To get you ready for the 2015-16 season, we will be previewing all 30 NHL in 30 days, division by division. Check the bottom of the page for a schedule of each preview.
Today’s team: Buffalo Sabres
2014-15 record: 23-51-8, 8th in the Atlantic
How they finished: Did not make the playoffs
Coach: Dan Bylsma (1st season)
Notable additions: G Robin Lehner, C David Legwand, C Ryan O'Reilly, LW Jamie McGinn, C Jack Eichel
Notable subtractions: D Nikita Zadorov, C Cody Hodgson, G Anders Lindback, D Andrej Meszaros
Schedule against the Capitals: Mon. Dec. 28 at Buffalo, Wed. Dec. 30 at Washington, Sat. Jan. 16 at Buffalo
Outlook: Despite a horrific 2014-15 season, the long winter in Buffalo may finally be over.
The Sabres may have missed out on the Connor McDavid sweepstakes, but Jack Eichel is a pretty good consolation prize. Eichel alone, however, is not what Sabres fans should be excited about.
For my money, Buffalo is the most improved team in the NHL. That doesn't mean I think Eichel is better than McDavid--he's not-- but let's face it, the Sabres were an embarrassment last season. Now, their roster looks fairly competitive. They're not the best team, they just had the highest hill to climb and they made up the most ground.
Along with the notable additions mentioned above, the Sabres also added Evander Kane, who did not play after being traded to Buffalo last season, and head coach Dan Bylsma who led Pittsburgh to a Stanley Cup in 2009.
So what's holding them back? Look at the additions again. Notice something? The Sabres did not do much to improve defensively. Josh Gorges, Rasmus Ristolainen, Zach Bogosian and Mike Weber will likely make up the top four and after that, it's anyone's guess. There's a handful of young options the Sabres can turn to including Jake McCabe, but chances are the third pairing will be a weakness for the team this season.
Buffalo is also taking a gamble in net by turning the keys over to Robin Lehner. Lehner has a 2.88 GAA and .914 save percentage in 86 NHL games and is coming off a concussion that limited him to 25 games last season. The Sabres, however, are all in on Lehner as Chad Johnson is his backup. Johnson is a dependable backup, but not someone the team can turn to for an extended period of time if Lehner doesn't pan out. There's no Plan B in net.
One other slight problem, on the heels of signing his seven-year, $52.5-million contract with the Sabres, O'Reilly drove into a Tim Hortons while impaired and could face punishment from the team and the league.
Expectations: As much as this team appears to have improved, it is all based on potential. We don't know how well Eichel will be as a rookie, how well Kane will be on a new team after shoulder surgery, O'Reilly's status or if Lehner is truly ready to be a No. 1 goalie.
The Sabres can make things interesting and will be in the mix for the postseason for the majority of the season, but will ultimately fall short. Still, they're on the right track and after the worst two-year stretch in team history, fans will likely just be happy to see their team competitive again.
MORE CAPS: How good was the Caps offseason?
See more team previews:
Detroit Red Wings 8/17
Florida Panthers 8/18
Montreal Canadiens 8/19
Ottawa Senators 8/20
Tampa Bay Lightning 8/21
Toronto Maple Leafs 8/22
Carolina Hurricanes 8/23
Columbus Blue Jackets 8/24
New Jersey Devils 8/25
New York Islanders 8/26
New York Rangers 8/27
Philadelphia Flyers 8/28
Pittsburgh Penguins 8/29
Washington Capitals 8/30