Buffalo Sabres’ Review
- 2020-21 Record [15-34-7]
- Division rank [8th in the East]
Buffalo’s 15-34-7 record earned them the bottom spot in the East and worst overall record in NHL standings. How bad was it? At one point, Buffalo lost 18 games in a row. The Sabres finished the season with a -61 goal differential, by far the worst in the NHL. It is not easy to be a Buffalo Sabres fan. Losing has become a tradition, having now missed 10 straight playoffs.
It was not all bad though, and there is a lot to be excited about in the future. First things first, the consensus among the hockey minds seems to be that the Sabres have finally committed to a full rebuild and are not going to try to keep fixing past failed rebuilds.
Second, because of their struggles, the Sabres have the best odds (16.6%) to get the top one pick in the upcoming 2021 NHL Draft Lottery. Third, the coaching change they made towards the end of the season was the right call. Buffalo fired Ralph Krueger and replaced him with interim coach Don Granato. The Sabres improved, and the team adopted new game strategies and a faster tempo. Speaking of the coaching position, Sabres ownership is saying they will still conduct a coaching search, but that seems performative and that Granato will be offered the job full-time. And lastly, they have resources to address their issues this offseason.
The big question is what happens with Jack Eichel, the Buffalo captain. He is currently under contract, and we know other NHL general managers are going to be in touch. If Buffalo trades him or Sam Reinhart, they should have really decent value in return. If they stay, they need to be bought in on the rebuild. On the free-agent side, Buffalo could look to add Taylor Hall as he could be a good compliment and is still young and could fit into their rebuild. Then use the draft to round out the offensive lines with their picks.
Yes, the Sabres have a lot of defensive concerns, but they have a foundation. The first order of business should be to re-sign the veteran Jake McCabe to help stabilize the defense. Then from there, they can build around their young core in Rasmus Dahlin and Henri Jokiharju. Dahlin’s star shined toward the end of the season and reminded the league he can be an elite defensive player. He was after all the No. 1 overall pick in 2018.
Like every other element of this franchise, General Manager Kevyn Adams has some tough decisions to make. First, they should cut ties with Carter Hutton. He is not the answer and his contract is going to expire in 2021. Next, the Sabres should try to re-sign Linus Ullmark for the long-haul. He was their best goaltender and who they should build around for the time being. Ullmark is much more reliable than any free-agent options the Sabres would be able to get. They should lock him in and continue to develop their star prospect Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen. That is a future Sabres fans can get behind.
Because of their dismal performance, Buffalo has the best odds to land the top pick in the 2021 NHL Draft, and they are guaranteed a top-three pick. More specifically, there is a 16.6% chance they get the first overall pick, 15% chance the second, and 68.4% chance the third. Hopefully, Sabres leadership will make use of this great opportunity. They could of course use this pick to trade for any number of needs. For now, eyes will be on Owen Power, who seems to be considered the best overall player in the draft. A defensive piece from Michigan.
Better Luck Next Year
2021-22 Stanley Cup Odds: TBD
Hard to imagine a longer long shot than the Sabres to win the Stanley Cup next season. There is a lot to be excited about in Buffalo’s future but going from last place in the NHL to winning the Cup in one season is too much excitement. After so much losing, admitting that you need to rebuild, then committing to that rebuild, is the two-step process they should be in. This will take time, the fans know that they are the ones asking for it. Check out the NHL sportsbook for the Sabres odds and tons of other Hockey action.