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Season Preview 2019-20: Buffalo Sabres

Sabres GM Jason Botterill went off the board with his coaching hire and retooled the Buffalo blueline in hopes of finally driving the franchise forward.

Is Ralph Krueger an NHL coach?
There are gutsy hires, and then there’s GM Jason Botterill’s decision to take a chance on Krueger. The last and only time he coached an NHL team was 2012-13, in an abbreviated 48-game season with the Edmonton Oilers. He spent the past five years as chairman of Southampton FC. The ‘FC’ stands for “football club,” hockey fans. That’s right: Krueger jumps from English Premier League soccer back to the NHL. Of course, in the middle of that tenure, he did dip his toes in the hockey-coaching waters when he guided the misfit-laden Team Europe to the final of the 2016 World Cup. His ability to create instant team chemistry made him an intriguing and mysterious coaching candidate ever since. He’s an exciting choice, no doubt, but it’s anyone’s guess how the Sabres fare under his tutelage.

Will Buffalo’s blueline overhaul work?
The Sabres allowed the fifth-most shots in the league at 5-on-5 last season, and Botterill was determined to rectify the problem. After landing Brandon Montour at the 2019 trade deadline, the Sabres traded for Colin Miller and Henri Jokiharju this off-season. It’s tough to imagine Buffalo’s defense not improving, especially with sophomore Rasmus Dahlin beginning his ascension to stardom. But with Montour, Miller, and Jokiharju in town plus Rasmus Ristolainen and (once healthy) Zach Bogosian on the roster, Buffalo has five NHL-caliber righties. It thus wouldn’t be a surprise to see Botterill trade one away before or during the season – likely Ristolainen.

Will ‘Good Jeff Skinner’ show up two years in a row?
Skinner’s goals in non-lockout seasons: 31, 20, 33, 18, 28, 37, 24, 40. He simply can’t stack two good seasons together. He has his best chance yet to do so since he’ll line up on Jack Eichel’s left side again. Eichel was easily the best center Skinner’s ever had, so it was predictable to see him bust out for career-best numbers. Buffalo needs Skinner to replicate the feat after spending $72 million over eight years to retain him. Skinner’s linemates, Eichel and Sam Reinhart, were the only other Sabres to crest 20 goals, and neither hit 30, so the Sabres aren’t the same team if Skinner isn’t filling the net.

Stanley Cup Odds: 52/1

Rookie Watch
The Sabres crave secondary scoring. Victor Olofsson can provide that if he gets enough minutes. He led the Swedish League in goals in 2017-18 and sniped 30 in the AHL last season. Scouts describe his shot as legitimately NHL-caliber. He would challenge for 20 goals as a top-nine forward.

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