2014 Buffalo Sabres Predictions and NHL Futures Odds
by Trevor Whenham - 9/29/2014
If your house is already on fire and you can't save it then you might as well pour some gas on the fire so that you don't have as much clean up to do before you can start rebuilding. That's the philosophy that the Buffalo Sabres embraced enthusiastically last year after a horrific start to their season - 4-15-1 in their first 20 games.
At that point they fired both head coach Ron Rolston and Darcy Regier, their general manager since 1997. Ted Nolan became the interim coach - a position he has now secured on a full-time basis. Tim Murray became GM, and he didn't waste any time getting into the spirit of the season. He dealt away franchise goalie Ryan Miller and star offensive force Thomas Vanek and shipped out guys like Matt Moulson, Steve Ott and Cody McCormick as well for good measure. It was a good old fashioned house cleaning.
Murray did good work, so it shouldn't take too long for this team to start to improve. You'll want to make sure you have a roster handy the first time you watch them play this year, though, because this is certainly not the team we are used to.
Buffalo Sabres Offseason Moves
In a couple of pretty slick moves, Murray shipped out Moulson and McCormick to add assets because they were impending free agents, and then he signed them again in the offseason. Those were far from the only moves the team made. They also brought in excellent-but-aging forward Brian Gionta and defenseman Andrej Meszaros as free agents, brought in Josh Gorges for further blue line support from Montreal, and locked down Tyler Ennis with a five-year contract. To free up space, they bought out a couple of costly deadweights - defenseman Christian Ehrhoff and winger Ville Leino - and let Cory Conacher move on. All in all, Murray did a strong job of improving when faced with an unfavorable set of circumstances.
The gem of the offseason came on draft day when they drafted Sam Reinhart second overall. He is an extremely smart offensive player, and his upside is massive. His early days in training camp have not been stellar, though, so it is touch-and-go whether he will make the team this year - and my bet is that they take the patient route and send him back to dominate junior hockey one more year. Sooner or later, though, he is going to be a big key to the turnaround to this team.
Buffalo Sabres NHL Outlook
With Vanek gone, the biggest concern here is where the goals are going to come from. Cody Hodgson with 44 points, and Ennis with 43, led the team in scoring - hardly potent numbers. Both have room to improve as they mature - and so do young players like Drew Stafford and Zemgus Girgensons, but it wouldn't be reasonable to expect huge numbers from any of them right away - or from Reinhart if he does stick. Gionta once had 89 points in a season, but those days are long gone, and the 35 year old has had no more than 46 points the last five years. Vanek had 41 points in 38 games in his last full season with the Sabres, so there is an offensive hole that will have to be filled - and it's not like this was a potent offensive team at the best of times.
With the absence of Miller, there is an obvious uncertainty in net. Michal Neuvirth and Jhonas Enroth are the two who are most likely to carry the burden in his absence. There could be some issues, and at this point they aren't likely what Miller was at his best, but this team has bigger issues. Goaltending won't be the ultimate downfall of this team.
Buffalo Sabres Schedule
A strong start would really help this team out, but the schedule makers certainly have not helped them out in that regard. They start out the season with an oddly choppy schedule. They alternate home and road games for their first five outings. Then they face Boston on no rest before embarking on a brutal four-game road trip - Anaheim, L.A. and San Jose in four nights then back across the continent to Toronto. Then they close out the month by again playing Boston. This team could play as well as they did at any point last year and still come out of the month with a bad record and a big hole to climb out of.
Buffalo Sabres NHL Futures Odds (from Bovada)
The Sabres sit at 75/1 to win the Stanley Cup, which puts them right in the league's cellar along with Calgary, Florida and Nashville. They are tied with Florida at 40/1 to win the Eastern Conference and at 16/1 to win the Atlantic Division. There is obviously no value in any of those prices - this team isn't winning anything.
2014-15 Buffalo Sabres Predictions
I really like the choices this team has made in the last year. They have strong leadership, and they have maximized assets well. They are going to play hard every night under Nolan, too, and the coach will have a lot of promising youngsters to work with over the next few years. Right now, though, this team just isn't very good. They can't score enough, and they are forced to rely on too much youth. It will be a long year filled with a lot more losses than wins, but if people can maintain a long-term view there will still be plenty of positives to be found in how things turn out.
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