The Buffalo Sabres hired a new head coach in the offseason and acquired some new faces.
The Sabres has the worst record in the NHL last season. The team won a league-low 23 games and finished the season with only 54 total points. They had trouble scoring goals (153) and had even more trouble in the defensive zone (269 goals allowed). The Sabres fired head coach Ted Nolan after the season was over. The Sabres haven’t made the playoffs since losing in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals in 2011.
In the offseason, there were some moves made in the coaching department. Dan Bylsma was hired as the head coach, while Terry Murray and Dave Barr were hired as assistant coaches. The Sabres acquired Ryan O’Reilly and Jamie McGinn in a trade with the Colorado Avalanche. Evander Kane was acquired in a trade last season but was out because of shoulder surgery. Robin Lehner and David Legwand came over to the Sabres via trade with the Ottawa Senators.
Jack Eichel was the second overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. Matt Donovan, Carlo Colaiacovo and Cody Franson were signed in free agency. The Sabres bought out the contract of Cody Hodgson. They also gave up some young talent in the O’Reilly trade. Andre Benoit was lost to the St. Louis Blues in free agency.
If the Sabres want to have more than 23 wins this season, then Robin Lehner will be the key player that makes it happen. He has never been a number one goalie at the NHL level, and 36 games is a career-high in games played in the NHL. Lehner is young, talented and has tremendous upside. Can he handle the pressure of being a number one goalie? If he can, then he could help carry the Sabres into the playoffs.
The x-factor this season will be the defense. The defense as a whole doesn’t have a lot of offensive zone talent and lack depth. The defense also doesn’t have a number one shutdown defenseman nor do they have a true number one defensive pairing. The additions of Franson and Colaiacovo will help, but the team will still give up some goals. The team has given up 15 goals through its first four preseason games.
Evander Kane will have his first chance to play with the Sabres this season. He missed most of last season due to shoulder surgery. He is going to be the surprise player on this team. He’ll have chances to score at even strength and on the power play, if used. He has the potential to be a power forward and score some goals in the dirty areas. This season he can just go out and focus on playing hockey.
The Sabres should score more than the 153 goals this season. The forwards has the potential to put the puck in the net a lot this season. In four preseason games, they have scored 17 goals. They are talented and have depth up front. The additions of Ryan O’Reilly, Jamie McGinn, Eichel and Evander Kane will help on offense. The only question on offense is how much the defense will pitch in.
The power play finished last in the NHL and only converted on 13.4 percent of its chances. The Sabres only scored 30 power play goals in 224 opportunities. They should have a better power play this season with the additions of Eichel, Ryan O’Reilly, Jamie McGinn and Evander Kane. Franson should also help because he can be the quarterback on the blueline. The penalty kill also finished last in the NHL last season. The additions of Ryan O’Reilly should help because of his abililty to win faceoffs. Legwand adds experience while Zach Bogosian and Franson add the size on the blueline.
The Sabres have improved as a team since last season. They should be a high-scoring team with the lineup that they have, but they will also give up goals. The Sabres will be in the playoff race, but will finish on the outside looking in. The lack of defensive depth and inexperience at goalie will be the team’s undoing.