When comparing this year’s roster to last, it’s like suddenly gaining access to high-speed internet after many, many years of rifling through the old man’s questionable collection of nudie mags.
We’re going from having Torrey Mitchell and Steve Ott accenting the first line to players like Zemgus Girgensons and Samson Reinhart likely playing on the 3rd line. The team is suddenly loaded with skill after two ABYSMAL seasons of fighting for last place. Us whacky Buffalonians have been subjected to piss-poor hockey and STILL selling out good ol’ First Niagara Center, which is now attached to the glorious Harbor Center – built by the Queen City’s saviors, Terry and Kim Pegula.
Since the magical and mighty Tim Murray worked his hockey voodoo on the roster this trade deadline and draft, there is fun and exciting hockey to be played in downtown Buffalo – in theory. Murray went ahead and traded away the tall-for-nothing Tyler Myers, along with Drew Stafford (who is as streaky as a cheap glass cleaner) for Zach Bogosian and Evander Kane. Kane instantly gives more credibility to the Sabres top 6 forwards. Dazzling thoughts of sugar plums, gum drops, and Evander Kane playing with Tyler Ennis begin dancing throughout your head. I predict Enzo and Kaner both to have the best seasons of their careers this year. Zach Bogosian is a tank and fills the Sabres need for physicality on the blue line, especially after trading away super Russian D-man, Nikita Zadorov. Yes, we can’t forget that trade – you know, the one that bagged us RYAN O’REILLY and Jamie McGinn. While we lost Mikhail Grigorenko and uber prospect, JT Compher as well, the Sabres got better NOW. Much better. Ryan O’Reilly really likes Tim Horton’s and playing excellent 2-way hockey. He is a phenomenal skater, a physical force, and a great playmaker. Jamie McGinn is very overlooked as a piece of this deal. When he is healthy, he has the skill set to be a legit NHL goal scorer. He is very good friends with ROR and they have spent a lot of time as linemates during their tenure in the Rockies.
I forgot to mention, directly after Tim Murray was done making lemonade out of old urine, he then – in 4 words – selected Bud Light enthusiast, Jack Eichel in the 2015 NHL Entry draft. Once Eichel is added to the mix with all these other new and current assets, the Sabres have a supremely talented lineup of forwards. This roster is overflowing with ridiculous lineup combinations that teams will not be able to match. Opposing coaches will be forced to play inferior lines against a 3rd line that COULD feature Samson Reinhart and Latvia’s pride, Zemgus Girgensons. Dan Bylsma said himself he has scribbled down 7 or 8 different line combinations. Can you imagine the mismatch opportunities a coach of Bylsma’s caliber can exploit?
The Sabres red flag comes when you get to the back end of the team. While Murray has gained tremendous offensive skill, and a lot of it was at the hands of our pool of defensive talent. The blue line now looks like, Bogosian, Weber, Gorges, Pysyk, Ristolainen, Coliacovo, Matt Donovan , with Ruhwedel and McCabe grabbing honorable mention. The top 4 D will likely consist of Bogo with Gorges and Risto paired with Weber. Not an impressive Top 4 by any means. Although for newly acquired 6’5” Robin Lehner, that’s better than any top 4 he’s seen during his stint with the Senators. And that’s where my optimism lies for Lehner. This Sabres team in my opinion can put forth a better roster and coach than Lehner has ever had on his side throughout his NHL career.
My X-factor for this season is Dan Bylsma. Last season, with the systemless Ted Nolan at the helm, the Sabres lost 20+ games by one goal playing chase, with a much worse roster and a revolving door at goalie. With the current pool of talent and actual hockey knowledge that Bylsma has at his disposal, he can create mind-numbing line combinations that will frustrate opposing coaches. He will create a system that will maximize the potential his roster possesses while keeping his defensive zone tight. I do predict – while taking cover – that the new look Buffalo Sabres will re-enter the NHL playoffs in the 2015-16 campaign as an 8 seed.