The fantasy season is upon us. Another year of tears of joy and heartbreak.
To help you along, here’s your fantasy outlook for all 32 teams.
2022-23 Fantasy Outlook: Buffalo Sabres
Last season: 32-39-11, 5th Atlantic, 24th overall. GF: 24th, GA: 24th, PP: 16th, PK: 23rd.
Sometimes, all you need is a new voice in the room. The Sabres had every excuse for another poor season. The Jack Eichel trade wasn’t consummated until after the season had begun. Alex Tuch, one of the key forwards in the return, wouldn’t make his debut until December following off-season shoulder surgery. Craig Anderson was 40 years old and expected to carry a heavy workload and Jeff Skinner’s albatross contract was practically immovable. But Don Granato continued where he left off, and in his first full season guided the Sabres to a .457 P%, a near-40 percent improvement from the previous season. The Sabres played with speed, skill and purpose, which had been missing following five last-place divisional finishes in the past nine seasons.
Best option: Tage Thompson, C
The transition from Eichel to Thompson as the No. 1 center was seamless. In his third full season in Buffalo, the 6-foot-6 Thompson emerged as a towering sharp-shooting center, whose career-high 38 goals was two more than Eichel ever scored in a single season. The 15.0 shooting percentage skews high, but Thompson has an excellent release and moving him to center to occupy the slot more often – where more goals are usually scored – and flanking him with speedy, quality wingers unlocked a lot of the potential that made him a first-round pick in 2016. He’s not as valuable in banger leagues because he’s more of a gentle giant (only 66 hits), but high-volume shooting (253 shots, 22nd in the league) and plenty of faceoff wins (393 faceoff wins, second-best on the Sabres) adds surplus value. He’s slated to be the top center once again even though Dylan Cozens will be pushing for more playing time.
Hidden gem: Alex Tuch, RW
Tuch scored at a 62-point pace last season after returning from injury and quickly established himself as one of the team’s main engines. Pro-rated for 82 games, Tuch would’ve also finished with 227 shots, which would’ve ranked in the top 50, and 80 blocked shots, which would’ve ranked second among forwards behind only Nick Bonino, a bottom-line checking player with almost zero fantasy value. When playing on a stacked line with Thompson and Skinner, the trio registered 52.13 5v5 CF% and averaged one shot attempt per minute, according to naturalstattrick.com. The Sabres are flush with talent and there are other candidates, including Cozens, Casey Mittelstadt and rookies Owen Power and AHL Rookie of the Year Jack Quinn, but Tuch most certainly has the highest floor.
It was “avoid at all costs” in last season’s outlook and it’ll be a similar story this season since Anderson, now 41 years old and the oldest goalie in the league, is back for another season. Oddly, he will start the season as the No. 1 given his seniority but don’t forget about former Jets backup Eric Comrie, who ranked ninth out of 119 goalies in 5v5 GSAA/60 last and could take over the starting job mid-way through the season. Anderson started October with a 4-1-0 record thanks to an unsustainable .939 Sv% and 1.98 GAA before falling back down to earth, but as a testament to the Sabres’ improved play and a fanbase with some renewed hope, finished 10-4-1/.910/2.65 at home. Keep an eye on Comrie if the Sabres continue to improve, though generally speaking, all Sabres goalies are to be avoided this season until top prospect Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen is ready to take over the reins.
The Sabres likely won’t challenge for a playoff spot but they are an intriguing young team. While past rosters were also laden with young talent, they also felt directionless and their effort level ebbed and flowed like the tide. Defensively, they won’t be any good with a top-four (Dahlin, Power, Henri Jokiharju and Mattias Samuelsson) that are all under 23 years old. Still, offensively they should be much more palatable than in past seasons. Thompson, Skinner, Tuch and Dahlin should be rostered in most standard formats, while Victor Olofsson, Mittelstadt, Cozens, Quinn and Power are viable options in deeper or keeper leagues.