NHL 2022 Offseason Guide: Buffalo Sabres
Twelve years is a long time. That’s how long it will have been since the Buffalo Sabres made the playoffs when next season ends… assuming they don’t surprise everyone and make it. With a stacked Eastern Conference, it’s hard to see how it will end any differently for the Sabres, but don’t fret, help is on the way and just like the Ottawa Senators I expect the Sabres to be better real soon. Their journey just has a lot more ‘what if’s’ attached to it.
A lot of boxes are ticked for the Buffalo Sabres. You have the elite defenseman (Rasmus Dahlin), a bonafide No. 2 defenseman (Owen Power), and quality forward depth (Alex Tuch, Victor Olofsson). Sure, you are overpaying for Jeff Skinner ($9 million AAV) but with the current cap situation (which we will get to) that’s not a problem as of yet. It would be nice if Casey Mittelstadt started living up to his 8th overall selection in the 2017 NHL Draft, but at 23 years old time is still on his side.
Power making his NHL debut at the end of last season was huge for the franchise and should take some of the load off Rasmus Dahlin, whether you pair them together or on separate lines. The 19-year-old came from averaging nearly a point a game in the NCAA with the University of Michigan and did not look out of place in the big leagues. While he could go back to Michigan for a third year, after watching him in his eight-game cameo I think that boat has sailed.
A goaltender this offseason is a must for Buffalo in order to start rebuilding — and no I’m not counting the acquisition of Ben Bishop from the Dallas Stars which was obviously a salary cap dump by Jim Nill. No matter who they pick up you’ll be getting younger than 41-year-old current starter Craig Anderson, that’s even if you chose 37-year-old free agent Marc-André Fleury. Free agency might be the way to go for Buffalo with Darcy Kuemper (Colorado) and Jack Campbell (Toronto) both hitting the market with their teams having to work the cap. Casey DeSmith (Pittsburgh) and Ville Husso (St. Louis) are also interesting options.
While they have the one-two punch on the back end and some nice depth pieces the Sabres still lack that bonafide first liner. Skinner had a decent year, but can he now be consistent? This is why I feel Buffalo could be a major player in the Nazem Kadri sweepstakes or the team that ultimately overpays Valeri Nichushkin. They have high-end talent on the way in the form of Isak Rosen (2021 first-round Draft Pick) and Jack Quinn but being able to partner them with a player like Kadri would be huge for Buffalo. Why would Kadri go!?! Buffalo could all but guarantee he’d be the No. 1 center, something he’ll never be with elite teams.
… is not a problem for the Sabres. Hence the pick-up of Bishop already this off-season. Currently they have $35,554,166 available with decisions to be made on several UFA’s and RFA’s. The obvious one is getting Olofsson a new contract but after that, it’s time to get to work for Kevyn Adams.
Three first-round picks including two in the Top 20 will give the Buffalo Sabres a real chance to deepen their prospect pool a year removed from picking first overall. While last year was an easy choice given Owen Power was the consensus No. 1 pick, this year will give us a better indication of where Buffalo’s scouting and management are in terms of talent. In an ideal world, their picks will follow the path of the Avalanche’s 2018 picks Bowen Byram and Alex Newhook who are both playing for a Stanley Cup right now. The one thing they cannot do however is whiff or gamble. Take the best player on the board and figure it out later. If it happens to be a forward that’s even better.
With eight picks between rounds two and seven it’s also a chance to pick up some depth pieces for the long term. Don’t be surprised if they draft more than one goaltender, something they haven’t done since 2007. They haven’t picked a goaltender at all since Erik Portillo in 2019 and have a habit of overlooking the position (only twice in the last seven drafts have they picked a netminder). With no goaltender under contract for next season and the prospect pool looking bare at best, this could be the position the Sabres focus on most.
The Buffalo Sabres are in a good position with a young core, talent on the way, and a nice chunk of cap space. It’s now on Kevyn Adams to prove he can handle this job as a first-time general manager. As long as he doesn’t answer the phone call from Joe Sakic, he should be fine.