It could be the length of their playoff drought getting to them, but Sabres hockey feels… fun? The team is still bad, but they aren’t the depressing type of bad that they were when they signed Taylor Hall, only for him to score two goals. In Don Granato, they have a Head Coach who the fanbase does not completely despise for once. An exciting roster also brings a sense of hope to the city of Buffalo. They still might be years away from serious contention, but at least it isn’t the mid-2010s again.
Offseason additions: D Ilya Lyubushkin, G Eric Comrie, F Riley Sheahan, D Kale Clague.
Offseason subtractions: D Colin Miller, D Mark Pysyk, F Cody Eakin, D Will Butcher, F Mark Jankowski, F John Hayden, G Dustin Tokarski.
Earlier this week, the Sabres announced a seven year extension for Tage Thompson worth $50 million following a huge breakout season. Thompson had 18 goals in 145 career games entering 2021-22, when he scored 38 times in 78 games. He added 30 assists and led the team with 68 points. He was 14th in the league in goals scored above expected and played center despite losing 60 percent of draws. To the surprise of no one (except former coach Ralph Krueger), Jeff Skinner played better when given top-six ice time. He may not have lived up to his $9 million salary, but Skinner scored 33 goals with 30 assists playing with Thompson. Both Skinner and Thompson were in the top-25 in the NHL in shots on goal. Alex Tuch was injured when he was acquired for Jack Eichel, but returned and set a new career-high in points per game, with 38 in 50. Twelve of the 38 points were goals, including Buffalo’s favorite empty net goal ever.
Tuch’s arrival kicked Victor Olofsson down a line, to a role that suits him better. The Swedish winger got back to his rookie level in goals per 60, scoring 20 goals in 72 games. His 49 points were fourth on the team. Olofsson’s defense was not great, but he could be playing with Rasmus Asplund, who was quietly one of the best defensive forwards in the league in 2021-22. Asplund had a 2.05 xGA/60, which was 27th among forwards but third when adjusted for teammates. The Sabres still need more out of Casey Mittelstadt, who was once a top prospect but has just one season where he played in more than half of the team’s games. Last year was not that year, as Mittelstadt dressed for just 40 games. He scored six times with 13 assists for 19 points, which isn’t a terrible pace. When he did play, he was fifth among Buffalo forwards in xGF/60.
Buffalo picked up Vinnie Hinostroza after he had 12 points in 17 games with Chicago at the end of the 2020-21 season. They were rewarded with 13 goals in 62 games, as Hinostroza filled a bottom-six role well. He played a ton with Dylan Cozens, who also scored 13 goals in his first full season. Cozens added 25 assists, with seven of them coming on the power play. The new top Sabres prospect to get excited about is Jack Quinn, who absolutely lit up the AHL last year. He scored 26 goals with 61 points in 45 games. However, he had no goals and two assists in 10 playoff matches. Quinn got a taste of the NHL, with two points in two games.
Coming to Buffalo with Tuch was Peyton Krebs, who really struggled following the trade. Krebs had 22 points in 48 games, but had a putrid 39.4 xGF% and a 33.2 GF%. Both were the second-worst on the team. Cody Eakin and John Hayden, the two guys worse in each category, respectively, are both gone. The most that you could ask for out of your fourth-line center is to be solid defensively. Zemgus Girgensons did lead the Sabres with a 2.15 GA/60. However, that was inflated by an on-ice save percentage of .927. In the sixth year of the seven-year contract he signed in 2016, Kyle Okposo had his best season as a Sabre. On top of being a team leader, he scored 21 goals, reaching the 20-goal mark for the first time in Buffalo. He also tied his first Sabre season in points, with 45. Other options for the team include Anders Bjork and Brett Murray. Bjork dressed in 58 games last year, but scored just five times with three assists. He had a GF% under 35, being one of five players to do so (minimum 600 TOI). Murray had six points in 19 NHL games, with 15 goals in 52 AHL games.
The Sabres enter 2022-23 hoping that Rasmus Dahlin can build off a promising 2021-22. He is entering his age-22 season, where defenders can really start to develop. Dahlin scored 13 goals with 40 assists for 53 points in 80 games last season, while leading the team with an average time-on-ice over 24 minutes per game. There are still defensive concerns between Dahlin and his partner, Henri Jokiharju. The latter had an ugly xGA/60 of 2.94. Dahlin was at 2.65, the second-worst on the team. They are an extremely young top pairing, so growing pains can be expected.
So much is hoped for out of Owen Power, the first overall pick in 2021. While he was the rare top pick to not go straight to the NHL nowadays, Power played in eight games at the end of the season and looked like he belonged. With three points and averaging over 22 minutes of ice time a night, Power is ready for his rookie season. He had 32 points in 33 games as a rookie at the University of Michigan. The Sabres went out and got him a partner in Ilya Lyubushkin, who was able to put him very solid shutdown results on the Coyotes before a trade to Toronto. He’s averaged 2.8 hits per game in his NHL career.
Mattias Samuelsson, the son of former NHLer Kjell Samuelsson, had 10 assists in 42 games and led Buffalo defenders with 2.28 xGF/60. At six-foot-four, Samuelsson unsurprisingly had 60 blocked shots and 100 hits last year. Among returning Buffalo defenders, Jacob Bryson’s 2.45 xGA/60 is the best. Only Samuelson and Dahlin had a better xGF/60 as well. However, if you lower the qualifier, then Casey Fitzgerald would be first in the latter category. Fitzgerald had an awful GF% of 35.2 percent. However, his PDO of 94.1, which is incredibly unlucky, played a big part in that.
Craig Anderson is still chugging along at age 41. The Sabres used six goalies last year, with Anderson’s 31 games leading them. He finished with a 3.12 GAA and a .897 save percentage. The more intriguing option in net this year is Eric Comrie, who comes to Buffalo after backing up Connor Hellebuyck in Winnipeg. In 19 games, Comrie had a .920 save percentage and a 2.58 GAA. He was 13th in goals saved above expected among goalies with as many games played as him. The supposed ‘Goalie of the Future’ in Buffalo is Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, who started nine games. last year. He had a .917 save percentage.
Jeff Skinner – Tage Thompson – Alex Tuch
Rasmus Asplund – Casey Mittelstadt – Victor Olofsson
Vinnie Hinostroza – Dylan Cozens – Jack Quinn
Peyton Krebs – Zemgus Girgensons – Kyle Okposo
Scratched: Brett Murray, Anders Bjork
Rasmus Dahlin – Henri Jokiharju
Owen Power – Ilya Lyubushkin
Mattias Samuelsson – Jacob Bryson
Scratched: Casey Fitzgerald