NHL: Buffalo Sabers Season Preview
Over the next month or so, we’ll take an early look at how teams are shaping up heading into the 2015-16 season in order from last season’s standings.
First up…the Buffalo Sabers.
The Sabers are entering the next phase of their rebuild. Near the trade deadline last season, General Manager Tim Murray pulled the trigger on a blockbuster bringing in young power forward Evander Kane from the Winnipeg Jets. While talented defenseman Tyler Myers headlined the group of players heading the other way, the Sabers also obtained defenseman Zach Bogosian in the move. While this might be considered a downgrade on the backend (although Bogosian plays a different style than Myers), if Kane can stay focused and healthy, he has the ability to be one of the top power forwards in the game. It’s simple. If this change of scenery for Kane can help him with off ice distractions and behavior and then put it to good use on the ice, then the Sabers will be sitting in a much better position.
At the June draft, Murray struck another blockbuster bringing in center Ryan O’Reilly from the Colorado Avalanche for some very talented prospects. While the Sabers gave up a ton, O’Reilly is a very unique player. He has very solid offensive ability but also his hockey sense and defensive awareness will be huge for the young Sabers. Kane and O’Reilly are both only 24 years-old and will just be entering the prime of their careers as some of the Sabers top prospects look to take steps forward.
These prospects of course include high first round picks from the past couple drafts in Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart. While Reinhart has the ability to be a star top line player, Eichel is potentially a generational franchise changer. The real question for Eichel will be how quickly he can adapt and turn into the game changer that he will be for many years to come. In addition on the backend, the Sabers will look for continued development and improvement from young defensemen like Rasmus Ristolainen.
The potentially biggest question and perhaps the position that can help lead the club to success sooner rather than later is in net. Robin Lehner was acquired from the Ottawa Senators during this past draft. The 24-year-old Swedish netminder has the talent to be not only a legit number 1 goaltender but also perhaps a top-10 goaltender in the NHL. That being said, he struggled with consistency and injury issues the past couple seasons. If he can stay healthy perhaps the change of scenery and being the undisputed number 1 guy in Buffalo will help him raise his game to where it’s capable of being.
The coaching staff underwent a major haul as out as head coach is Ted Nolan and in is Dan Bylsma. The former Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Bylsma, is a very player friendly coach. His style will be far different than that of Nolan. Among Bylsma’s assistants include Terry Murray. The former Los Angeles Kings head coach was very instrumental in turning his forwards into 3-zone-players. Under his initial guidance, Anze Kopitar turned into one of the best defensive centers in the league. Also on the coaching staff are Dave Barr and Dan Lambert.
All in all the Sabers will be one of the most improved teams in the league (points wise) just off the basis alone of finishing with only 54 points last season, so up is the only way to go. That being said, with the shrewd moves Murray has made and the continued improvement of young players and upcoming debut of some top prospects, the Sabers might see an improvement of between 20 and 30 points in the standings. It won’t be enough to get in the playoffs, but they should have a much better chance at a playoff berth in the 2016-17 season. They are setup nicely for the long haul and even more so if Lehner can grab the reigns and run with it as a legit number 1 goaltender.