Buffalo Sabres 2021-22 Season Recapby Christopher Gallagher June 12, 2022 0 comments
The Buffalo Sabres were looking to snap their decade-long playoff drought during the 2021-2022 season. Jumping out to a red hot start in October to open up the year, they won five of their first seven games. However, the franchise would see its lineup decimated by injuries and COVID-19. They lost Casey Mittelstadt to an upper-body that held the young centerman out for two months. Along with this, starting netminder Craig Anderson also suffered a lower-body ailment.
Winning just 11 games between November to February, the Sabres lost a franchise-record 18 games in a row. Able to gain momentum near the end of the year, they rattled off a 6-4 record during their final ten games. However, it was too little too late for Buffalo, leading to a fifth-place finish in the Atlantic Division.
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By the Numbers
Power Play: 21.17% (16th)
Penalty Kill: 76.42% (23rd)
Goals For: 229 (22nd)
Goals Against: 287 (8th)
Tage Thompson blossomed into one of the game’s elite goal scorers during his 5th season in the league. Growing into his body, the former first overall pick handled the number one center spot alongside Jack Eichel and Victor Olofsson. Shattering his old career highs, he led the group in both goals (30) and points (68). Averaging over 17 minutes of ice per night, the Phoenix, Arizona, native was also a staple on Buffalo’s first powerplay unit, with ten markers coming on the man advantage. One of the most improved players league-wide, the 24-year-old also continued to develop his two-way game. He won 40 percent of his draws in the faceoff circle while also recording a 1.2 defensive point share.
Mittelstadt inked a three-year extension with the franchise in September. This was after he returned from the American Hockey League in 2021 and recorded 22 points in 41 games. Surrounded with lofty expectations heading into his fifth season with the Sabres, the University of Minnesota alumn saw his campaign become derailed after suffering an upper-body injury in the second game of the season. Ultimately working his way back in December, the former 8th overall pick played in just three games before being forced to undergo surgery. Appearing in just 40 games in total, Mittelstadt scored just six goals, his lowest total since 2019. Suddenly on the hot seat heading into next year, he needs to have a better season, or his days with the organization could be numbered.
Behind the Bench Analysis
Taking over as the head coach of the Sabres last March, Don Granato has amassed a 41-55-14 record during his two seasons. The 54-year-old improved on the team’s disastrous eighth-place finish in the Atlantic Division in 2021 with a fifth-place finish this year. Helping to get the most out of his players with massive roster turnover, the Downers Grove, Illinois, native helped Thompson elevate his game into all-star status.
Furthermore, he also saw helped Jeff Skinner find his stride after two down years. The longtime player also saw Rasmus Dahlin amass new career-highs on the back end while solidifying himself as the undisputed number one defenseman. With expectations beginning to heighten for a young Buffalo team heading into year three under Granato, 2022 will be a big year for the 54-year-old to see if he is the bench boss of the future.
Front Office Analysis
Kevyn Adams was finally able to put the Jack Eichel Saga to bed early on in the year. The second-year general manager traded the superstar center to the Vegas Golden Knights for Alex Tuch, Peyton Krebs, a 2022 1st Round pick, and a 2023 2nd Round pick. Making more moves to add to his young core, the former Stanley Cup champion inked both Dustin Tokarski and Anderson to deals last offseason to help stabilize the goaltending situation. Opting to preserve his roster at the trade deadline amidst another season of losing, Adams stated his belief in his group. He is now faced with getting to the salary cap floor while also making additions to the lineup to help them get back in the postseason for the first time in over a decade.
2022 NHL Entry Draft
The Sabres are stockpiled with ammo heading into the 2022 NHL Entry Draft. They currently hold the ninth pick in the first round. The franchise also has the 16th overall selection after they acquired it from the Golden Knights in the Eichel trade. Moreover, Buffalo also received the 28th choice and goaltender Devon Levi from the Florida Panthers after they traded winger Sam Reinhart. Looking to continue to add depth on defense, the franchise also needs to add another goal-scoring threat inside its top six. In addition to this, they could also look to add a goaltender with no clear number one option present on the roster.
This offseason will be full of no shortage of intrigue for the Sabres. They currently have over $35 million in available space. The team must address its long list of free agents. Multiple players on the roster are looking for new deals. Those without a contract are Olofsson, Colin Miller, Cody Eakin, Andersen, Tokarksi, and Vinnie Hinostroza. Furthermore, Adams must find a way to find his goaltender of the future. There is no viable piece on the roster heading into next season. The franchise has been in desperate need of a number one netminder for multiple years. Lastly, Buffalo must find a way to add veteran support to its young blue line, with just Dahlin, Owen Power, and Henri Jokiharju appearing as locks to make next year’s roster.
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Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images