Throughout the month of September, we’ll share our predictions for the 2014-15 NHL season, from worst to first. Today, we start with the Buffalo Sabres, a rebuilding team with a bright future and eyes on Connor McDavid.
2013-14 record: 21-51-10, 16th in East, 30th overall
Acquisitions: Andre Benoit, Tyson Strachan, Andrej Meszaros, Josh Gorges, Brian Gionta, Cody McCormick, Matt Moulson
Departures: Matt D’Agostini, John Scott, Kevin Porter, Cory Conacher, Christian Ehrhoff, Alexander Sulzer, Ville Leino
Top five fantasy options: Matt Moulson, Cody Hodgson, Tyler Ennis, Brian Gionta, Sam Reinhart
Boom, Bust and Bottom Line: The best, worst and most likely scenario:
Boom: Just when we all thought the Sabres were going to “McSuck for McDavid” or “Play like Robert Reichel to get Eichel” they went out on a spending spree that should at least make them a tougher out than they’ve been in the past.
With the likes of Brian Gionta, Matt Moulson, Andrej Meszaros and Josh Gorges in the lineup, the Sabres will now have some veteran presence to guide their young prospects through the rough patches they’ll inevitably face. With young players, losing can come too easily if it happens too early and too often, and GM Tim Murray smartly went about changing that mentality with his off-season acquisitions.
And as we all know, the Sabres have a whack of prospects and draft picks that make them the envy of every rebuilding team in the NHL. If some of those prospects develop ahead of schedule this season, the Sabres will win more games than expected.
Bust: It’s hard to figure out exactly what the Sabres’ game plan for this season is. They picked up all that veteran leadership, but then cut loose their steadiest defenseman when they bought out Christian Ehrhoff. All told, the changes could put the Sabres in a terrible position – not even close enough to compete even in the weaker Eastern Conference, but not bad enough to secure the top seed in the draft lottery. That would not be a tragedy, but it would be a setback for an organization whose mandate is clearly to stockpile young talent and draft picks.
The Sabres are woefully deficient down the middle and will be relying on a 5-foot-9, 170-pound Tyler Ennis to be their No. 1 center. Beneath him, the pivots are unseasoned, scoring high in the potential category but playing out of their weight class. Even in the Atlantic Division, the Sabres will be overmatched.
Bottom Line: Even with their improvements, the Sabres are still a bottom feeder whose odds of picking first overall in 2015 were probably more jeopardized by the NHL’s change to its lottery system than the team’s roster upgrades. The Sabres will have gumption in their game, but it won’t make up for the absence of experience and talent. Anything short of a 30th place finish and the first pick in the 2015 draft will be viewed as a failure this season.
Prospect to Watch: The Sabres took Sam Reinhart with the second overall pick in the 2014 draft. Last season, he scored 105 points in 60 games with the WHL’s Kootenay Ice and was one of Canada’s best players at the World Junior Championship. He’s a two-way pivot who can fit into a variety of roles.
Stanley Cup odds: 200:1
THN’s Prediction for 2014-15: Eighth in the Atlantic Division
Contributors: Ken Campbell, Rory Boylen