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Buffalo Sabres’ Offseason Summary

31 Jul

We here at Rayonsports haven’t published much as far as our local hockey team, the Buffalo Sabres, is concerned, but the reality that the 2021 offseason is undoubtedly the most consequential in franchise history made it absolutely necessary to comment on. The following is a list of all the major issues GM Kevyn Adams has faced and our opinions on how he handled them:

 

1. NHL Draft Lottery

In this case, Adams didn’t have an important decision to make, he just needed Lady Luck on his side. She came through for him, as the Sabres won the lottery and gained the top pick.

 

2. Coaching Hire

Interim coach Don Granato did an admirable, if not remarkable, job when he was handed the reins after Ralph Krueger was fired. He simplified the game for the players, removed some of the pressure from fear of making mistakes by telling them to have fun, challenged them to reach their full potential, and with a severely depleted roster, squeezed a top level of compete from what he had to work with. Points go to Adams for promoting Matt Ellis and Dan Girardi from the hockey development department to assistant coaching roles to help Granato, as they did outstanding work in supporting the interim coach. After conducting a thorough search with multiple interviews, Adams made the wise move of removing the interim tag and hiring Granato as the full time head coach. Ellis will stay on as a full-time assistant, as will goaltending coach Mike Bales.  Two other new additions are Jason Christie and Marty Wilford, both of whom have a history with Granato, while Girardi will return to his player development role.

 

3. Expansion Draft

The addition of the new Seattle franchise, and the accompanying player draft that comes with it, added another layer to what was already a busy time for Adams and his staff. He made his first positive move when he convinced Jeff Skinner to waive the no-movement clause from his contract, helping  the club protect another young player from being exposed to the draft. Unfortunately, the team had to lose a player and in the Sabres’ case that player was promising young defenseman Will Borgen. The Kraken drafted a load of defensemen in the draft, and it’s questionable whether Borgen even makes their team. He would have to clear waivers before he can be sent to the minors, and Buffalo will have first claim on him if that happens. They could theoretically steal him right back.

 

4. Potential Trades

Following another dismal last place finish in the regular season, some important players, including the team captain, Jack Eichel, expressed, or at least hinted at, wanting to move on from the Buffalo franchise. Adams has said he plans on building the team with people who want to be here, and began that process by dealing some players who have worn out their welcome. He got a great return from Philadelphia for defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen, snagging the Flyers’ first round draft pick (# 14), a second rounder in 2022 and a solid replacement D-man in Robert Hagg. The return for Sam Reinhart, one of the team’s top scorers, doesn’t appear to be as good. Only 2 assets came back in return from the Florida Panthers – their first round pick in the 2022 draft and an intriguing goaltending prospect in Devon Levi. Only 19, he plans on playing college hockey at Northeastern this season, and is a long-term prospect at best. He played remarkably well for Team Canada in world junior tournaments in 2019 and 2020. On the day free agency opened, the Sabres made an interesting deal, acquiring defenseman Will Butcher and a draft pick from New Jersey for “future considerations”, which basically means they got a serviceable veteran defenseman for free. The last remaining shoe to drop is Eichel. There’s a significant rift that has developed between Sabre management and Eichel and his representatives, mostly concerning how and when to treat his neck injury. The disagreement has become serious enough that Buffalo almost certainly will have to deal their disgruntled star. However, as Adams has pointed out, Eichel is under contract for 5 more years, so there is no pressure to give him away for anything less than full value. Minnesota, Vegas and Anaheim appear to be the teams most likely to make a serious offer for the Buffalo captain.

 

5. NHL Entry Draft

This, of course, will be an extremely important step to get right for the future of the franchise, and the results of the choices made, good or bad, won’t be immediately known as most of the players taken will need more development before they’re ready to enter the NHL. Buffalo did the expected by choosing 6’6 defenseman Owen Power to open the draft, and although he plans on attending Michigan in the fall, he looks ready to step into the NHL right now. With the Flyers’ pick obtained in the Reinhart deal, the Sabres picked Swedish winger Isak Rosen, then followed up by grabbing three consecutive slightly-built Russian wingers – Prokhor Poltapov, Aleksandr Kisakov and Stiven Sardarian. All 4 of these prospects will need to grow into their bodies but have one thing in common – they’re proven goal scorers. This was supposed to be a weak draft, and the NHL draft is always a crapshoot, especially in the later rounds. Will any hidden gems emerge from the rest of Buffalo’s 2021 picks? Here they are:

Josh Bloom, LW, Saginaw (OHL)

Olivier Nadeau, RW, Shawnigan (QMJHL)

Viljami Marjala, LW, Quebec (QMJHL)

William Von Barkenow-Lofberg, C, Malmo (Sweden)

Nikita Novikov, D, Dynamo Moscow 2 (Russia)

Tyson Kozak, C, Portland (WHL)

 

 

5. Free Agency

Buffalo should have ample cap space to add some veteran leadership to their roster through free agency. The challenge will be to convince players to sign with a franchise that has seen nothing but failure for years. The team lost a couple of important veterans to free agency when Jake McCabe signed with Chicago and goaltender Linus Ullmark, who Adams hoped to retain, bolted for division rival Boston. When UFA Carter Hutton signed with Arizona, Buffalo was left with an empty cupboard as far as goalies were concerned. They made a couple of underwhelming signings to fill that need in 40 year old Craig Anderson and 32 year old Aaron Dell, who inked a two-way deal which means he likely is Rochester bound to play for the Sabres’ AHL affiliate. Buffalo opted for bargain basement signings this time around after getting burned by low-effort, high salary Taylor Hall last year. Most of the players brought in appear to be depth for the Rochester club, but there are a trio of interesting additions who should help the Sabres in 2021-22. Vinny Hinostroza is a bottom six center who has floated around the league, most recently with the Black Hawks. John Hayden, a Yale graduate, adds some much needed size to the lineup and could be a top contributor on the fourth line and as protection for the team’s smaller players. The defense corps, weakened by the losses of Ristolainen and Borgen, was helped by the signing of an old friend, Mark Pysyk, lured away from the Dallas Stars.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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