After a few years of being simply a below-average team, the Buffalo Sabres returned to being the league laughingstock. With new general manager Kevyn Adams and a big new acquisition in Taylor Hall, the Sabres were absolutely terrible. Nothing went right for Buffalo, even the trade deadline when they were the league’s biggest sellers. The start of their offseason has found a way to bring even more drama. Adams needs a miracle to leave it unscathed.
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By the Numbers
Record: 15-34-7 (37 points)
Power Play: 21 percent (12th)
Penalty Kill: 77.7 percent (25th)
Goals For: 138 (28th)
Goals Against: 199 (29th)
With how bad the season went for the Sabres, it is hard to name a single “best” player. The only acceptable answer is Sam Reinhart, after Jack Eichel missed most of the season. Reinhart scored 25 goals and had a team-leading 40 points on the season. The second most goals scored by a Sabre were from Victor Olofsson, who had 13. Casey Mittelstadt was the only other player with a double-digit total. This was a key breakout year for Reinhart, who was mostly playing alone. Unfortunately, his time in Buffalo could be nearing an end. He is about to be a restricted free agent and undoubtedly wants to be elsewhere, given the team’s success since drafting him in 2014.
This has to go to Hall, although Eichel is close, too. Hall scored just twice while staying healthy all season. He gave the Sabres an offensive impact, but could not finish. He was traded to Boston at the deadline and is now thriving on the Bruins’ second line as they move past the Washington Capitals and into round two. What was also disappointing regarding Hall is the package Buffalo received in return. They had to package fourth-liner Curtis Lazar, and a second-round pick and Anders Bjork, an equal comparison to Lazar, was returned.
Behind the Bench Analysis
To start the season, Ralph Krueger was the coach of the Sabres in what was his second season. Things went terribly, as Krueger refused to adjust, and was finally let go by the team. When Don Granato was named interim coach, the team had a 6-18-4 record. In 28 games, they had just 16 points. In his first Head Coaching opportunity, Granato had nothing to work with. He was an improvement over Krueger, as the team went 9-16-3 under him. He should get an interview with the team, but his chances of returning seem slim if the Sabres want to turn things around.
Front Office Analysis
Adams was dealt a tough hand to start as a general manager, but he did little to help himself. He had a chance to redeem his mistake with Hall by dealing him, and the return was underwhelming. Adams also traded pending free agents Eric Staal and Brandon Montour, but the total return was two thirds and a fifth-round pick. Nothing much there. If Eichel wants out, Adams may have to give him a trade. That will be where his tenure is truly judged.
2021 NHL Entry Draft Picks
This draft has no consensus first overall pick. That is bad news for the Sabres, or maybe good news, depending on how you look at it. They will have a top-three draft pick this year, with the best odds at the number-one selection. Luke Hughes, the brother of Jack Hughes and Quinn Hughes, plus Owen Power and Matty Beniers could be the newest Sabre soon. The team has two second-round picks thanks to the Hall trade, and two selections in the third round from Florida and Montreal. They do not have their third-round pick, which went to the Rangers for Jimmy Vesey two years ago. Buffalo will have some quality picks, but the quantity is not exceptional.
The Sabres have a lot of work to do this offseason. Reinhart, Rasmus Dahlin, Mittelstadt, and Henri Jokijarju are about to become RFAs. How the Eichel situation plays out will clearly change the course. Albatross contracts to Jeff Skinner and Kyle Okposo will limit them as they try to improve the team. Both of their goaltenders, Linus Ullmark and Carter Hutton, will be free agents. They will want to sign the former, as he carried them at times this past season. The only other pending free agent of note is defenseman Jake McCabe, who missed nearly all of 2020-21 due to injury. There is a chance that Eichel, Reinhart and Ullmark are all elsewhere next year. Adams has a lot of choices on his hand.
Follow Carter LaCorte on Twitter @CarterHudBlog
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