The Sabres have been an absolute mess over the past few seasons. The play has been awful, the coaches have been cycled out nearly biyearly. Many key players have wanted out. Some got that this offseason. And then there is Jack Eichel. The face-of-the-franchise has requested a trade and is injured with surgery required. He will miss the first half of the season. When he returns, who will he play for? It is yet to be seen.
Offseason additions: D Will Butcher, D Robert Hagg, G Craig Anderson, G Aaron Dell, D Mark Pysyk, F Vinnie Hinostroza, F John Hayden.
Offseason subtractions: F Sam Reinhart, D Rasmus Ristolainen, G Linus Ullmark, F Riley Sheahan, F Tobias Rieder, D Jake McCabe, G Carter Hutton.
With Eichel and Reinhart out of the lineup, the forward depth, a massive issue for Buffalo over the past few seasons, will be tested. The favorite to lead the team in points is Victor Olofsson, who came second to Reinhart in that regard last year. Olofsson is a power play specialist with a great shot. He scored 20 goals as a rookie in 2019-20, but had just 13 in roughly the same amount of games in this past season. He also got a Lady Byng vote despite an ugly plus-minus rating. Jeff Skinner’s new contract managed to look even worse in 2020-21. He once again did not play next to Eichel and could not score. Skinner’s seven goals was a half of his previous career low of 14, set in 2019-20. He should be thankful that the Ralph Krueger era is over. Former top prospect Casey Mittelstadt could win the number one center role despite really not being ready for it. Mittelstadt did have the best season of his career scoring-wise in 2020-21, with ten goals and 22 points in 41 games. Playing to that pace in 2021-22 would be acceptable. 2019 7th overall pick Dylan Cozens played in 41 games last year and because the Sabres can’t have anything nice, he couldn’t score. Cozens’ four goals and nine assists were very underwhelming. The Sabres did not do well in the Taylor Hall trade, but they still got some value. When he scored three goals with an equal amount of assists, Anders Bjork had more points in 15 games as a Sabre than he did in 30 in Boston. He is also a good defensive winger. Vinnie Hinostroza struggled to crack Florida’s lineup, so he must have been happy to be traded back to the Blackhawks. After the deal, he put up 12 points in 17 games. He’ll get a good role in Buffalo. Someone who had a crazy 2020-21 season was Arttu Ruotsalainen. He started by scoring 16 goals with 27 points in 19 games in Finland. He signed with the Sabres, was a point-per-game player over 13 AHL games and also scored five goals in 17 NHL games. The 23-year-old is someone to look out for on a barren team. Looking to secure a role as a center is Rasmus Asplund. The 2016 second-rounder played in 28 games last year and scored seven goals. The Sabres like him enough to protect him from the Kraken. The team picked up Drake Caggiula off of waivers from Arizona midseason. In 11 games, he scored twice with an assist. Big winger Tage Thompson is yet to live up to his first-round pedigree. Thompson’s eight goals in 38 games was an improvement, however. That was a career high and a 17 goal pace. The fourth line gets rough. Cody Eakin plays tough minutes but has really struggled. He had a very ugly 36.23 percent xG%. Zemgus Girgensons is an improvement, but not by much. He scored 12 goals in 2019-20 but missed all of last year with a hamstring injury. We will have to monitor how strong Girgensons is upon his return. Veteran Kyle Okposo has just two years left on his contract. He scored 13 points in 35 games last year. Another option is John Hayden, who played in 29 games for Arizona last season.
Besides the eventual Eichel trade, the Sabres are not done this offseason. They still have to sign RFA Rasmus Dahlin. Dahlin is still very good but took a big dip in his production last year. He had just 23 points in 56 games, 17 less points than he had in three more games in 2019-20. The team is free of Rasmus Ristolainen and his awful analytics, which could help the rest of the team’s defense. Henri Jokijarju will look to make the jump to top defender. He is still just 22 years old, and played in 46 games last year, to bump his career number to 153. Colin Miller has been a very solid second-pairing defender in his career, but was healthy scratched at times in 2020-21. He should play, as when healthy he is at least the team’s third best defenseman. The Sabres took back a draft pick for some of Will Butcher’s contract in the final year of his deal. Butcher has talent but flamed out of New Jersey. He did have 11 points in 23 games last year. Coming over from Philly for Ristolainen is Robert Hagg. Hagg was not much more than a third-pairing defender with the Flyers. He did have 100 hits in 34 games and has 736 in 236 career games. Coming back to the team that drafted him in the first round in 2010 is Mark Pysyk. Pysyk is decent enough to be a sixth defenseman although his role should not grow too much larger. He also has right-wing experience. Jacob Bryson could make his way into the lineup after appearing in 38 games last year. The 23-year-old also had three assists in five AHL games.
With both Linus Ullmark and Carter Hutton both leaving town, the Sabres decided to go with more of a tank squad approach. Aaron Dell had been fine in years past until the Devils claimed him off waivers last year. Dell got into seven games, and posted a horrid 4.14 GAA and a .857 save percentage. Veteran Craig Anderson had a .915 save percentage in four games for Washington during the regular season, then got into two playoff games, where he posted a .929 save percentage. Dustin Tokarski is also an option. He actually got into more NHL games with the Sabres last year than Anderson and Dell did with their teams.
Jeff Skinner – Casey Mittelstadt – Victor Olofsson
Anders Bjork – Dylan Cozens – Vinnie Hinostroza
Arttu Ruotsalainen – Rasmus Asplund – Tage Thompson
Zemgus Girgensons – Cody Eakin – Kyle Okposo
Extras: John Hayden, Drake Caggiula
Rasmus Dahlin – Henri Jokijarju
Will Butcher – Colin Miller
Robert Hagg – Mark Pysyk
Extras: Jacob Bryson
Extras: Dustin Tokarski
The Sabres are very bad, as illustrated in the lineup above. Their one real hope is that either Eichel returns, plays for the team, and dominates, or whatever they get in return for him is good. The Eastern Conference is stacked. There is no room for this team, even if everyone breaks out.