33-39-10, 76 points, 6th in the Atlantic Division
Longest active playoff drought, last playoff appearance was 2011
Additions: F Jean-Sebastien Dea, F Marcus Johansson, F Curtis Lazar, F Jimmy Vesey (acquired from NYR), D John Gilmour, D Henri Jokiharju (acquired from CHI), D Colin Miller (acquired from VGK), G Andrew Hammond
Subtractions: F Eric Cornel (signed with Rochester, AHL), F Kyle Criscuolo (signed with PHI), F Taylor Leier (signed with Rochester, AHL), F Sean Malone (signed with Rochester, AHL), F Matt Moulson (signed with Hershey, AHL), F Alexander Nylander (traded to CHI), F Danny O’Regan (signed with NYR), F Kevin Porter (signed with Rochester, AHL), D Jack Dougherty (signed with Belleville, AHL), D Brycen Martin (signed with Fort Wayne, ECHL), D Matt Tennyson (signed with NJD), G Scott Wedgewood (signed with TBL), G Adam Wilcox (signed with San Antonio, AHL)
Still Unsigned: F Jason Pominville
Re-signed: F Remi Elie, F Zemgus Girgensons, F Johan Larsson, F Evan Rodrigues, F C.J. Smith, D Jake McCabe, G Linus Ullmark
Offseason Analysis: The Buffalo Sabres are looking to be last season’s Carolina Hurricanes for the 2019-20 season and, in the process, end the current longest active playoff drought in the NHL.
Buffalo hasn’t been back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs since being ousted by the Philadelphia Flyers in seven games in their 2011 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal matchup.
The Sabres only have four forwards under contract after this season.
Of the remaining nine forwards currently under contract, three are pending-restricted free agents (Sam Reinhart, Evan Rodrigues and Casey Mittelstadt) and six are pending-unrestricted free agents (Vladimir Sobotka, Conor Sheary, Jimmy Vesey, Zemgus Girgensons, Johan Larsson and Scott Wilson).
Thankfully, new addition to their top-nine forwards– and likely to start the season on the first or second line– Marcus Johansson (13-17–30 totals in 58 games played) signed a two-year, $9.000 million ($4.500 million cap hit) contract in free agency after spending last season with the New Jersey Devils prior to being traded to the Boston Bruins at the trade deadline.
Sabres General Manager, Jason Botterill, reworked the defense through the acquisition of Colin Miller from the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for a 2021 2nd round pick (originally belonging to the St. Louis Blues) and a 2022 5th round pick.
Miller has three-years left at $3.875 million per season and is a quality top-six defender addition to the team facing the uncertainty after this season, whereby half of the current defenders on the roster are set to become free agents.
Buffalo has three pending-UFA defenders (Zach Bogosian, Marco Scandella and Casey Nelson) and one pending-RFA blue liner (Brandon Montour– acquired around last season’s deadline from the Anaheim Ducks).
With no cap room available currently and a tighter wallet thanks to Jeff Skinner’s eight-year, $72 million extension ($9.000 million cap hit), the Sabres are going to be hard pressed to try to keep the band together.
Thankfully, a little relief will come via the long-term injured reserve at the likely career-ending expense of Matt Hunwick and his ongoing neck condition that Hunwick sustained last season, missed the first two months because of and was limited to 14 games.
The 34-year-old defender’s $2.250 million cap hit will be relieved thanks to the LTIR option, but still Botterill will have to press on to utilize his best penny pinching calculator when it comes time to ice a full-time roster by puck drop next month.
Oh yeah and Linus Ullmark only has a year on his contract, so before anyone can get comfortable with what’s likely the foreseeable future in the crease for the Sabres…
While Botterill also brought in the likes of Vesey (17-18–35 totals in 81 games played) in a trade with the New York Rangers that saw Buffalo give up a 2021 3rd round pick and trading Alexander Nylander to the Chicago Blackhawks for Henri Jokiharju, there’s yet another new face behind the bench in upstate New York.
Ralph Krueger, the Edmonton Oilers’ head coach in the 48-game lockout shortened 2012-13 season, is in charge of Jack Eichel and crew.
Nobody fully knows what to expect out of the coach that went 19-22-7 with Edmonton before being replaced by Oilers management after one season.
On paper, this is Buffalo’s best chance in at least the last few seasons– if not more– to contend for a wild card spot or better in the Atlantic Division.
The only problem is that everyone else is getting better just the same, even as Rasmus Dahlin continues to emerge as a puck moving, gifted two-way defender.
Offseason Grade: B+
The wild card factor of Krueger behind the bench takes off a few points until proven otherwise, but the Sabres did a really nice job of cleaning up guys who need a second (or third) chance (Miller) and what was better of the more affordable free agents (Johansson) to help fill out a fuller roster than ever before.
Buffalo took a gamble with Skinner’s extension, but knows they finally have a winger locked up for Eichel. Now they just have to win.