to CapFrieldy, Buffalo has four defensemen under contract next season. With over $19 million dollars available to spend this offseason, adding a defensemen should be Tim Murray’s first priority. This year’s free agency class isn’t spectacular, but there is an abundance on good, cheap, veteran defensemen that Buffalo could add to their roster—including players like Cody Franson, Paul Martin and former 31-goal scorer Mike Green. Owner Terry Pegula isn’t afraid to spend his money come free agency time (remember Ville Leno’s six year deal for $27M), so I expect Murray to have the green light to get the players he needs to make his team better in the near future.
Offensively, the Sabres need to score more goals (duh!). The acquisition of Ryan O’Reilly from Colorado and the team drafting Eichel should help them score a few more goals, but it won’t be on them to lead the team. The Sabres have a good mix of veterans like Brian Gionta and David Legwand, but it will be up to the youngsters like Tyler Ennis, Evander Kane and Latvia superstar Zemgus Girgensons to be the next leaders of the team. The expectation is rookie Sam Reinhart should make the 23-man roster come October, and if he does, it gives Buffalo a true top-six forward group. Bylsma will have his hands full with his team this season, but he has all the pieces needed to build a team that can score more than 1.87 goals per game next season barring any major injuries.
The future is definitely bright in Buffalo and fans can expect to see their team improve on their performance from last season. There are still quite a few problems to be addressed before they become a perennial playoff contender, but if all goes as plan, the Sabres will be a playoff team in the next three years. It won’t be easy for fans, but it will be worth it.
All stats provided by NHL.com. Player salaries and team cap space provided by www.capfriendly.com