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  • Writer's pictureBrandon Caputo

Buffalo Sabres Offseason Preview, Exit Interviews, & 6 Takeaways from 2021 Season

Updated: May 20, 2021

Written By

Austin Broad & Brandon Caputo

Photo Credit: Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News

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Sabres Exit Interviews & Offseason Storylines

by Austin Broad

It was a headline capturing week for the Sabres (not in a good way) because of the comments coming from their veteran core at the team’s exit interviews.

Rasmus Ristolainen said he’s open to being moved (again), Sam Reinhart said he had a lot to think about this summer and Captain Jack Eichel revealed a disconnect between the himself and the team that could have ultimately punched his ticket out of Buffalo.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom as the young kids provided some hope and don’t seem to be tainted by the disastrous environment that has sucked the life out of the older players.

Everything was capped off by Interim Head Coach Don Granato and General Manager Kevyn Adams speaking on Wednesday. It’s time to break everything down focusing on the bad, the very bad and the hopeful.


The Bad

Photo Credit: via

Ristolainen has been the punching bag of Sabres twitter (deservedly so most of the time), but for the last number of years he has hinted that he wouldn’t mind being traded and this year was not any different.

“Like I told Kevyn a little while ago, I’m open to all scenarios. Staying – or if he trades me – I’m fine with that.”

For a player that has been here since before the tank took place, I’ll give Ristolainen some credit…he’s essentially told the team he wants out and despite being ignored he still shows up and plays night in a and night out.

Rasmus Ristolainen NHL Career Stats

Statistics provided by

Ristolainen was just the first ripple that ultimately led to a massive tidal wave on Monday… Reinhart was up next.

“Right now it’s more just disappointment on the forefront of the mind. It’s almost tougher this year for me personally, feeling good, that my game was in a good place. To not be playing meaningful games down the stretch is disappointing,” the winger said during his interview and it only got worse from there.

“In terms of the future, don’t really have much for you right now. Gonna take some time and that’ll figure itself out when the time comes.”

Reinhart is an RFA with arbitration rights and one year away from UFA status…so a long-term contract would really be the only logical way keeping him in Buffalo makes sense.

But Reinhart’s presser was nothing compared to what was coming from the face of the franchise.


The Ugly

Photo Credit: via

Jack Eichel has been here since 2015, he’s had some minor ups and downs but he’s lived up to the lofty expectations that the team and fans have had for him…unless you count the fact that he’s not Connor McDavid (hint: No one on earth is besides McDavid himself).

Photo Credit:

But Monday seemed like the Eichel era in Buffalo is over… he brought up a disconnect between himself and the franchise regarding his injury and never fully committed to being a Sabre next year (aside from mentioning his contractual obligations).

“For sure I’d say I’ve been a little upset with the way things have been handled since I’ve been hurt.

I’d be lying if I said things have moved smoothly since I’ve been injured. I’d say there’s been a disconnect between the organization and myself at times.”

Jack Eichel NHL Career Stats

Statistics provided by

He also said he needs to do what’s best for Jack Eichel, it was pretty evident that the relationship between the Sabres and Eichel is fractured…but more on that later.


The Hopeful

Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images

The young kids, Rasmus Dahlin, Tage Thompson, Casey Mittelstadt and Dylan Cozens (among others) all faced the media the day after the negative storm from the veterans… and obviously the mood was a little different.

A common theme emerged, all the younger kids were energized when Granato came in and loosen the reins on the defensive system the former coach was implementing.

Dylan Cozens Hockey Career Stats

Statistics provided by

Dylan Cozens stated he wanted to be here for a long time and also said if the veterans are in fact gone he’s willing and ready to step up and be a leader for the Sabres.

While the young core isn’t exactly ready to fully turn things around it’s obvious that they are still optimistic and given the way the season ended for themselves individually they all have that right.


Kevyn Adams

Photo Credit: via

Adams and Granato faced the media Wednesday and without being harsh towards Granato here…Adams’ presser is the important one because some of his quotes were rather telling.

Adams started off his availability with a statement about the Eichel situation and said that he and the team believe rehab is the best choice while Eichel wants surgery (Elliotte Friedman’s 31 Thoughts gives a lot of insight into the whole thing).

But that wasn’t the important part of his presser, it’s when Adams began speaking about next year and the future.

Photo Credit: Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News

The theme of his conference was “getting it right with the players that want to be here.” Basically speaking directly to the disgruntled veteran core.

In what was already a massive off-season, Adams and Associate GM Jason Karmanos are under even more pressure with franchise altering trades that involve their captain, their top-6 defenceman and a former 2nd overall pick who has been on short-term deals since his ELC expired.


The "Offseason of all Offseason's"

This summer was already huge for Adams but now given the prospective trade of a franchise center (Eichel), a 2nd overall pick (Reinhart) and Ristolainen…. the inexperienced GM is going to be very busy.

Based off the Eichel comments it seems like he’s all but gone, when a relationship is as broken as this one is it’s best for both sides to just break it off and move on.

While Adams will never “win” a trade involving Eichel he has the potential to help lay the ground work for the next era of Sabres hockey by successfully executing this trade.

Reinhart may be salvageable, but a long-term and large $$$ commitment will be needed as well as a solid plan for the future needs to be on the table in order to convince him to sign and stay here…if that doesn’t work he also needs to be moved on from for the betterment of both sides.

Team Salary Cap Breakdown

Salary Statistics provided by

Ristolainen should have been traded two years ago but now it finally seems like the time will come, based off his and Adams’ comments he may finally get his wish and a chance to start over somewhere else because it’s clear that he will not be here past the end of his current contract.

On top of all of the topics above Adams still needs to fix the Sabres goaltending issues by adding multiple goalies (or signing a UFA and retaining Ullmark), he needs to prep for the expansion draft and determine who he will protect/expose and then prepare for the NHL Draft in a year that a lot of the top prospects didn’t play a full season….

Needless to say that this summer is the mother of all off-seasons for Buffalo and they are navigating shaky waters in a one-man canoe…but at the very least the team will dominate headlines for the summer and it will be a summer full of rumours and news hits in Sabreland.


6 Takeaways from the 2021 Season

By Brandon Caputo

Photo Credit: Andy Marlin/Getty Images

1. Don Granato emerges after Ralph Krueger’s

failed “process” - Led to Opportunity for Youth.

2021 Buffalo Sabres Coaching Records: Ralph Krueger (6-18-4), Don Granato (9-16-3)

Although the above coaching records for this season speak for themselves, just watching the games you could see clear as day that the team as a whole looked considerably better in all aspects other than Powerplay,

which Krueger had the luxury of a Jack Eichel led PP before his injury, while Granato did not have such thing.

Many young players were also given more free reign with the final stretch of the season essentially meaningless other than Draft Lottery seeding, while entrusted with more ice-time & responsibility in order to keep the motivation/compete level to where it needed to be (which you could clearly see was something that was lacking under Coach Krueger at times, even when games still mattered).

Photo Credit:

Just for context, Ralph Krueger was dismissed on March 17th, here is a look at the last 30 day statistics for some of the young players who seemed to not be progressing under Krueger, who then had season renaissances under Don Granato as the Head Coach:

Casey Mittelstadt: 4 G, 6 A, 10 P, 3 PPP, 29 SOG, 17:49 TOI

Tage Thompson: 4 G, 3 A, 7 P, 2 PPP, 42 SOG, 14:10 TOI

Dylan Cozens: 5 A, 35 SOG, 15:24 TOI

Jacob Bryson: 3 A, 1 PPP, 1 SHP, 18:25 TOI

Rasmus Dahlin: 1 G, 4 A, 5 P, 2 PPP, 36 SOG, 23:43 TOI

Arttu Ruotsalainen: 4 G, 1 A, 5 P, 25 SOG, 14:08 TOI

Rasmus Asplund: 2 G, 3 A, 5 P , 18 SOG, 14:32 TOI


2. Jeff Skinner can still play hockey

Photo Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

After his 40-goal campaign during the 2018-19 season in his 1st year in Buffalo, Skinner signed a massive 8 year 72 million dollar contract where he was expected to be the main producer on the wing for the Sabres.

However, in 2019-20 he only accumulated 14 goals in 59 games, which was by far his lowest goal output since the 2012-13 shortened where he only scored 13 goals in 42 games with Carolina.

We had hoped that going into this season that he would be able to put that disappointing season behind him, but unfortunately under coach Krueger he found himself in the Bottom Six (mostly the 4th line) & even up in the press box as a healthy scratch too many times with plenty of question marks about his future with the team given his obvious disconnect with Coach Krueger with the lack of play time.

Jeff being the classy player that he is, did not at all call out Krueger during this stretch & tried to downplay it as much as possible, which is almost impossible to do given the fact that a 9 million dollar player is getting 4th line minutes or being healthy scratched. The only redeeming quote from Skinner during this time was that he stated “I do not know what I’m learning sitting up in the press box.” Now, you could see a young player or rookie who is trying to make their way into the NHL possibly needing that type of learning for their long-term benefit, but for an 11 year NHL veteran, that doesn’t seem to be the best plan of action to take.

Jeff Skinner NHL Career Stats

Statistics provided by

To sum up, Jeff Skinner regressed under Ralph Krueger in his 2 seasons, including this most recent season where he did not score his 1st goal until March 7th 2021, pretty incredible for a player who scored 40 goals just 2 short seasons prior.

Although a disastrous stat line will show that he only amassed 7 goals in 53 games this season, there was a positive light that should be noted. After Coach Krueger was fired, Skinner scored 5 of those 7 goals in the final month & a half of the season while earning more playing time in all key situations.

Just by watching the games, you could see that Jeff Skinner can still play, he just needed ice-time opportunity & confidence from a coaching staff to put him in a role that’s best suited for him to succeed in order for him to prove that he can still be a dangerous goal scorer in the National Hockey League.


3. Last place finish in the NHL standings for the

4th time in 8 seasons

Photo Credit: Getty Images

This one is pretty self-explanatory; the Buffalo Sabres will have the best odds in the Draft Lottery for the 4th time in the last 8 seasons. After they went on a historic modern era 18-game winless streak (0-15-3), it was trending for one of the worst seasons in franchise history.

Under Don Granato the team showed improvements, but for statistics sake it will show that the Sabres another last place finish in the NHL under their belt along with the playoff-less streak now reaching a 10-year decade “milestone.” Considering the amount of top talent & highly paid players on the roster, it felt unfathomable that this team could be as bad as the 2 true “tank” teams before them in 2013-14 & 2014-15 which landed them Jack Eichel & Sam Reinhart.

Sabres Season Standings (2011-2021)

Statistics provided by

It has to be noted that the Sabres have only won the lottery 1 out of the 3 previous years that they have had the best odds, with that 1 time being the Rasmus Dahlin sweepstakes.

In a year where the NHL Draft may be more of a crapshoot than usual given the state of junior hockey (or lack thereof) during the pandemic & there not being clear cut franchise level talent at the top of the draft like in most previous seasons;

this is not the season the Sabres would have hoped for at all coming into 2021 with such optimism.

Let alone being given the distinction of worst record in the NHL, given a lack of true top end talent in the upcoming 2021 NHL Draft where they will most likely be selecting.


4. The failed Eric Staal & Taylor Hall experiment

Photo Credit: Getty Images

When the 2020 season was cut short for the Sabres, they immediately looked to address a few key needs such as a 2nd line centre & a top end winger to play on the 1st or 2nd line.

Buffalo seemed to address both of those needs in what looked like a dream offseason, which started with acquiring long-time NHL veteran & Stanley Cup Champion Eric Staal from the Minesota Wild in exchange for Top-9 level Marcus Johannsson, looked to be a slam dunk by GM Kevyn Adams given his past relationship with Staal in Carolina.

Given Staal’s pedigree in the league (although at 36 years of age) it still seemed like a smart move for the Sabres to bring some stability to a centre-ice position that they have struggled to replace with a quality #2 centre since shipping Ryan O’Reilly off to St.Louis, where he would win the Conn Smythe Trophy in leading the Blues to their 1st Championship in franchise history. In 4 solid seasons in Minnesota, Staal accumulated

111 goals & 129 assists for 240 points in 311 games for the Wild.

With Staal's numbers not completely falling off given his age, the Sabres were expecting this move to be a solid stopgap for young players like Casey Mittelstadt & Dylan Cozens to develop properly & to be a solid mentor for those players given his vast experience & success in the NHL.

This move turned out to be none of that as Staal was only able to amass 3 goals & 7 assists for 10 points in 30 games along with a -20 rating. Not quite what they had hoped for & given that he was clearly not happy with his current situation, he was shipped off to the Montreal Canadiens for a 3rd & 5th round draft pick to bring a calming presence to another very young centre ice position in Montreal.

The only difference is that in Montreal he is playing bottom-6 minutes, not expected to be 2nd line point producing centreman like the Sabres had hoped he would be.

Moving onto Taylor Hall, the biggest slash of the 2020 NHL offseason; it sent shockwaves through the hockey world as the #1 free agent forward decided to choose the Buffalo Sabres as his destination.

When you looked under the surface of that it made a lot of sense for a few reasons.

Firstly, Hall had a solid relationship with Ralph Krueger & seemed to admire him as a person during their cup of coffee together in Krueger’s 1 season as Head Coach of the Edmonton Oilers where Hall spend the first portion of his NHL Career. Secondly, he only signed a 1-year deal worth 8 million dollars.

When you looked deeper into it this move was smart given the fact that he was coming off a few disappointing seasons in Arizona & New Jersey after his Hart Trophy campaign in 2018, so why not play alongside one of the best playmaking Centre’s in the NHL in Jack Eichel to help elevate your stock with hopes of receiving a more enticing long-term deal from multiple teams come the 2021 offseason?

Incredibly, this move turned out to be bad for both sides. In 37 games as a Sabre, Hall was only able to generate 2 goals & 17 assists for 19 points in 37 games; not to mention an atriocus -21 rating. After scoring on opening night, Hall was only able to find the back of the net 1 time in the next 36 games. Yes, captain Jack Eichel went down with a season ending neck injury & the coach he had hoped to play for was fired on March 17th, but this was clearly not the type of season either side had envisioned when this business partnership was signed.

Owner Terry Pegula even said during the Taylor Hall negotiations during the Beyond Blue & Gold special that “if we sign this guy, it’s showing that we’re trying to win the Stanley Cup” which has been as synonymous of a failed quote as his introductory press conference thoughts in 2011 of “the Buffalo Sabres sole reason for existence will be to win the Stanley Cup.”

Photo Credit: Stuart Cahill/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald

Hall was shipped off to Boston at the trade deadline for a 2nd round pick & Anders Bjork who had fallen out of graces with the Bruins organization as a prospect they were very high on at one point. Hall has since scored 8 goals & 14 points in 16 games for the Bruins & looks to be revitalized on a team destined for another deep playoff run, something he has never experienced.

The shining star out of the failure that was the Taylor Hall signing is that it looks like Anders Bjork may have found a spot here in Buffalo where he can develop into a productive NHL player with an opportunity for plenty of ice-time, that he did not get on a competitive Bruins team. 3 goals, 3 assists, for 6 points in 15 games is nothing to overreact about, but you could clearly see the improvement & the motivation that he wants to prove the Bruins wrong for giving up on him at 24 years of age, which could be the Sabres gain in that regard.

Only time will tell as he goes into a contract year in 2021-22, but the encouraging signs were there for Bjork as a possible long-term option going forward for Buffalo coming out of a terrible Taylor Hall experiment.


5. Sam Reinhart doesn’t need Jack Eichel in order to “generate offense”

Photo Credit: Jeffrey T. Barnes

Since he was drafted 2nd overall in the 2014 draft, where then GM Tim Murray said he was the top player on their board ahead of Aaron Ekblad who went 1st & Leon Draisaitl who went 3rd; there have been a lot of expectations put on Sam Reinhart to produce big time numbers for the Sabres organization.

For the better part of his NHL career, he has been overshadowed by Jack Eichel (for good reason given Eichel’s superstar status), but has never really been given the opportunity to be the guy fully relied upon to lead the team.

Drafted as a centreman, he has primarily been glued onto Jack Eichel’s Right Wing spot for the better part of his 7 seasons in the NHL. Another former GM Jason Botterill even stated that “we believe that Sam can generate offense on his own” but ultimately was never given that opportunity.

Many fans & media had been clamouring for previous coaching staffs to put Reinhart in that 2nd line centre role to see what he can do & to give the Sabres more stability at a position that they have struggled mightily with over the years, but it just never seemed to be in the cards as a viable option for whatever factors and/or reasons.

Sam Reinhart NHL Career Statistics

Statistics provided by

With the unfortunate injury to Jack Eichel this season, it was an opportunity for Sam to show what level his game could get to and he definitely proved that those previous expectations & aspirations could be a reality for him in the NHL. In 54 games this season, Reinhart scored 25 goals & added 15 assists for 40 points.

16 of those points were on the Powerplay, with 10 of those being goals.

Reinhart finished the year off as strong as you could ask for, as in the last 30 days he accumulated an impressive 11 goals, 3 assists, 4 Powerplay Goals, and 6 Powerplay Points total, which had him tied for the NHL league lead in goals during that stretch of time.

Thanks to Sam's strong end to the season without the captain & showing that his game can be elevated to another level as a guy who can deliver for the team as a go-to guy when needed, clearly shows that going into his RFA season in 2021-22 the Sabres have a massive decision on their hands whether or not to sign him

long-term or go the trade route for a hopeful big return.


6. 6 Goaltenders take the Sabres crease this season

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Nick Wass

In a season that was supposed to showcase Linus Ullmark in a contract year to see if he would be a long-term option for the Sabres goaltending position, it ended up being a carousel of unbelievable proportions.

In no fault of his own, Ullmark battled through many difficult situations during the season including multiple injuries & the death of his father, which still leaves him as a question mark going into an offseason where he needs a contract. For the most part when Ullmark was not in the net, you could clearly see that the team was missing the goaltender it was most confident in front of & astonishingly was the only goalie with a winning record on a team that finished last place in the NHL.

A 9-6-3 record in 20 games with a .917 Save % & 2.63 GAA was quite the feet given all that went wrong for the team & for Linus personally this year, which he should be very proud of given those factors. We will see if he is a long-term option for Kevyn Adams this season who decided not to move him at the trade deadline where there was definite rumoured interest.

Team Goalie Statistics - 2021 Season

Statistics provided by

As for the rest of the goalie room this season, Jonas Johannson was somehow moved to the Colorado Avalanche for a 6th round draft pick after an 0-5-1 record as a Sabre & has actually shown some promise on a Cup contending Avalanche team with a

5-1-1 record, although playing most of his games against the currently underwhelming California teams.

The 3 journeymen in Carter Hutton, Dustin Tokarski, & Michael Housser also took the net at points this season, with the 28-year old rookie Housser actually winning his first 2 starts in back to back games against a sound Islanders team in his 1st taste of NHL action after many years of clawing to get there.

Tokarski won his 1st NHL start since the 2015-16 season, which was a nice comeback story for a guy who had so much promise coming out of Juniors as a Team Canada standout, but has been an AHL level goaltender for the better part of his career. Carter Hutton as the envisioned reliable backup for Ullmark dealt with many injuries & looks to have played his last game as a Sabre given the fact that his 3-year contract is expiring & that he will be 36 years of age this December.

All in all, those 3 stopgap goaltenders combined for 5 total wins in 26 games started, which speaks for itself.

Photo Credit: Bill Wippert via Getty Images

Last but certainly not least, the injury to Ullmark gave us an opportunity to see top prospect goaltender Ukko Pekka-Luuukonen’s first action at the NHL level. The former MVP of the Ontario Hockey League and Buffalo’s 2nd round pick in 2017 has been a touchy subject for the Sabres, given the fact that they do not want to rush their 22-year old hopeful franchise goaltender of the future.

With the opportunity to get UPL into some game reps late in the season, he was called up from Rochester & before being injured during his developmental call-up had a 1-3 record with a .908 S % & 3.88 GAA that included his 1st career NHL victory.

Although not the greatest statistics for your top goaltending prospect, goalies take longer to develop than forwards or defensemen at the NHL level & it was definitely a valuable learning experience for UPL to have a taste of what it will take to be a successful stable goaltender at the NHL level as he takes a step forward into 2021 & beyond in the Buffalo Sabres and/or Rochester Americans crease.


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