With the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs in full swing it is time to revisit our What Went Wrong series. We will discuss the clubs that missed out on the postseason in groups of two, while going over some players from each team who underperformed or will be looking for more next season.
Let's get started with the very bottom and look at the Buffalo Sabres and Arizona Coyotes.
After finishing dead last in 2013-14 there wasn't much hope that the Sabres would improve going into the 2014-15 campaign. As expected, Buffalo ended up 30th for a second straight year. The Sabres registered two more victories than they had in the previous season, but their offense continued to struggle and they allowed a whopping 274 goals against. Buffalo had the worst goal differential in the league at minus-113. They averaged just 1.87 goals for per game and finished 29th by permitting 3.28 goals against per contest. Buffalo's goaltenders were under siege most nights and the team finished last after allowing an average of 35.6 shots per match. An unflattering franchise record was reached when the club posted 14 straight losses in regulation, which included a point-less month of January.
Head coach Ted Nolan was fired on April 12th, but he wasn't placed in a situation where he could succeed during his return to Buffalo. The Sabres were eyeing the top pick in the 2015 NHL Draft all year long, so they didn't hesitate to move roster players for picks and prospects. The Sabres shipped Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford, Chris Stewart, Brian Flynn, Torrey Mitchell, Joel Armia, Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth out of town to further wear down what was already a thin roster. Evander Kane will probably end up being their best acquisition, but when he was acquired he had just undergone shoulder surgery so he wasn't available.
Despite Buffalo's efforts to secure the top pick in the draft, the balls didn't bounce in their favor. The Edmonton Oilers won the NHL Draft Lottery and the right to choose Connor McDavid first overall. The Sabres will still get an excellent prospect in Jack Eichel, but there is some concern that he may remain in college for another season. Buffalo likely had that in mind when they targeted Eichel's Boston University teammate Evan Rodrigues in free agency. According to several reports on Tuesday, Rodrigues will sign with the Sabres.
Kane and Eichel will be expected to add some much-needed offense when they make their Buffalo debuts. 2014 second overall pick Sam Reinhart may get a shot at a permanent spot with the Sabres as well next campaign, so they will have some intriguing pieces to build around.
Buffalo will be looking for more from these players in 2015-16:
Cody Hodgson - After leading the Sabres in scoring the previous season, with 44 points in 72 games, Hodgson basically vanished offensively this past year. He posted only six goals and 13 points in 78 outings. Hodgson posted the fewest shots per game of his career (1.6) and he was buried on the depth chart because of his struggles. The 25-year-old forward will have a chance to bounce back next season with a new coach and probably some different players to skate alongside.
Matt Moulson - Moulson hit the 30-goal mark three straight seasons with the Islanders, but he's scored 24 goals in 121 games with the Sabres over the past two years. He potted 13 markers and added 28 assists in 77 matches in 2014-15. He skated with talented players on Long Island and when he was a member of the Minnesota Wild, but the pickings are much slimmer in Buffalo. Still, there is some hope that he'll be better next year. Moulson feels he got away from what made him successful in the past and he intends to correct that.
Evander Kane - Kane didn't get to play any games with the Sabres, but he's being included in here because he will be looking to bounce back in 2015-16 as well. He was limited to 37 games with the Jets over which he generated 10 goals and 22 points. Kane will get a fresh start in Buffalo and he's projected to be a key member of the team. He'll get top-line minutes and plenty of power-play time, which should make him a threat to flirt with the 30-goal plateau. If he can reach that total, while continuing to contribute hits, shots and penalty minutes then his fantasy value will see a dramatic increase.
Sam Reinhart - Reinhart appeared in nine games with Buffalo before he was assigned to Kootenay of the WHL. He picked up one assist in the NHL and he averaged just 10:21 of ice time per game, which was a disappointing development. He amassed 46 assists and 65 points in 47 contests for the Ice after he was returned to the junior ranks. Reinhart also contributed three helpers in three matches with Rochester at the end of the season in the AHL. Look for him to get a longer look in the big league next year.
The Coyotes were battling with Buffalo for the worst record in the NHL. Arizona finished with two more points in the standings than the Sabres and it ended up costing them dearly at the NHL Draft Lottery. The Edmonton Oilers jumped up the order and won the first overall pick, which bumped Buffalo to second and Arizona to third. That means that the Coyotes won't get to add Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel on draft day. That's certainly a tough pill to swallow after a difficult season in the desert.
Much like Buffalo, the Coyotes had an abysmal goal differential. They concluded the campaign with a minus-102 and allowed 272 goals against. The Coyotes averaged 2.01 goals for per game (second-worst in the league) and they were burned for 3.26 goals against per match (third-worst). Arizona's five-on-five goals for/against ratio (0.62) was barely ahead of the Sabres (0.61). They were shut out 11 times in 2014-15, which was the second most in the league. Arizona tied a franchise record with a 10-game losing streak from Feb. 10-Mar. 3.
The Coyotes had to deal with injuries to key forwards Martin Hanzal and Mikkel Boedker, but even if they were in the lineup it probably wouldn't have made much of a difference. Arizona was still near the bottom of the standings when Hanzal and Boedker were healthy. General Manager Don Maloney began his rebuild when he shipped out Keith Yandle, Antoine Vermette and Zbynek Michalek. Hanzal may have been on the move too if he wasn't hurt. The Coyotes landed a pair of first-round picks in the deals and a talented prospect in Anthony Duclair. He will join an impressive pool that contains Max Domi, Brendan Perlini, Christian Dvorak and whoever the team chooses with the third pick in the 2015 draft.
Arizona will need these players to be better next season:
Mike Smith - He didn't have the bounce-back performance he was hoping for in 2014-15. Smith posted 14 wins, with a .904 save percentage and a 3.16 goals-against average in 62 appearances. He struggled mightily in six outings in December when he had an .852 save percentage and a 4.35 GAA. Devan Dubnyk started more games that month as a result before he was dealt to Minnesota. Smith played a bit better down the stretch, but fantasy owners should be wary of trusting those numbers because his play improved in the final months of the 2013-14 campaign as well.
Shane Doan - The Coyotes captain accounted for just 14 goals and 36 points in 79 matches. Excluding the lockout-shortened season, that is Doan's lowest point total since 1998-99. The 38-year-old winger will be 39 in October and he has one season left on his contract. There's a chance he could be traded at some point, but it could be difficult for him to return to the 50-point mark even if he leaves Arizona.
Martin Hanzal - Hanzal has had a hard time avoiding injury throughout his career and he was limited to a new low of 37 games in 2014-15. He produced eight goals, 24 points, 85 shots, 105 hits and a 56.5 success rate on faceoffs when he was in the lineup. Hanzal provides solid value across several categories when he plays, but his injury woes make him better suited as a waiver pickup unless he improves his durability.
Sam Gagner - Gagner was the top point producer among Arizona's forward group this past season. He notched 15 goals and 41 points in 81 games to finish second on the team in scoring behind defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson. The Coyotes were hard pressed for goals, but his totals mirrored the ones he had in Edmonton. It was thought that Gagner would get more ice time in Arizona, but he ended up averaging less than he played in his previous two campaigns with the Oilers. If he gets to play with some of the team's up-and-coming prospects then we could see an improvement in 2015-16.