Offseason Analysis: BUFFALO SABRES

ennis kane o'reilly

BUFFALO SABRES: 2014-2015 By the Numbers

Overall Record: 23-51-8-54
Home Record: 14-22-5
Away Record: 9-29-3
Shootout Record: 8-5
Playoff Result: Did not make the playoffs
Standings: Atlantic Division: 8, Eastern Conference: 16, League: 30
Goals For: 153 (NHL rank: 30)
Goals Against: 269 (NHL rank: 2)
Power Play Percentage: 13.4 percent (NHL rank: 30)
Penalty Kill Percentage: 75.1 percent (NHL rank: 30)
Leading Scorer: Tyler Ennis (20-26-46)
 

2015-2016 Outlook:

The Buffalo Sabres had a miserable 2014-2015 season that everyone in Buffalo would love to forget. Fortunately, the Sabres were rewarded with Jack Eichel, whom they took with the second overall pick in this year’s draft after losing the Connor McDavid draft lottery sweepstakes to Edmonton. Eichel is a tremendous talent and would most likely be a number one pick in most other draft years. With BU last season he tallied 26 goals and 45 assists for 71 points in 40 games. Eichel is anything but a consolation prize, even if there was disappointment in Buffalo when the Sabres lost the chance to get McDavid. But with Eichel coming on along with last year’s 1st-round draft pick Sam Reinhart, along with several new pieces collected from trades both last season and this offseason, this year is shaping up to be an exciting one for Buffalo. Even if the team can’t progress enough to reach the playoffs this year, the team is much better than it was last year. There will be questions with new “#1” goalie Robin Lehner, who has never really held the starter’s gig. However, even if it takes Buffalo a year or two to figure it all out, the team is poised to be competitive for years to come.
 

Offseason Overview

Trades:

  • 2015 1st-round pick (21) to Ottawa for G Robin Lehner and F David Legwand
  • F Mikhail Grigorenko, D Nikita Zadorov, F J.T. Compher and 2015 2nd-round pick (31) to Colorado for F Ryan O’Reilly and F Jamie McGinn

Re-Signed:

  • F Philip Varone (1-year contract at $600,000)
  • D Mark Pysyk (2-year deal with AAV* of $1.125 million)
  • G Nathan Lieuwen (1-year contract at $605,000)
  • D Jerome Leduc (1-year contract at $687,500)
  • F Tim Schaller (1-year contract at $874,125)
  • F Johan Larsson (1-year contract at $800,000)
  • F Jerry D’Amigo (1-year contract at $700,000)
  • F Evan Rodrigues (2-year ELC with AAV* of $842,500)
  • C Jack Eichel (3-year ELC with AAV* of $925,000)
  • D Brendan Guhle (3-year ELC with AAV* of $925,000)
  • D Jerome Leduc (1-year contract at $687,500)

Free Agents Signed:

  • F Jason Akeson (1-year contract at $575,000)
  • D Carlo Colaiacovo (1-year contract at $900,000)
  • D Cody Franson (2-year deal with AAV* of $3.325 million)
  • F Cal O’Reilly (2-year deal with AAV* of $700,000)
  • D Matt Donovan (1-year contract at $825,000)
  • D Bobby Sanguinetti (1-year contract at $600,000)
  • F Cason Hohmann–PTO
  • F Patrick Kaleta–PTO
  • G Keegan Asmundson–PTO (has been released)
  • D Matt Prapavessis–PTO (has been released)
  • D Josh Chapman–PTO (has been released)
  • D Spiro Goulakos–PTO (has been released)
  • F Matt Garbowsky–PTO (has been released)
  • G C.J. Motte–PTO (has been released)

Draft Recap:

  • Round 1 (2) C Jack Eichel
  • Round 2 (51) D Brendan Guhle
  • Round 4 (92) D William Borgen
  • Round 5 (122) D Devante Stephens
  • Round 6 (152) C Giorgio Estephan
  • Round 7 (182) D Ivan Chukarov

Notable Extensions:

  • F Ryan O’Reilly (7-year deal with AAV* of $7.5 million)

Free Agents Lost:

  • G Anders Lindback–Arizona
  • F Cody Hodgson–Nashville
  • F Zac Dalpe–Minnesota
  • G Matt Hackett–Anaheim
  • D Andre Benoit–St. Louis
  • D Andrej Meszaros–UFA
  • D Drew Bagnall–UFA
  • D Tyson Strachan–Minnesota
  • F Matt Ellis–UFA
  • D Dennis Persson–has been playing in Sweden; NHL rights expired 7/1
  • F Philip Gogulla–has been playing in Germany; NHL rights expired 7/1
  • F Jordan Samuels-Thomas–UFA
  • F Kevin Sundher–UFA
  • D Drew Bagnall–retired

Buyouts:
Cody Hodgson
Cap hits:
$1.041666 million (Year 1), $541,666 (Year 2), $41,666 (Year 3), etc.
(refer to GeneralFanager for more info)

Organizational Changes:

  • Fired head coach Ted Nolan
  • Fired Chadd Cassity, coach of Rochester (AHL)
  • Named Terry Murray and Dave Barr assistant coaches
  • Announced president Ted Black and the team have mutually parted ways
  • Named Russ Brandon team president, along with his role as president of the Bills
  • Hired head coach Dan Bylsma

 
*AAV=Average Annual Value (cap hit)
 

Significant Moves

Here are the most significant moves the Sabres have made this offseason, and how they will affect this upcoming season:

  1. Acquiring Ryan O’Reilly:
  2. o'reilly

    Photo Credit: Bill Wippert via sabres.nhl.com


    The Sabres completed a trade with the Colorado Avalanche on draft day that brought forwards Ryan O’Reilly and Jamie McGinn to Buffalo. This was an incredible move for Buffalo. Colorado was pretty much forced to move O’Reilly because of contract negotiation disputes, but O’Reilly is an excellent two-way top-six forward in the league and is still only 24 years old. Buffalo had to give up some talent in the deal, including Mikhail Grigorenko and Nikita Zadorov, but all things considered Buffalo made a fantastic move. O’Reilly’s best season in the NHL was his 64-point effort in the 2013-2014 season that led to a Lady Byng Trophy, annually awarded to “the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.” O’Reilly followed up that season with a 55-point effort last year. Though his 17 goals last year fell far short of the 28 he scored the previous year, O’Reilly managed to have an effective season in a year when the entire Avalanche roster struggled to score. O’Reilly will automatically shift in to the top-line center position where he can play with Evander Kane and Tyler Ennis or Kane and Matt Moulson; that line will be phenomenal, even if the Sabres end up having a terrible year as a team. McGinn has been overlooked in this deal, but he is a quality winger who can put up points and who plays a physical game. He was hurt for most of last season but he is a solid top-nine forward with potential to play in the top-six. It’s unlikely that Buffalo will need McGinn to do so unless there are injuries, but McGinn is a strong winger that can play up and down in the lineup and should be able to bring some production to the table this year. Sabres’ general manager Tim Murray ended up signing O’Reilly to a 7-year contract extension with a $7.5 million cap hit. All things considered, this is a reasonable deal. O’Reilly is probably overpaid compared to other players in the league, but his cap figures have continued to grow unusually high ever since he signed a Calgary offer sheet several years ago. In any case, O’Reilly is a spectacular addition to this team; he and Kane should become a force to be reckoned with.
     

  3. Lack of hesitation with moves:
  4. lehner eichel kane

    Robin Lehner, Jack Eichel, Evander Kane
    via nhl.com


    The offseason actions of Sabres’ general manager Tim Murray have been excellent. Murray’s lack of hesitation has been admirable; the team obviously needs change, but Murray’s moves have been bold and confident, something teams often lack. Though there has been a lot of turnover, the team now has many very talented individual players as a result of Murray’s dealings. Buffalo was the worst team in the league last year but had also failed to reach the playoffs in each of the previous three seasons. A lot of talented veterans, including Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville, have been moved out to clear cap space, stock up on draft picks and build for the future. Murray was able to take what seemed to be a total rebuild and turn it into a team that will be competitive this season. You can’t criticize the Sabres’ group of top-six forwards, and with the addition of Cody Franson on defense there is a more balanced group of players on the blueline. The main question going into this season relates to how Robin Lehner will hold up in the crease. Though he did play a fair amount for the Ottawa Senators over the past few years, he hasn’t yet been considered a number one goalie and could struggle as he steps into the spotlight this year. The Sabres are a better team than last year but that doesn’t mean that the team will play a responsible two-way game in front of Lehner. Much like Cam Talbot in Edmonton, Lehner could easily get lit up this season. However, Lehner has talent and potential and could be part of the new-and-improved Sabres that step out onto the ice in 2015-2016.
     

    Possible Line Combinations

    Lines have not yet been finalized for the regular season. Defensemen Josh Gorges and Zach Bogosian are currently hurt but should not be out long-term. That being said, here is one possible set of line combinations for the Sabres at the start of the 2015-2016 season:
     

    Forwards
    Kane-O’Reilly-Ennis
    Moulson-Eichel-Girgensons
    McGinn-Reinhart-Gionta
    Larsson/Deslauriers-Legwand-Foligno

    Defensemen
    Weber-Ristolainen
    Pysyk-Franson
    McCabe-Donovan
    (eventually Gorges-Bogosian will most likely be the top pairing)

    Goalies
    Lehner
    Johnson
     

    Disagree?

    Explain in the comments below!
     

    Final Thoughts

    At the end of the day, it is nice to be able to say that a team improved over the offseason, or at least made every effort to do so. The Buffalo Sabres certainly made plenty of moves to get better, and the team was successful this offseason. Acquiring Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian at the trade deadine, adding Ryan O’Reilly and Jamie McGinn before the draft, picking up Jack Eichel and getting a goaltender that the organization believes can be a number one goalie, is quite a set of accomplishments for one team in such a short period of time, especially given how horrific last season was for the Sabres. Tim Murray and the rest of the organization did an excellent job. New head coach Dan Bylsma should be a good fit in Buffalo with a lot of young talent, as he coached Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby in Pittsburgh. Bylsma is not known for a defensive-minded game, but hopefully he will change that now that he is in Buffalo and has an even weaker defense and goalie. All in all, the Sabres should be better this season, even though they will probably miss the playoffs. In a year or two the team will be back in the hunt for good.
     

    Be sure to check out HFL’s offseason overviews of all 30 NHL teams.
     
    Featured image photo credit: Tom Brenner-Getty Images