The Buffalo Sabres are coming off of one of the worst seasons in franchise history, winning just 25 of 82 games and finishing with a league-worst 62 points.
Ending 31st in the league allowed the Sabres to win the draft lottery and picked all-world defenseman Rasmus Dahlin. The Sabres were extremely busy this offseason, tinkering with their lineup and trying to surround the 18-year-old defenseman and fourth-year centre Jack Eichel with talent.
➕ Rasmus Dahlin (Draft)
➕ Jeff Skinner (Trade)
➕ Carter Hutton (Free Agency)
➕ Conor Sheary (Trade)
➕ Tage Thompson (Trade)
➕ Patrik Berglund (Trade)
➕ Vladimir Sobotka (Trade)
Most of their changes happened up front. First, they picked up Conor Sheary for a conditional 4th-rounder and he should draw into their top-6 on a line with either Eichel or rookie Casey Mittelstadt. Sheary performed well in Pittsburgh each of the last two years, but he has spent most of his time with Sidney Crosby. He’ll need to see top-6 minutes with a competent centre in order to have any fantasy value.
Second, they traded centre Ryan O’Reilly to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka, Tage Thompson, a 2019 first-round pick and a 2021 second-round pick. The Sabres did a solid job turning their second-line centre into two quality bottom-6 forwards, an NHL-ready prospect and two draft picks.
Lastly, their biggest splash was getting Jeff Skinner from the Carolina Hurricanes for Cliff Pu, a 2019 second-round pick, a 2020 third-round pick a and a 2020 sixth-round pick. Skinner is a three-time 30-goal scorer and is tied for 16th in the NHL in goals (140) over the last five seasons.
All of these moves certainly make the Sabres a much deeper team than they were a year ago. Skinner figures to play with Eichel, Sheary with Mittelstadt and Berglund, while Thompson and Sobotka plug into third and fourth-line holes. On the right side, Kyle Okposo, Sam Reinhart and Jason Pominville round out a fairly talented group, but they still pale in comparison to the elite forward corps of the Atlantic division.
Adding a player who has been called Nicklas Lidstrom with Victor Hedman’s size certainly bolsters the Sabres’ blueline, but it is still a huge weakness for them. Rasmus Ristolainen has been their workhorse over the last three seasons but has drawn negative reviews from people around the NHL, particularly those in the analytics community. Nevertheless, Ristolainen is a stud in the fantasy world. Over the last three seasons, Risto ranks 23rd among defensemen in points with 127 (21G / 106A) in 234 games. The two Scandinavian defenseman will likely be separated at even-strength but could see time together on the top powerplay unit.
Outside for Dahlin and Ristolainen, the Sabres don’t have any defensemen that really move the needle. Marco Scandella is a solid complimentary piece for Ristolainen on the top-pair. Jake McCabe and Nathan Beaulieu each have 200-plus games of NHL experience but nothing overly impressive to show for it. Zach Bogosian once had a promising career but can’t seem to stay healthy.
The Sabres let Robin Lehner walk this summer and replaced him with career backup Carter Hutton. The 32-year-old netminder has not started more than 32 games since 2013-14, but is coming off of the best year of his career, leading the NHL in goals against average (2.09) and save percentage (.931). Given the recent results of Cam Talbot, Antti Raanta and Scott Darling, former backups have had a wide range of success and failure after becoming full-time starters.
If Hutton falters, the Sabres have Linus Ullmark waiting in the wings. The 25-year-old has a career .917 SV% in just 25 NHL games and played very well with the Rochester Americans (AHL) last year—going 21-12-4 with a 2.44 GAA and .922 SV% across 44 starts.
It’s not the strongest duo in the league, but it could definitely be worse.
|Jack Eichel (30)||Jack Eichel (45)||Jack Eichel (75)||Sam Reinhart (10)|
|Jeff Skinner (30)||Casey Mittelstadt (36)||Sam Reinhart (56)||Jack Eichel (9)|
|Sam Reinhart (23)||R. Ristolainen (35)||Jeff Skinner (55)||Kyle Okposo (7)|
- 28. Jack Eichel — C10
- 118. Rasmus Ristolainen — D27
- 122. Jeff Skinner — LW22
- 153. Sam Reinhart — RW30
- 161. Rasmus Dahlin — D42
- 170. Carter Hutton — G26
- 221. Kyle Okposo — RW45
Predicted Atlantic Standings
Buffalo improved their roster this offseason but there’s no way they are strong enough to compete with the powerhouses of the Eastern Conference, and more importantly, the Atlantic Division. Sabre fans will need to stay patient, but with Eichel, Dahlin and Mittelstadt all playing key roles this season, the future is bright in Buffalo.
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