10 Questions for the Sabres Season

The hope tank is pretty empty around Western New York as the Sabres open another season. Going headfirst into a rebuild, the season isn’t expected to be much to write home about but there are still storylines worth tracking. Here are 10 big questions worth asking ahead of the 2021-22 season.

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The Instigator Podcast 10.5 – Opening Night for the NHL on ESPN

We celebrate and discuss the opening night for ESPN and the NHL as the pair are officially together once again. We discuss some of the new features released in the days leading up to the season and the encouraging outlook from the first night of their broadcast. We also touch on the Sabres post-camp roster and have an in-depth conversation about where JJ Peterka should be playing.

Finding a Remedy for the Sabres Goaltending Blues

The Sabres are set to enter the year with a 40-year old who nearly retired and a 32 year old who, up until the spring, hadn’t seen NHL action in four seasons. It’s an unenviable position to be in. And one that is indicative of the larger issues the Sabres are expected to face this year.

Of course, it isn’t exactly surprising either.

When the dust settled on July 29 and the Sabres we left with Craig Anderson and Aaron Dell as their prizes from the goaltending carousel, it became evident that Buffalo wouldn’t be counting on their goalies to steal them many games. That one of their two offseason acquisitions has now been moved to Rochester is even less encouraging.

Short of completely forgetting how to play the position, Anderson was always going to enter the season as Buffalo’s starter. It was the backup position that was truly up in that air. Though I think anyone inside KeyBank Center would have told you Dell and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen were the only two true competitors ahead of camp.

It’s gone a completely different direction since. Dell was downright dreadful, and reports have now surfaced that the Sabres aren’t happy with how he arrived in camp. Meanwhile, UPL simply couldn’t grab the reins. He’d put in a good period here or there but his larger body of work just wasn’t good enough. Much like his four-game audition last year, he turned in some quality play but at the end of the day, too many pucks wound up behind him.

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The Instigator Podcast Episode 10.4 – NHL Season Preview with a Twist

We tried a slightly different approach with our season preview pod. Instead of trying to fit every team into the allotted time, we picked a few standout stories we think could surprise fans should they play out this season. We also serve up an update on Jack Eichel and run down the latest outlook on the Sabres roster as the season opener approaches.

Ellicott Street at the Center of Two Incredible Projects

Development posts used to be far more frequent on this space in past years but I’ve lagged in my coverage as other responsibilities took precedence over complaining about the hole at Canalside, for example.

But in an effort to commit to providing insight and attention to the various projects happening around the city, I’m going to try and get back in the saddle of writing about Buffalo development. Plenty has gone on in the last few months and I’ll have to work to catch up on the latest in the Skyway debate, Douglas Jemal’s continued work in the city and the decades long development of Canalside.

Photo: Buffalo Rising/Douglas Development

This week saw progress with the City’s efforts to redevelop the Mohawk Ramp that sits between Washington and Ellicott streets. All six proposals initially submitted were quite impressive and the proposal that may have been the sexiest of the group didn’t even make it as a finalist. That the Wynn Group is still aiming to build that glass tower elsewhere in the city is exciting news in its own right.

I’d imagine that the proposal from Douglas Development has first position as the city evaluates the three finalists. Jemal’s track record since he arrived has been nothing short of astonishing and he’s worked on timelines which would have been unheard of in the past. The partnership he has with the city and his willingness to go fast on projects has to give him a leg up on this process. He’s also slated to redevelop the Simon Electric properties right down the block. So I won’t be surprised if he’s the winner here.

The thing is that Douglas Development probably shouldn’t win this bid. Douglas’ overall proposal for Ellicott street is tremendous. As a sucker for renderings, their proposal for that space has me over the moon for what that project can mean for this stretch of Ellicott and Huron.

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Reconnecting the Fans and the Franchise

Somewhat recently the Sabres posted that they were hiring for a new position call Director of Fan Development. I’m not sure if they’re still on the search for that role or if the job has been filled. But either way, I wish that person the very best of luck with that job.

The precise responsibilities of the position and what they’ll influence will only be known to those in the Pegula Sports and Entertainment offices but on face value, that’s going to be an extremely difficult position for whoever takes it.

Put aside the outlook for the 2021-22 season and just look and the off-ice aspects for the Sabres in recent years to gauge this undertaking. The game night atmosphere is regularly maligned for being flat and as the team embarks on this rebuild, the typical stance of relying on wins to drum up the fans can’t be relied on.

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The Instigator Podcast 10.3 – Taking the Preseason Pledge

Preseason hockey is underway and we discuss the progress the Sabres have made so far but through the lens of preseason hockey. We touch on a few players who have stood out so far, including JJ Peterka and Linus Weissbach. The potential goaltending battle between Aaron Dell and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen is touched on and we catch up on Rasmus Dahlin’s contract extension after missing the chance to discuss it last week.

Patience, Promise and Adjusting Expectations for the 21-22 Sabres

It’s no secret that the 2021-22 season is going to be a difficult one for the Sabres. Kevyn Adams has embraced a tank rebuild and while Jack Eichel remains a Sabre, a cursory glance at Buffalo’s training camp roster should give plenty of indication of what this season will look like.

You may not think this rebuild is anything like the last one the Sabres embarked on in 2013 but when you look closer it shares many of the hallmarks. Veteran talent traded for futures, stockpiling draft picks, investing in a youth movement. The reason there are similarities between the two is because most rebuilds in the NHL follow the same basic formula, and like it or not, they’re all in some way, shape or form, a tank. One aspect of this rebuild which will differ from the last go around will be the likes of Dylan Cozens, Rasmus Dahlin and Casey Mittelstadt.

When Darcy Regier began tearing things down in 2013, none of the picks the Sabres were investing in held key positions on the NHL roster. Zemgus Gigrensons and eventually Rasmus Ristolainen would (almost by default), but ahead of the teardown, there were few key picks wearing a Sabres sweater on a regular basis. I supposed you could count Cody Hodgson and Tyler Ennis in that group, but having three top 10 picks already playing is much different than the last time.

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The Instigator Podcast 10.2 – The Eichel Saga Takes Another Turn

Joe Yerdon is back for another guest appearance and to discuss all of the fallout from the first press availability of Sabres camp. On the docket is the decision to remove the captaincy from Jack Eichel and how the continued lack of a deal affects the Sabres in both the short and long term. We also run down the camp roster and the players we’re most excited to see battle through camp and the preseason.

The Instigator Podcast Episode 10.1 – Previewing the Sabres at the Prospects Challenge

We’re kicking off season 10 of the podcast by breaking down the roster and outlook for this weekend’s Prospects Challenge. We take a look at some of the bigger names on Buffalo’s roster for the event and who we’re excited about seeing on Friday and Saturday. We discuss some of the tournament invites and if any of them could challenge for a contract in the future. We also touch on the new COVID mandates announced by the Bills and Sabres and how that will affect things moving forward this season.