2020 Winter Classic sweater reviews, a standings update and Top-10 NHL power rankings.
Nick and Colby recap the headlines from the last month as well as take a look at all of the New York market teams and try to figure out if any of them are actually any good as Season Six of the podcast begins.
24-45-12, 60 points, Last in the NHL
Offseason Analysis: The Buffalo Sabres have had a busy summer, but that’s what you expect from a team that significantly under-produced and finished last in the league. The only positive takeaway from last season was winning the lottery and drafting Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin first overall.
General Manager Jason Botterill was looking to shake things up more with his roster, making three separate trades to land Tage Thompson, Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka, Conor Sheary, Matt Hunwick and Jeff Skinner. Botterill only gave up Ryan O’Reilly, Cliff Pu and a handful of draft picks. The biggest parts of all three trades for Buffalo was keeping their three first-round picks in the 2019 NHL Draft. Botterill did a great job injecting speed and proven NHL players into a roster that lacked both last season.
With the No. 1 farm system (as voted by The Athletic), there are a few players from the minor leagues who, with a good camp, could crack the NHL roster.
In particular, C.J. Smith had a strong first pro season in the AHL that became derailed with an injury. Things never seemed to click after he returned to the ice, but the promise he showed while healthy will certainly warrant a look from Head Coach Phil Housley.
Victor Olofsson has a chance at making it to the big time as well. The former seventh-round pick led the SHL last season in goals and is proclaimed to have one of the best shots in the game.
Finally, Rasmus Asplund would also be coming from the SHL and could aim for the fourth-line center position, taking the spot from Johan Larsson.
Buffalo should have a much better season this year, so it’s time for Housley, entering his second season, to show he can coach in the NHL. This is a “prove it” season for a lot of people in the Sabres organization and they shouldn’t be in 31st again this season.
The biggest question mark this year will be in goal with the Sabres signing Carter Hutton to be the new No. 1 goalie ahead of Linus Ullmark. Hutton is coming off a career year with the St. Louis Blues. He has to show it wasn’t a fluke or Ullmark will take the starting job faster than expected. If Hutton and Ullmark don’t work out, the Sabres could be in big trouble without a solution in sight.
Offseason Grade: B
Overall, the Sabres had a good offseason overhaul, but there are still questions about top-six defenseman and lineup notes. But, Botterill did his job and it now comes down to Housley to get the most out of his players and have some success. I don’t think they will be anywhere near 31st with Ottawa and Montreal existing, but I think playoff hopes are too far away for the Sabres this season. I think they’ll finish fifth in the division.
The Buffalo Sabres were the lucky team that got to draft franchise-changing defenseman Rasmus Dahlin with the first-overall pick. He automatically improves the team before stepping on the ice for his first NHL game.
But, the Sabres – a team that was dead-last in the league in three out of the last five seasons – need more than just Dahlin to turn the ship around . They need to keep improving through trades like the one GM Jason Botterill made with the Pittsburgh Penguins for Conor Sheary and Matt Hunwick in exchange for a conditional 4th round pick.
Sheary, the major point of the trade, has had some solid years playing alongside one of the league’s best players in Sidney Crosby. In the 2016-17 season that saw him spend extended time on Pittsburgh’s top line, Sheary posted 23-30-53 totals, but those numbers dipped to 18 goals, 12 assists and 30 points last year while he floated between the top-three units.
The belief in Buffalo is that Sheary has the pace to skate with Jack Eichel, so he could be first-line LW this coming season.
Free agency is another way for Botterill to strengthen this team. The Sabres have roughly $18 million in cap space.
The left wing is a major void on the Sabres’ roster. Botterill tried to fill that void by acquiring Sheary, but there is still a decent hole in the left wing that they need to figure out.
In the System
If the hole can be filled from within the organization, they will do it. There are two names that stand a chance for me in this position: C.J. Smith and Victor Olofsson.
Smith had a great rookie season down in the AHL, registering 17-27-44 marks with the Rochester Americans. In fact, his campaign was so good, he would’ve been a favorite for the American League’s Rookie of the Year if he hadn’t gotten hurt and missed a couple months.
Meanwhile, Olofsson led the SHL in goals this past season as a 22-year-old. He has one of the best shots in the system, and the Sabres hope it can translate into the NHL.
Honorable mention: If Alexander Nylander has a good camp and preseason, he stands a chance for the spot. His style seems to fit the NHL more than AHL as proven in his couple games last season in the blue and gold.
Now to show my cards before I get into free agents: I hate overpaying guys on July 1 and weigh risk and reward more than anything.
Anthony Duclair is one of my ideal targets. He has to prove himself with his next contract/organization or he will be AHL-bound. Last season, he put up 11 goals and 12 assists between Chicago and Arizona.
Tobias Rieder is a fast-paced winger who could add speed to a very slow Buffalo Sabres team. He didn’t have very good numbers last year, with 12 goals and 13 assists again between two organizations (Arizona and LA).
Matthew Peca, formerly of the Tampa Bay Lightning, never got a chance to be a regular with the Bolts as they are a loaded organization at wing. He posted 2 goals and 3 assist in 10 games played.
All of these guys won’t require big contracts, but if they work out, Botterill would look like a genius for finding a gem.
The second-line center only becomes available if Ryan O’Reilly gets traded. There is a lot of speculation around him being moved, but the Sabres could move him and bump Casey Mittelstadt to the second-line if they feel he is ready. Other than him, Buffalo doesn’t have anyone ready for their second-line center position.
I have said many times that if the Sabres trade O’Reilly, Bozak could be a good replacement. Bozak and Ryan are players you use as the second-line center for half the season until Mittlestadt is ready to take over that role.
Stastny is a little different: if the Sabres overpay Stastny, which they would to land him, then he becomes theirr second-line center for a couple years.
Stat line comparison:
Stastny 16 G 37 A 53 P
Ryan 15 G 23 A 38 P
Bozak 11 G 31 A 42 P
Within the organization, this position is the total opposite of second-line center. The Sabres have this player in the system and don’t need to waste money on a free agent.
This position is either Justin Bailey‘s or Nicholas Baptiste‘s. Both guys have been trying to become NHL regulars and this is the season to do it. I favor Bailey over Baptiste, but I think either player complements Evan Rodrigues and Mittelstadt well and the pace of this line will be fun to watch night in and out.
It was no surprise to see Robin Lehner not get qualified after another poor year in the crease. Botterill says Ullmark will start off the season as the number two goalie. So, who’s the number one?
I feel goaltending this offseason is horrible as a whole; every team needed to land one of three goalies: Carter Hutton, Jonathan Bernier or Petr Mrazek. All three have had a lot of interest and I feel Hutton and Bernier will get overpaid. I also find it hard to believe two players from good teams last year would want to sign with the last-place team in the league.
So that leaves me with Mrazek, and I feel it’s not a bad thing. Mrazek posted a 14-13-6 record between Detroit and Philadelphia with a 0.902 save percentage and 3.03 goals against average. Ullmark will take the number one spot from him halfway through the year and, if all goes well, he won’t lose it from there.
Down the Frozen River analyst, Colby Kephart recently ventured to the Buffalo Sabres Development Camp and captured some photos, videos, and thoughts related to the offseason experience.
By: Colby Kephart
All penalties in the game resulted in an automatic penalty shot as opposed to the usual special teams play.
2015 2nd overall pick, Jack Eichel, got things rolling with the first penalty shot of the game on Jonas Johansson (who was selected in the 3rd round in 2014).
Victor Olofsson (a 7th round selection in 2014) converted on a penalty shot against Johansson.
Following the scrimmage, both teams squared off in a shootout, with Sam Reinhart shooting first for the blue team.
Hudson Fasching (blue) and Jack Eichel (gold) also had opportunities in the shootout.
2015 2nd round pick, defenseman, Brendan “GOOO” Guhle, also had a chance in the shootout.
At the end of the day all of the players gathered at center ice to salute the fans in attendance.
A few standout players were center, Samson Reinhart, who had 2 goals and an assist, goaltender, Jason Kasdorf- acquired in the Tyler Myers trade with the Winnipeg Jets- played solid, and Josh Chapman. Kasdorf was calm and kept his net clear in his 30 minutes of play. Chapman, a defenseman, was by far a fan favorite with his a rough and tough stye. During the second period he got in a fight with Justin Kea, trading punches like no other. Chapman also put his body on the line blocking shots and hitting hard. Most of Buffalo believes he will receive a contract and be a part of the Rochester Americans roster in the AHL next season.