This 31-part series chronicles why each team is going to be competitive in the 2018-2019 NHL season. Progressing alphabetically, three teams will be featured weekly during the off-season. A compendium 31-part series will be published by Hockey Troll (@HockeyTrollin) on on why your team is trash in the 2018-2019 NHL season. (See that one soon here)

Buffalo Sabres

2017-2018 Regular Season: 62 Points (last in East)

The Buffalo Sabres are still searching for their first Stanley Cup after losing both of their Cup Final appearances to the Flyers (1974-75) and Stars (1998-99).  In recent history, the Sabres have missed the playoffs the past 7 consecutive seasons.  There is not much optimism regarding the future of the franchise, but there’s a legitimate chance they will be a real contender this year.  By contender, I mean that they only miss the playoffs by single digit points.  Before you judge, that’s a huge improvement from a team that hasn’t been better than a bottom Eastern Conference team since 2012-13!

In order to be more competitive next year, this begs the question: “Is Dahlin worth ~25 additional points in the standings?” Maybe? Who knows.  The last defensemen that was taken #1 overall was Aaron Ekblad, who posted career high points (39) his rookie season. The Panthers improved from 6th place to 1st in the Atlantic Division the season after drafting Ekblad.  This is anecdotal at best, and this is not a guarantee that Buffalo will replicate that result.  However, I don’t think that the entire burden of saving the franchise is on the shoulders of Dahlin.

These guys are sure excited about winning the draft lottery

One of the upsides of all of the poor performances recently is a glut of first-round talent:

2013: Ristolainen and Zadorov (Traded to Avs)

2014: Reinhart

2015: Eichel

2016: Nylander

2017: Mittelstadt

2018: Dahlin

The Sabres have been injecting serious talent into their lineup the past six drafts.  Although, it takes time for an 18-year old to be mentally and physically prepared for the solitary, nasty, brutish and short career of an NHL player.  This is totally the year that it all comes together.

Playoffs?  What you talking about playoffs?

The centrepiece (pun intended) of this franchise is Jack Eichel, who has proven to be a 1C in offensive ability when healthy.  The two key areas of his much needed development are defense and face-offs, both of which are strongly correlated with NHL experience.  For their sake, I wish they didn’t trade ROR this off-season, as he masked Eichel’s deficiencies as one of the best defensive forwards and face-off specialists in 2017-18.  If the rumors are true that ROR was displeased playing in Buffalo, this may be a case of addition by subtraction.  Reinhart is a possible candidate to replace him after posting 40+ points in his first three seasons.  Along with their future Hall-of-Fame centres, there are a bunch of other depth players that should be able to put up 40+ points: Okposo, Berglund, Sheary, Berglund, Okposo… So the forward core is a bit shaky, but that’s not a problem because their defence is rock solid.

Defensively, the Rasmuses, Rasmi, or Rasmus2 – Dahlin and Ristolainen – should be a formidable first defensive pairing for a long, long time.  In order to barely miss the playoffs, they are going to have to ride that top pair 50+ minutes a night, because it looks pretty bleak from there.  The notable exception is Mattias Samuelsson (their 2018 2nd round draft pick), who has an outside chance of making the roster and will be a monster on the ice.  The real solution was under their nose the entire time: The Rasmi just need to train all summer in the hyperbolic time chamber.  Maybe Eichel, Okposo, Berglund and Sheary should join them just to be safe.

Introducing the new Buffalo Sabres training facility

The real reason why the Sabres are going to take a massive leap in the standings is their goaltending.  In order to compensate for a lack of quality defensemen, Carter Hutton needs to have a career season.  He is already coming off a career year with a .941 SV% and 2.09 GAA, but those numbers are extreme outliers for a player that has averaged only .910 SV% and 2.40 GAA throughout the rest of his career.  There is no way that he regresses from last years’ numbers in 2018-2019.  If anything, fans should expect him to continue to trend upward and continue to post career highs each year of his contract with the Sabres.  Why do you ask?  Why not?  Math is for naysayers.

Check out Hockey Troll’s overview of why the Sabres will be trash

Check out my overview of why other teams will be good this year

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