Colby Kephart is pleased with the hiring of Dan Bylsma as head coach of the Buffalo Sabres, but he wants to know what’s next for the Sabres (and tries to answer that question) in this edition of…
By: Colby Kephart
Well it’s official, on Thursday May 28th, The Buffalo Sabres announced Dan Bylsma as their 17th head coach in franchise history. Bylsma had a Stanley Cup, in 2009, under his belt and won the Jack Adams Award in 2011, during his time with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He was fired from the Penguins after 2013-2014 season after they lost in the playoffs to the New York Rangers in the 2nd Round.
However, despite being fired from his last head coaching position, Bylsma brings an impressive coaching record to Buffalo.
In 401 regular season games in Pittsburgh, he had a 252-117-32 record. Bylsma recently served as an assistant coach to the US 2015 IIHF team.
He worked with this year’s expected 2nd overall pick, and soon to be prospect of the Sabres, Jack Eichel, who had a terrific tournament. Bylsma signed a long term five-year deal, as Tim Murray continues to add the pieces to get Buffalo on the right track.
Why is this good for the Sabres?
This is great for the Sabres because this gives them a coach who has dealt with franchise centers, like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Bylsma has worked with Jack Eichel and he will be able to make Eichel a franchise center, a position Buffalo has lacked for years. Bylsma doesn’t just improve the players the Sabres already have, but also attracts the attention of bigger name free agents to strengthen the team.
It’s no secret that the Sabres do not have a Stanley Cup in their history, but they now have a coach who does. Bylsma brings experience to the table that words can’t describe, he knows what it will take to make the Sabres a top level team in the league.
Bylsma coached the Penguins to four 100-point+ seasons and finished no worse than second in their division during that span. After watching the press conference, it looks like Tim Murray and Dan Bylsma will have a good relationship and should agree on moves that the team will make down the road.
So what’s next for the Sabres?
The Sabres need a goalie- a true number one goalie that can handle the playing time and get the team the wins to make the playoffs. There were a few reports of the team trading with Ottawa for Robin Lehner or Craig Anderson that have since quieted down.
If Tim Murray decides to rebuild through free agency, he has to look at goalies like San Jose’s pending UFA, Antti Niemi (who has a Stanley Cup too). There are other big names out there, however, none of them have a ring on their finger.
Buffalo also needs help defensively. They will have a solid top 2 pair in Josh Gorges and Zach Bogosian next season and they also have young prospects, Nikita Zadorov and Rasmus Ristolainen, who both played this season.
The team could have a lot of defensemen leaving with Andre Benoit, Tyson Strachan, and Andrej Meszaros’s contracts ending on July 1st. The Sabres have two top prospects (Mark Pysyk and Jake McCabe) who could possibly be called up and play next season; otherwise they need to sign a top 4 player who can be a shutdown defender.
Offensively, the addition of Evander Kane and Jack Eichel (assuming all goes as planned) the Sabres would be one or two top wingers from having a complete offensive presence. Tyler Ennis played for Team Canada in the IIHF 2015 World Hockey Championship and shined like the star he was this past season. Ennis will likely be one of the wings of the 1st line with Evander Kane on the opposite side- with either Eichel or Zegmus Girgensons as the center.
The Sabres need a second line right-winger that can go out and score 10-15 goals and get 15-20 assists. Some potential free agents who could fit this role would be UFA Justin Williams or RFA Tyler Toffoli of the LA Kings.
Another leading candidate would be pending RFA Brandon Saad of the Chicago Blackhawks. The Sabres have plenty of salary cap space to land these big targets.
I’m not saying the Sabres will be competing for the Stanley Cup next season, yet I feel like if you give Eichel and even Sam Reinhart 2-3 years of experience in the NHL, they will become good playmakers and could make a deep playoff run.
If Buffalo can add a few more pivotal pieces to the team the Sabres could be looking good for the future. They could even be looking at an Atlantic Division or Eastern Conference title within the next 3-4 seasons under Dan Bylsma’s leadership.