NHL 2017 Season: Buffalo Sabres Pre-Season Evaluation
The Buffalo Sabres have a new head coach, a new GM, and some strong additions in trades, and are on the right path for a rebuild year that will take steps towards ending their six year long playoffs drought. They finished the 2016 – 17 season 8th place in the Atlantic Division, and 15th in the Eastern Conference. Their record was a disappointing 33 – 37 – 12. And they only managed to win 13 games on the road. Their goals for to goals against ratio was dismal, with 201 scored and 237 conceded.Let’s take a look at how the new structure could change things in the 2017 – 18 season, along with some of the most important new players to be signed to the team.
Phil Housley Comes Back Home
New head coach Phil Housley has come back home in a sense, having been the 6th overall NHL Draft pick joining the Sabres back in 1982. This will be his first season as a head coach in the NHL, and he will have the backing of new General Manager Jason Botterill. Anyone who has followed the Sabres through the years will know that Botterill is also an ex-player for the team. Botterill most recently worked with the Pittsburgh Penguins as an executive, and Housley was most recently the defensive coordinator for the Nashville Predators.
Benoit Pouliot Could Turn Out to Be an Excellent Signing
Although the team lost offensive strength by trading out two players for Marco Scandella (see below), they could offset that impact with the signing of Benoit Pouliot. He’s a player that has had some inconsistency in his career, but he has also showed promise in the past. Jason Botterill has taken something of a risk on this signing, but if it works, then it will be seen as a masterstroke in retrospect. Benoit has been recognized for his talent throughout his career, but he doesn’t seem to be able to bring it together consistently on the ice. There is also perception from some fans and analysts that he’s a player that relies on his natural talent and has so far not responded well to coaching. He has been given plenty of chances in the NHL, and the Sabres have given him only a yearlong contract to prove himself. From 2013 to 2016 it looked like Pouliot was going to finally prove himself in the league, posting strong results for three years, but he hit another slump with the Oilers last season, managing only 8 goals and 6 assists from 67 games. If he bounces back, and it’s definitely within his ability, then he will be a smart signing for this revamped Sabres team.
Marco Scandella will Bolster the Defense
The Sabres gave up forwards Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno to gain Marco Scandella on the blue line. Scandella is arguably one of the best defensemen in the sport, and he’s one that also takes opportunities to score and is able to provide assists. He’s had five years of experience with Minnesota Wild in the NHL, and he should turn out to be a real asset to this team. In his best year with the Wild he made 23 points from 11 goals and 12 assists, and in the 2015 – 16 season he was responsible for an impressive 16 assists. He has playoffs experience and a strong desire to win, so the attitude that he brings to the team could help them to develop a winning culture.
Jack Eichel Should Become a Real Asset This Season
#15 Center Jack Eichel is the most important player that isn’t a new addition. He’s the most impressive player in the team and is arguably their biggest star. He will be on the squad this year, but his future is yet to be determined, however, GM Jason Botterill has already indicated that he is working with Eichel to sign a long term contract. He recently spoke to News 10 NBC where he said that “We certainly want to get Jack signed up for the maximum amount as possible. He has the same belief, all of our discussions have been very positive about the contract, but also about his season and preparation in general.”Eichel can be a leader in the team and his previous two seasons with the Sabres have been more than impressive. In his first year in the NHL he played 81 games to score 24 goals and 32 assists. He was consistent in 2016 – 17, scoring 24 goals and 33 assists. If he can keep his momentum and if the new head coach works out for the Sabres, then you can expect Eichel to continue his improvement as he matures and gains more experience.
Will Buffalo Sabres Get Back to Winning Ways?
Anyone who is being honest will admit that the Sabres couldn’t possibly get any worse in terms of their position in the league. The only way to go from here is up, and fresh management and a new head coach could be exactly what this team needs. Jack Eichel had recently been calling for coaching changes in the team, so he at least will be happy that the owners have made proactive changes. The defense looks like it’s going to be in better shape this year and if Eichel continues to be himself, then we could have a recipe for success. If you’re going to be betting on the team this year, then a playoffs position is a little too early to predict, however, there are all the right signs that they’re going to improve on last season’s record and increase their standing in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference. Once the season gets underway, we’ll be able to analyze the early performance and bring some real predictions for the games ahead.