Next stop on the Preview Tour in the Flortheast Division are the Buffalo Sabres, who after years of tanking both intentionally and unintentionally, finally landed the top overall pick in a year where it was almost impossible for them to screw it up. The Sabres were dead last in the league in almost any conceivable category last year, so in theory there’s nowhere for them to go but up, but this is still the city of Buffalo being discussed here, no there can’t be much that’s ruled out.
’17-’18 Team Marks: 25W-45L-12OT 62 PTS 199 GF 280 GA 19.1% PP 77.9% PK 47.61% CF 6.14% SH% .916 SV%
Goalies: Every year there’s a career backup that finally earns starter’s money from a desperate dipshit franchise desperate to find any kind of answer in net, and this year’s magic couple are the Buffalo Sabres and former Hawk great Carter Hutton. Hutton was admittedly stellar last year for St. Louis even playing way more than he had to while Jay Gallon continually shat himself, posting a .931 save percentage overall and .937 at evens in 26 starts and 32 total appearances. Both marks are 15 points above his usual rates, and Hutton will be 33 in December. Given how far away the Sabres are from meaningful spring hockey, this is clearly a team paying Hutton to be a placeholder, and a career journeyman finally getting a legit payday even at a decidedly modest $2.75 million a year for this season and two more. Everyone seems to get what they need out of this transaction even if none of it is all that inspiring for anyone from an actual standpoint of winning hockey games. Linus Ullmark at 25 and with 26 NHL games to his resume gets his shot at backing up Hutton, and if last year proves to be a major outlier for Hutton, Ullmark may get more of a look than that, but at least he has some shot of mattering the next time the Sabres do, which will be 10 minutes after never at this rate.
Defense: This is where top overall draft pick Rasmus Dahlin will be featured from day 1, and by all accounts from any scouting expert, Dahlin is close to a sure fire #1 defenseman as there’s been in the draft in a generation, with a rare combination of size, speed, skill, and hockey smarts. And he’ll need it, because the Sabres other Rasmus on the blue line, Ristolainen, has been kind of a giant turd. While Risto has put up solid scoring numbers from the blue line with two straight 40+ point seasons on dog ass teams, 48 of his 86 points in that time have come on the power play, and only last year was he even close to hovering around an already putrid team possession rate. And at 346 professional games, he’s long past the 200 game “getting it” threshold arbitrarily attributed to developing defensemen. In an ideal world however, the younger of the Rasmii now assumes the mantle of a true #1 that can legitimately handle top assignments and tougher zone starts, while Risto is given a more sheltered role. But there’s kind of no clearer indicator of a team in disarray than hoping a rookie will help a 5th year pro making $5.4 mildo a year by slotting him down. Zach Bogosian, Marco Scandella, and Beaulieu are all here, but they’re all of next to no long term consequence. Beaulieu at 25 maybe, but even that’s pushing it, as he would have shown even a flash of something by now if he were going to.
Forwards: Whether anyone has been paying attention or not, and they haven’t, over the last two years, Jack Eichel has put up 121 points in 128 games, a .945 point per game clip. However there are two problems with this scenario, the first being that hockey seasons are 82 games long and 128 games is a lot less than 164 for two years. The second is that the guy picked ahead of Eichel, whom the Sabres nakedly prostrated themselves for in a tank effor has put up well over 200 points in that time frame. It’s not fair to Eichel to be compared to Connor McDavid, but he’s always going to be. And now he doesn’t have any protection on the center depth chart with Ryan O’Reilly getting traded to St. Louis for a big bag of bullshit coming back in the form of Patrik Berglund. But for as one sided as that trade was against the Sabres, getting Jeff Skinner for a prospect no one had ever heard of was as equal a theft. He and Eichel should form a fun top line together with whatever’s left of Kyle Okposo, but past that, hoping for the likes of Conor Sheary and Zemgus Gerginsons to make meaningful contributions is just flat out depressing. Sam Reinhart showed some growth last year increasing his goal output from 17 to 25, so naturally he remains one of the few RFA holdouts left league wide. Casey Middlestadt should get more time this year, but he’s not going to offer any protection to Eichel.
Outlook: It’s going to once again be an excruciatingly long winter for Sabres fans and players, and it’s pretty well documented how Phil Housely likes to entertain himself on go-nowhere teams. The only veteran pieces of any value that can be moved (assuming that the team still wants to build around Eichel) with expiring paper are Skinner and Jason Pominville, who already earned a spot on the All “Who Gives A Shit” Team last week. And within the context of this division, there’s not going to be any quick turnaround in sight considering how good the top of the division is and just how truly bad the Senators are trying to be.