Last season the Buffalo Sabres were the laughingstock of the NHL and despite how painful it was for fans, the pain set the Sabres up perfectly ahead of the 2014 NHL draft. Fast-forward to the beginning of this season and many are worried the Buffalo Sabres may have taken themselves out of the Connor McDavid sweepstakes because of a busy offseason.
In arguably the most important draft since 2005 when Sidney Crosby burst onto the scene and forever changed the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Buffalo Sabres are rebuilding for the future and landing the next Crosby seems like their best option going forward.
However, with a busy offseason many believe they may play themselves right out of the Connor McDavid sweepstakes. This offseason they added some solid talent by bringing back Matt Moulson, adding Josh Gorges, Brian Gionta and Andrej Meszaros. These are great character guys who will help the young player crack into the NHL and feel more at home.
In fact with Matt Moulson, Brian Gionta, Chris Stewart, Tyler Ennis and Cody Hodgson working together on offence the Sabres could easily have a couple of players reach the 30 goal plateau this season, a big improvement from last season when only two players reached the 20 goal plateau.
While the Buffalo Sabres offence improved on paper this offseason, it’s important to understand just how bad they were in 2013-2014. The entire team had a pathetic shooting percentage of just 7% and they scored less than 2 goals a game on average for the entire season. They scored just 150 goals, winning just 21 games for a 52 point campaign, well off the league average.
Even if they were to improve on their 1.88 goals per game and bring that up to 2 goals per game that’s still not good enough to win most games. Their goaltenders would have to stand on their heads night after night and that’s just not going to happen.
It was a rough season for fans of the blue and gold and while their offence may have gotten better on paper, every other aspect got a lot worse. Both their defence and goaltending took a major hit this offseason. As bad as last season was for the Buffalo Sabres, they had Ryan Miller between the pipes keeping the bleeding to a minimum.
In just 40 games with the Sabres Miller faced 1,411 shots which landed him in the top 3 of most shots against and stopped about 5 shots more than the league average while backstopping the leagues worst team. Maybe those numbers don’t add up to much, but without Miller stealing some games and preventing them from being blown out the Buffalo Sabres would have been much worse.
This year the Sabres will rely heavily on Michal Neuvirth and Jhonas Enroth to hold down the crease. Enroth will likely get the first crack but will be kept on a very short leash, but neither goaltender screams confidence right now in net. Neuvirth has shown flashes of being a great starter with the Washington Capitals but has also had stretches of horrible play, while Enroth hasn’t exactly excelled in his opportunities in Buffalo.
The Sabres could quickly have a nightmare between the pipes if neither goaltender steps up to the plate. Add their weak goaltending to a pretty shallow blue line and the defence in Buffalo might be even worse this year.
They do have some skilled defenceman in their depth charts but the Sabres aren’t going to rush them to play big roles on a club that isn’t going anywhere which is why fans shouldn’t get too excited to see Nikita Zadorov next season. Tyler Myers appeared slightly better last season, but he’ll be counted on the carry a big load next season and hopefully Rasmus Ristolainen is up to the challenge.
Gorges will help add character and leadership on the blue line and will also help ensure that the young guys are not rushed up too quickly. The loss of two key defencemen in Christian Ehrhoff, Henrik Tallinder will have a significant toll on the Sabres blue line this season.
“Questions at goaltender, a very young an inexperienced defense, and a lack of goal scoring will have the Buffalo Sabres towards the bottom of the league once again.” ~ SabreNoise
Of course when the Sabres are bad and need to finish atop the draft standings the league decides to change up the draft rules to prevent teams like the Sabres from tanking. Perhaps that is why Tim Murray went out and added some better veteran talent to help the team at least look better on paper.
The good news for the Sabres is that even if they finish 30th and lose the draft lottery they are guaranteed to draft 2nd overall and while McDavid is projected to go first, Jack Eichel who isn’t a horrible player in his own right is following McDavid closely in the draft rankings. While the OHL prospect is getting all the attention and hype, teams shouldn’t sleep in Eichel who has enough skills to pay the bills.
The Sabres were a bad team last season who didn’t get any lucky bounces which turned them into an even worse team. This season they probably won’t have quite the same level of bad luck this season, but they could find themselves in a race for last with the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames, both teams who have improved.
While it seems like another long and frustrating season in Buffalo is on tap, that’s exactly what the Buffalo Sabres need and unless Stewart’s playoff guarantee comes true, they should finish right near the bottom in the MacDavid sweepstakes. Even if they lose the sweepstakes they have the chance to take home Eichel and that will serve the Buffalo Sabres future just fine.