Last year the Sabres elevated tanking to an art form. Anyone with an ounce of talent or effort was shipped out of town. The roster iced each game was consistently both random and bizarre. They didn't actually dress any fans and give them ice time, but they might as well have. They had one goal and they achieved it - by finishing last overall they guaranteed that they would get to select either Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel. They didn't win the lottery, but Eichel is one heck of a consolation prize. The arrival of the prodigy, and so many other changes around him, make this a fundamentally different team than last year. But how much better will they be?
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Buffalo Sabres Offseason Moves
Aside from the arrival of Eichel, the biggest news in behind the bench. Ted Nolan is out - as if the pathetic play last year was at all his fault. In his place is Dan Bylsma, the winner of the 2009 Stanley Cup with the Penguins. Bylsma is the third head coach since Lindy Ruff ended his 16-year run in charge in 2013. Stability is badly needed in the position, and it's a good bet that Bylsma can offer it.
That was far from the only move they made. In fact, it was a hectic summer. Six free agents were allowed to leave. None will leave a big hole, with Cody
Hodgson, who they bought out, and Anders Lindback probably the most noteworthy. Six free agents were signed, though only Cody Franson, not signed until
mid-September, really moves the needle. They got Franson for a relative bargain after free agency proved unkind for him and so many other slightly older,
more expensive forwards. There were two significant trades that took place on June 26. Most significantly, they grabbed center Ryan O'Reilly from Colorado
and then signed him to a seven-year deal at $7.5 million a year. With O'Reilly, Eichel and Sam Reinhart at center, this team is set at that key position.
They also acquired goalie Robin Lehner form Ottawa. He will likely get the chance to be the starting goalie for this team. David Legwand also came as part
of that deal, and he will likely be the fourth center for the team.
Buffalo Sabres NHL Outlook
You can't just look at the injection of talent that came this summer. The team also adds two other huge offensive talents to the roster. Evander Kane was acquired in a blockbuster with the Jets last year, but he did not play due to injury. He will likely be on the wing with O'Reilly and Tyler Ennis - who should see already-strong offensive numbers explode if the threesome can find good chemistry. Sam Reinhart was selected second overall two years ago. He started the season with the big club but wasn't ready and went back to junior after nine games. He should be ready for prime time this year and will be the third center in all likelihood. Eichel will center the second line - likely between veteran Matt Moulson and surprising all-star last year Zemgus Girgensons - though Girgensons could play center on a lower line if needed. For as bad as this team was last year, it is a pretty impressive group of forwards they have assembled. With so many new faces, chemistry is a big question mark, and tinkering will likely be required. However, the ceiling is very high.
Defense is more of a question mark, though Franson obviously helps. There is some talent here, but they are going to need some luck and some big seasons from key players in order to put together a decent year. In the offense we likely see a good portion of what the future looks like, but the same isn't likely true defensively.
Goaltending - big question mark. Could Lehner grow into a true No. 1 role? Syre. Will he? Who knows. He hasn't done it before, so it is up in the air - and has a big impact in how the season goes.
Buffalo Sabres Schedule
The team plays their first three, and six of their first eight, at home. Fans will be thrilled, but it's far from ideal in my eyes. I'd rather that they start out with a road-heavy schedule to help them bond and get to know each other and to gel out of the intense pressure they'll feel at home.
Buffalo Sabres NHL Futures Odds (from Bovada)
The Sabres are +10000 to win the Stanley Cup, which is tied with two other teams as the 26th price on the board. They are tied with the Maple Leafs at +5000 as the second-to-last choice in the Eastern Conference ahead of only Carolina. They are the last choice in the Atlantic Division at +2200.
2015-16 Buffalo Sabres Predictions
Very tough team to judge right now. The future is very bright, but there is a whole lot of uncertainty about how long it will take to come together and what holes will be exposed. My gut tells me they aren't a playoff team now, but they will be soon. If everything went as well as possible, though, they would definitely be capable of grabbing one of the final spots. For what it's worth, they are seriously undervalued in one regard - when compared to Toronto. The Maple Leafs are a mere shadow of the team this is, yet Buffalo is at longer odds in the division. Makes no sense.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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