It still feels like the season just ended, but with the draft and free agency already behind us, it's time to look forward to the 2016-17 season. We will preview every team in the NHL throughout August and take a look at what the new season may hold.
Team: Buffalo Sabres
How they did last season: 35-36-11 (81 points), 7th in the Atlantic, 14th in the Eastern Conference. Did not make the playoffs.
Notable acquisitions: RW Kyle Okposo, G Anders Nilsson, D Dmitry Kulikov
Notable departures: G Chad Johnson, D Mark Pysyk
When they will play the Caps: Nov. 25 in Washington; Dec. 5 in Washington; Dec. 9 in Buffalo
Analysis: The Buffalo Sabres were the runners-up in the Connor McDavid sweepstakes in 2015, having to settle instead of Jack Eichel. Eichel’s season was largely overshadowed by McDavid, but with 56 points in this rookie campaign Eichel proved to be as good as advertised.
The Sabres brought a lot of intriguing pieces together in 2015 and continued that this summer with the additions of Kyle Okposo and Dmitry Kulikov.
In Okposo, the Sabres are getting a player who should produce 50-60 points. Add that to an offense that already boasts Ryan O’Reilly, Sam Reinhart and Eichel who is only going to get better and you have to think Buffalo will improve on its 25th ranked offense last season.
The Evander Kane era may be over in Buffalo as he faces assault charges from an incident at a local bar in June, but the addition of Okposo more than makes up for the loss.
The Kulikov trade came at a steep price as the Sabres had to give up the promising Mark Pysyk to Florida, but Kulikov will immediately step into the top four, probably the top pairing.
When you look at this roster you see no reason why this team can't compete for a wild card spot...and then you get to the goaltending.
As the Sabres attempted to rebuild the team in 2015 with Eichel, Kane, Ryan O’Reilly and Dan Bylsma as head coach, they also traded for Robin Lehner and made him their starter in net. Statistically, Lehner is very good, but he also has not played more than 36 games in a season. Plus, the team lost backup Chad Johnson this summer and replaced him with Anders Nilsson. No one could call that an upgrade.
If Lehner does not play up to the level the Sabres expect or if he gets injured as he did last season, there’s no Plan B currently on the roster.
Season prediction: I’ll be honest, I loved the moves the Sabres made last season and thought they would be much better than they were. Earning only 81 points was a surprise to me. This year I again look at the roster and find myself saying this team could easily be a wild card team.
I like the additions of Okposo and Kulikov and, though I don’t trust Lehner, there should be enough talent on the ice and behind the bench with Bylsma as coach to keep the Sabres competitive all season.
Looking at the Atlantic, are the Sabres really that far away from teams like Detroit, Boston and Ottawa?
My praise of Buffalo may have been premature last year, but this season I like them to at least compete for a playoff spot. They won’t threaten teams like Washington or Pittsburgh for the conference, but this is the year you see real progress on the ice for Buffalo.
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2016-2017 NHL TEAM PREVIEWS
— Boston Bruins
— Buffalo Sabres
— Detroit Red Wings
— Florida Panthers
Montreal Canadiens (coming Aug. 19)
Ottawa Senators (coming Aug. 20)
Tampa Bay Lightning (coming Aug. 21)
Toronto Maple Leafs (coming Aug. 22)
Carolina Hurricanes (coming Aug. 23)
Columbus Blue Jackets (coming Aug. 24)
New Jersey Devils (coming Aug. 25)
New York Islanders (coming Aug. 26)
New York Rangers (coming Aug. 27)
Philadelphia Flyers (coming Aug. 28)
Pittsburgh Penguins (coming Aug. 29)
Washington Capitals (coming soon)