• Austin Broad

Buffalo Sabres Season Preview 2021

Written by Austin Broad

@Austin_BroadTCB


Edited by Brandon Caputo

@Caputz13

Photo Credit: twitter.com/BuffaloSabres/media


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The 2021 season is about to get underway, given the pandemic and everything that happened last year it feels like a massive win just to get to this point.


Photo Credit: twitter.com/BuffaloSabres

For Sabres fans, the off-season was full of highs and lows, from signing Taylor Hall to passing on Marco Rossi at 8th overall fans have been all over the place. However, starting Thursday the only thing that matters is the results on the ice.


The Sabres have completed their training camp and their two inter-squad scrimmages and there’s a lot to be concerned with but there’s also a lot to be optimistic about heading into this weird hockey season.

Key Additions


In his first off-season, Kevyn Adams made some waves in the NHL circles. He acquired former teammate and beloved NHL veteran Eric Staal to come in and fill the Sabres 2nd line centre role (a role neglected since the Ryan O’Reilly trade).

Photo Credit: twitter.com/BuffaloSabres

Adams didn’t stop there, he went big-game hunting and signed Taylor Hall to a one-year deal. The additions gave the Sabres some big time firepower that has been missing from their top-6 in recent years.

Adding a former MVP and a former Stanley Cup Champion to a group already consisting of Eichel, Reinhart, Olofsson and Skinner makes the Sabres top-6 forward group significantly scarier for the rest of the league.

Adams also added Tobias Reider and Cody Eakin to come in and fill a defensive/checking role with Kyle Okposo.

The Sabres signed Matt Irwin, but really didn’t make any drastic changes to their defence group so they have to hope a new strategy and another big leap from Rasmus Dahlin and Henri Jokiharju are enough to stabilize and improve their defence’s overall play.





Photo Credit: twitter.com/BuffaloSabres

Tage Thompson in the Top-6


Photo Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Another key addition to the top-6 could be Tage Thompson. He has been great throughout training camp and has earned a promotion to the Sabres top-line with Hall and Eichel.

If everything holds true, it looks like Thompson will continue to hold that spot as we enter the season. He possesses the skating, size, shot and skill to be a contributor in the top-6 and the Sabres gave him a 3-year deal in the summer hoping he blossoms into a key player for them.

The issue with Thompson has been his lack of production and his inability to put his entire game together. In his first season with the Sabres he had 12 points in 65 games and was sent down to the AHL.

After putting up 21 points in 24 season games with the Amerks, he was recalled but unfortunately injured in his first game back with the Sabres.

He spent the summer training and adding muscle to his frame, and if he can carry the momentum he had in training camp over to the regular season he will be a key asset for the Sabres forward group.


The Pieces are there for an Effective Forward Group


With the emergence of Thompson, the addition of Taylor Hall and the rise of Dylan Cozens the Sabres are arguably way better in terms of forward depth.

If Ralph Krueger is smart he can implement a strong and effective forward group. Unfortunately Krueger has struggled with lineup decisions and it doesn’t seem like he has any indications of improving in this area.

Given the players on the roster, Krueger could have sent out a lineup featuring:


Photo Credit: Chris Ryndak/Sabres.com

(LW - C - RW)

Line 1: Hall - Eichel - Thompson

Line 2: Olofsson - Staal - Reinhart

Line 3: Skinner - Lazar/Ruotsalainen - Cozens

Line 4: Reider - Sheahan/Eakin - Okposo


However, Ruotsalainen has been sent to the “Rochester” practice group and Skinner has been forced to practice with the likes of Asplund and Sheahan.

The Sabres have the firepower to be effective on offence but it’ll be up to Krueger to utilize his roster and get the most out of it if he intends on making the playoffs this season.

The Sabres will go as far as their goaltending take them

Photo Credit: Micheline Veluvolo

While the Sabres have made ample improvements to their forward group, they held the course and are returning both Linus Ullmark and Carter Hutton this season as their goaltending duo.

Over the last two seasons, the Sabres have needed their goaltending to step up and steal them some games, and they have been let down for the most part.

Hutton, now in his third season in Buffalo has appeared in 81 games with the Sabres and has posted a sub .910% SV% and a goals against average 3.00 or greater in each of his two seasons here.

Ullmark, the likely starter this season has slightly better numbers. In 2018-19 he posted a 3.11 goals against average and a .905% SV%, improving in both stats in 2019-20 to a 2.69 GAA and a .915% SV%.

If the Sabres have any hopes of being a competitive team this year, Ullmark and Hutton will have to improve in big ways and help the Sabres overcome some of their glaring weaknesses in their lineup.

Both goalies are pending free agents after this season, and the organization is hoping that impressive contract year performances are in the cards.

If Hutton and Ullmark don’t drastically improve… the Sabres could yet again be in for a long season in 2021.

The East Division


Given the Pandemic and the world were living in right now, the league has re-aligned and the Sabres now are in a division with Boston, New York, New Jersey, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Washington.

We know the top-4 teams in each division make the playoffs and given their opponents it’s hard to accurately project how the division will play out. There are 6 skilled playoff teams from last season in this division.

The Sabres are in a tough spot, but given their regular spot in the Atlantic division it’s hard to say they’re in tougher than they would normally be. But one thing is for sure, given the new division and a shortened season there is no room for that classic Sabres “lull” that occurs after the first month of the season.

If Buffalo wants to be competitive and change their reputation around the league they’ll need to be their best night in and night out otherwise they’ll be buried before the season hits March and there won’t be any “meaningful games in March” like fans heard about last season.

Adams is relying on Staal and Hall to come in and energize a stagnant offence, and if he’s right this could be a fun season … but if he’s wrong, he will be glad there’s no fans in the stands this year.

Photo Credit: NHL.com/@NHLdotcom

Projection

Photo Credit: Chris Ryndak/Sabres.com

Leading Scorer: Jack Eichel


Leader in Goals: Taylor Hall


Leader in Assists: Jack Eichel


Sabres Rookie of the Year: Dylan Cozens


Record: 25-24-7 (57 points)


Photo Credit: nhl.com/sabres/fans/royal

While it’s fun to be optimistic, until the team proves otherwise it’s hard to project a successful season but maybe…just maybe the additions Adams made are enough to help the Sabres snap the NHL’s longest playoff drought, along with the hopeful lucky return to glory years of the Royal Blue uniforms that the team is finally going back to for the 2021 season.

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