Another season is in the books and we look back at the way the Sabres played over the course of 2022-23 and what it means for them going forward. While we don’t assign grades to any individual, we break down each of the team’s position groups to see where the bright spots were and where the Sabres need to improve most.
We wrap up the show with a brief conversation on the NHL playoffs and which early storylines in the postseason stand out most to us.
Entering the year, the Sabres were very much in a state of flux. Jack Eichel hadn’t been traded, nor had he gotten the surgery he preferred. Buffalo’s offseason pointed towards another difficult season as the team continued to rebuild. With so much uncertainty surrounding the on and off-ice business of the team, I put together a list of 10 big questions that would likely define the 2021-22 season.
As the season wraps up, I wanted to take some time to look back on each of those topics and see just how they affected the Sabres as the season progressed.
Back with another edition of the 2ITB Mailbag. Thanks to those who wrote in and if you want to participate in the next one, send me a tweet tagged with #2ITBmailbag.
@passoffpads – The year is 2025 and the Sabres are preparing for the Stanley Cup Finals (because even we can dream). Who is the goalie? Who is the captain? Who is the leading scorer? Who is the coach?
Let me just start by saying, I love your optimism. If the Sabres are a Cup contender in the 24-25 season, quite a few things will have needed to go right for them. The 2020 and 21 drafts will need to be paying dividends and the picks they’re set to make next June and in 2023 may have a say in that as well. I think Don Granato would still be the coach in this scenario, as the ramp up to Cup contender in that 24-25 season (or 25-26) would need to start in October of 2022. The likes of Owen Power, Jack Quinn and JJ Peterka will need to fill big roles and Granato will be the one welcoming them to the league next fall, so it’s only logical to conclude that the Sabres would be riding a wave that he helped start.
The Sabres came back down to earth on their West Coast swing and their struggles to keep the puck out of the net are threatening to make the coming weeks an arduous journey. We discuss some of the struggles Rasmus Dahlin has dealt with and the path back to success for the former first round pick. We also offer up an update on Buffalo’s prospect pipeline as a number of prospects are off to great starts this season.
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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.
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.
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.
It looks as if Taylor Hall has played his last game with the Sabres. As of this writing, Hall has been ruled out of Buffalo’s game against the Devils on Tuesday, April 6. With only six more days until the trade deadline, the odds that he’s seen in a Sabres jersey again sit somewhere between slim and none.
I meant to run this mailbag a few days earlier than it’s being dropped, so a couple of these questions may not seem as timely as they otherwise would have. The news of the week is Hall being scratched for the Devils game in anticipation of a trade being finalized. It seems unlikely that he even makes it to the deadline at this point, with a quicker conclusion to a trade benefiting any team that acquires him, especially those in Canada.
I’m not sure there’s any other way to describe Hall’s tenure in Buffalo as anything other than a huge disappointment. Luckily, the one-year deal the team signed him to mitigated any sort of long-term damage to their cap or depth chart, but two goals and 19 points over 37 games isn’t what you’re expecting from a former MVP. It’s certainly a far sight from Terry Pegula’s “We sign this guy, we’re not only trying to make the playoffs, we’re trying to win the Cup.”
Chasing Hall, like acquiring Eric Staal made for an exciting and promising offseason for the team. Not only was Hall a former MVP but he was the type of top-tier talent that could have helped take the Sabres to another level. Instead, he suffered through an abysmal stretch of shooting that tanked his stats and made him look like a passenger instead of the dynamic contributor he’d been earlier in his career.
We’ll wait to see what sort of trade return Kevyn Adams gets for Hall and whether or not that can help provide either short or long-term assistance to this club. Now, for your questions.
Sabres camp continued on Monday with the Blue-Gold Scrimmage which featured a number of impressive performances from players up and down Buffalo’s roster. We touch on a few of the stand out performers, discuss which performances may have affected roster battles while touching on some of the weaker showings as well. Also on the docket was discussion over a trio of AHL teams opting out for the 2020-21 season, a World Juniors update and a bit of fun remembering some guys who moved teams this year.
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It was no secret that Jason Botterill was facing a tough road in putting together a well-rounded blueline when he took over the Sabres. Turns out that the unit needed more of an overhaul than reshaping that stretched into this past summer.
Winning the Ramsus Dahlin lottery would make any rebuild a much easier task and a lucky bounce of the lottery balls has helped the Sabres take a major step forward.
Dahlin was really the only true addition the Sabres made to their backs blueline but he’s already meeting expectations, if not exceeding them. His confidence is growing by the day and combined with his vision and skating ability has led to a number of plays along these lines:
There’s a noticeable difference in Buffalo’s breakout and flow when Dahlin is on the ice, something that was lacking at almost every point of the 2017-18 season. Some of his underlying numbers took a hit recently after a few lopsided showings, which tipped him below 50% Corsi, though Dahlin remains a positive influence relative to his teammates. Zach Bogosian’s Corsi jumps ten percentage points when paired with Dahlin as opposed to without him. So he’s not just passing the eye-test, though his current trend is creating at least one eye-popping play per game. Continue reading →