Don’t expect much from Sabres

AP Photo Head coach Don Granato will be behind the bench for his first full season with the Buffalo Sabres this year.

Oh what a difference a year makes.

A year ago the Buffalo Sabres made the biggest free agent signing in team history by inking former league MVP Taylor Hall to a one-year $8 million deal. The Hall signing convinced people that the Sabres were not just trying to make the playoffs, but trying to make a deep run.

Boy were we wrong about that.

Instead of qualifying for a playoff spot, the Sabres had one of the worst seasons in team history and finished dead last in the league for the second time in four seasons.

At the forefront of the Sabres misfortunes last season was former head coach Ralph Krueger who refused to implement a system that catered to his team’s strengths. Krueger’s handling of the team alienated the fans and amplified a situation that the few stars in Buffalo no longer wanted to be a part of.

Fast-forward to now, Sam Reinhart — the prize of the first tank — is on the Florida Panthers; Taylor Hall will be playing his first full season with the rival Boston Bruins; Linus Ullmark joined Hall in Boston; Rasmus Ristolainen is on the Philadelphia Flyers; Jake McCabe is in Chicago on the Blackhawks; and worst of all the booby prize of the second tank — Jack Eichel — no longer wants anything to do with the organization.

Where the expectations for last year were to make the playoffs, this year are the opposite as Buffalo is a lock for a bottom-five position in the league.

Last year, the Sabres top line had the potential to be the most dangerous in the league with Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart and Taylor Hall. Now, according to recent line rushes, the top line could be Jeff Skinner, Casey Mittelstadt and Vinnie Hinostroza. The other potential top lines could be the trio of Rasmus Asplund-Tage Thompson-Victor Olofsson or Anders Bjork-Dylan Cozens-Drake Caggiula.

None of those groups provide any hope that the team will be able to score consistently each night and the solutions on defense and in net don’t provide much solace either.

In goal, the Sabres are stuck with 40-year-old Craig Anderson and AHL-quality goalie Dustin Tokarski after not shelling out cash to keep one of the only bright spots from last year, Linus Ullmark.

Defensively, no true attempts were made at improvement with the acquisitions of Robert Hagg, Mark Pysyk and Will Butcher. What Buffalo is banking on is that Rasmus Dahlin takes another step forward and the rest of the group is just serviceable while the team sinks to the bottom of the league.

However, even with all of those misfortunes and blatant decisions to pick higher in the draft, the seventh head coach in 10 years, Don Granato, has me looking forward to the future.

Granato has stated he is the kind of coach that structures his game plan to his team’s strengths.

So what fans need to do this year is not worry much about this season’s success, because there should not be very much of it as the usual result the last decade.

Instead root for the success of individual players with a future in the NHL.

Players like Dylan Cozens, Casey Mittelstadt, Rasmus Dahlin, Henri Jokiharju, Jacob Bryson, Tage Thompson and Rasmus Asplund should be ones to focus on and watch for any signs of the ability to be a part of the foundation of a winning franchise.

With the guarantee of picking high in the draft, fans should shift their focus in that direction. At the top of the draft is elite center prospect Shane Wright who is as much as a can’t miss player as Eichel in terms of talent.

Obviously, being Buffalo, people should expect not to win two lotteries in a row, so Sabres fans don’t be surprised if you hear any of these names taken in the draft next season: winger Ivan Miroshnichenko, center Brad Lambert, forward Matthew Savoie, forward Juraj Slafkovsky, forward Joakim Kemmel, center Conor Geekie or forward Rutger McGroarty.


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