One good month in an NHL season doesn\’t mean anything, as Buffalo Sabres fans found out the hard way in 2018-19. As November concluded, the Sabres were tied with the Lightning for first in the NHL, with 37 points. One team would finish with 128 points. The other would finish with 76, extending a playoff drought to eight seasons. With the Hurricanes making the postseason, the Sabres\’ drought is now the league\’s longest. The Sabres made some cheap moves in the offseason, spending up to (and $1 million over) the salary cap.
Additions: Marcus Johansson, Colin Miller, Henri Jokijarju, Jimmy Vesey, Andrew Hammond
Subtractions: Jason Pominville, Alexander Nylander, Matt Tennyson, Danny O\’Regan
The Sabres are over the cap right now, and they have 12 notable forwards that will either by a UFA or an RFA after 2019-20. Jack Eichel had his healthiest season since he was a rookie, and was a point per game player for the first time, with 82 points in 77 games, including 28 goals. He didn\’t need to score all the goals, since his new linemate, Jeff Skinner, broke out with 40 goals. Skinner received a very nice payday in late June. Sam Reinhart had a career high 65 points, but the former second overall pick still hasn\’t lived up to expectations. Conor Sheary was dumped to the Sabres as the Penguins needed cap room, then scored a career low 14 goals (not including 2015-16, when he played in 44 games). Marcus Johansson enters on a two year deal. He dealt with many injuries in his two seasons in New Jersey, but scored 11 points in 22 games for the Bruins this postseason. Jimmy Vesey hasn\’t lived up to expectations after the Hobey Baker award, and the Rangers dealt him for cap room for Artemi Panarin. He has scored 17 goals in two straight seasons. Rookie Casey Mittelstadt was hyped up heavily before the season, but scored just 12 goals with 13 assists in 77 games. Kyle Okposo was healthy, but posted his worst full season numbers ever. Evan Rodrigues had a nice 29 point season playing decent minutes. Zemgus Girgensons scored a career low five goals, but was a big part of Buffalo\’s penalty kill. Vladimir Sobotka, Tage Thompson and Patrik Berglund, the three players acquired for 2019 Conn Smythe winner Ryan O\’Reilly, combined for 29 points in 157 games, and Berglund was eventually released. Thompson is still 21, so there is hope. Scott Wilson was a -8 in 15 games last year, so don\’t expect him to get much action. Johan Larsson rebounded from a -30 2017-18, but he still had a weak season.
The Sabres have 11 defensemen who could legitimately get a shot this year, so it\’s a surprise that they haven\’t traded one yet. Rasmus Ristolainen probably should have been dealt already, as the team acquired Brandon Montour last February, plus Colin Miller and Henri Jokijarju in the offseason. All three players are right handed, like Ristolainen, Zach Bogosian and Casey Nelson. Ristolainen was a league worst -41, but he did hit the 40 point mark again. Reigning first overall pick Rasmus Dahlin was a Calder finalist, and at 18, he had 44 points while playing 21 minutes a game. Colin Miller had 29 points in 65 games for Vegas last year, but he was passed over as their cap crunch hurt. Brandon Montour ended up costing them a first and prospect Brendan Guhle, but he had 10 points in 20 games after the trade. Zach Bogosian might see less time as the Sabres added defensemen, and he is one year away from free agency. Henri Jokijarju was good as a 19 year old in 38 NHL games for Chicago last year. Jake McCabe has been unable to be anything better than a third pairing defenseman. Lawrence Pilut was good in 33 games. Matt Hunwick played in just 14 games, and his playing days are ending fast. Casey Nelson had a good season, but is another player that will be hurt by this offseason\’s additions. Marco Scandella has been a -28 in two seasons as a Sabre.
Carter Hutton was amazing for St. Louis in 2017-18, but was terrible as a starter last year, with a 3.00 GAA and .908 SV%. Linus Ullmark had similar numbers as his backup. Andrew \”The Hamburgular\” Hammond enters as the third goalie.
Remi Elie was claimed off waivers from Dallas, then had an assist in 16 games. CJ Smith scored two goals in 11 games, but was nearly a point per game player in the AHL. Former 17th overall pick Curtis Lazar is on to his 3rd organization after failing to break through in Ottawa and Calgary. JS Dea had six points in 23 games for New Jersey and Pittsburgh last year.
Up and Coming
The Sabres drafted Dylan Cozens 7th overall, and while he has already had thumb surgery, the big forward could be a starter by 2020-21. He had 84 points in 68 WHL games. Victor Olofsson scored 30 goals in 66 AHL games, then scored four goals in six NHL games. He is in line for a starting role. William Borgen was gifted a four game NHL cameo last year. The Sabres own the top goalie prospect in Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, who had a great OHL season as he transferred to North America.
2019 draft class
Round 1, 7th overall: Dylan Cozens
Round 1, 31st overall: Ryan Johnson
Round 3, 67th overall: Erik Portillo
Round 4, 102nd overall: Aaron Huglen
Round 5, 143rd overall: Filip Cederqvist
Round 6, 160th overall: Lukas Rousek
Jason Botterill is still the GM, but if the Sabres struggle again, he might be gone. Ralph Krueger is the new head coach. Since Lindy Ruff\’s 14+ season tenure as Sabres\’ bench boss ended 17 games into 2012-13 season, Krueger is Buffalo\’s 5th head coach.
Jeff Skinner – Jack Eichel – Sam Reinhart
Conor Sheary – Casey Mittelstadt – Victor Olofsson
Jimmy Vesey – Evan Rodrigues – Marcus Johansson
Johan Larsson – Zemgus Girgensons – Kyle Okposo
Extras: Vladimir Sobotka, Scott Wilson, Tage Thompson
Rasmus Dahlin – Rasmus Ristolainen
Henri Jokijarju – Brandon Montour
Jake McCabe – Colin Miller
Extras: Zach Bogosian, Marco Scandella, Casey Nelson, Lawrence Pilut
Extras: Andrew Hammond
The Sabres have gotten better from 2018-19, but the changes aren\’t drastic. They are playing in a tough Eastern Conference. I predict they will once again miss the playoffs, finishing 6th in the Atlantic Division again.