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Rattling the Sabres- year in review


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PRESEASON OUTLOOK Bleak is probably too optomistic a word. They finished dead last, got the first pick drafted Owen Power who said, nah, thanks anyway but I would rather just stay in Michigan. Between that and losing Ullmark to Boston and the ridiculous Eichel thing dragging on, well, most people pictured the same if not worse.

 

FINAL RECORD 32-39-11 75 points 5th in the Atlantic.

 

HIGH POINT OF THE SEASON Well, Trading Eichel for Krebs, Tuch and picks was highway robbery....on the ice they started red hot going 5-1-1 to begin the year including a 5-1 stunner over the two time champ Bolts. To me equally important was going 6-2 in the final eight games to finish strong. Power joined the team down the stretch and absolutely looked like he belonged. The Sabres actually finished looking like they are a few pieces away from being playoff contenders for the first time in over a decade.

 

LOW POINT OF THE YEAR Between the hot start and the strong finish they were indeed pretty bad for much of the year, after the hot start they went 3-14-3 then after a modest two game winning streak they lost eight of the next nine. At that point they were as bad as everyone had predicted.

 

WHAT WENT RIGHT Tage Thompson who came over as partial payment for O'Reilly had his monster breakout year, 38 goals and 68 points. In fact, he had 38 goals in 78 games, previously over 145 games he had only managed 18. This was absolutely unexpected. We had a Skinner sighting he tossed in 33 goals. Rasmus Dahlin had a breakout year with 53 points and looked so much bigger and stronger. Olofsson and Okposo provided nice secondary scoring. Dylan Cozens looked like the real deal. Tuch became the heart of the team after coming over from Vegas. Krebs was strong and looked like a steal. Power came aboard late and was a fantastic fit. Vinnie Hinostroza came back from the deal with 13 goals and a fine year. Speaking of coming back from the dead, Craig anderson (aka the has been) and tokarski (aka the never was) were a fine duo in net. They added assets, they have three picks in the first round.

 

WHAT WENT WRONG Ukka Pekka-Luukonen was not good when anderson was hurt and spent most of the year in the AHL. Aaron Dell went 1-8-1 in net and will probably never see an NHL game again unless he buys a ticket. Drake Caggiulla couldnt stay on the ice and when he did play he didnt do much. Cody Eakin didnt contrbute anything. Middlestadt took a pretty big step back and is in danger of being pushed aside by all the young talent already there and others who are in the pipeline. Lots of guys who werent exactly prospects but who once were had a chance to see if they could play, guys like Hagg, Bjork, Samuelsson, Hayden, a couple more all got significnt looks and all were at best ordinary.

 

FREE AGENTS Defenseman Miller, Pysyk and Butcher are all servicable, probably at least one will be invited back. Hinostroza and Eakin will likely not be coming back.

 

TOP PROSPECTS Power of course, he will play 22 minutes a night and score 40ish points, write it in. They have two top tier forward prospects in Jack Quinn and JJ Peterka, both have top six written all over them and will push hard for ice time. Pekka-Luukonen is still considered the teams top goalie and will fight to secure a roster spot next year. Guys like Biro, Ruottsalainen and Murray will all run the AHL/NHL shuttle next year.

 

STRANGE STAT OF THE YEAR Tage Thompson had one huge home/road split, 25 goals and a plus player at home, versus 13 goals on the road and a minus 18.   okay here is a strange stat Sabre games in the second period between themselves and their opponent was the 2nd highest scoring second period in the NHL last season by any team. The Sabres scored 93 and gave up 103 a total of 196 goals in the second period of their games.  Not sure why, somehow they seem to have played end to end in the second and then apparently gotten tired in the third, lol as scoring fell from 196 goals down to 162. 

 

OFFSEASON OUTLOOK Okay, lets face facts, Okposo, Anderson and Skinner are not going to replicate their season again, probably ever. Luukonen needs to take a massive step forward, and Peterka/Quinn must be ready to step in when Okposo/Skinner fail and or get injured. I love how the team is finally breaking out of its doldrums but that said there are a lot if worries. Skinner, Okposo will likely fall from a combined 56 goals to 36 or so. Thompson had 38 which was over double his career total in four partial seasons. He could decline. Tuch was motivated post trade he could slip. The kids could stagnate. Anderson won more games last season than he will likely win for the rest of his career and if Luukonen bombs they are in big trouble in net. I would be lying if I said I am unimpressed, frankly they do appear to be going the right direction but there were so many career years that they could be sitting on a bit of a bubble. Long term prognosis is fantastic I am just weary about 22-23.

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Nothing for me to really add on.... spot on takes, and many of which I saw that way as well.

I will reiterate on two players you touched on however, @yave1964, because they really did impress me:
Tage Thompson and Rasmus Dahlin.

Thompson, as you said, monster year offensively, but one really does have to wonder if that is the best he will ever put out.
I feel he got those offensive numbers by being handed top line Center minutes, and having wingers like Tuch, Skinner (who also seemed to earn his pay somewhat this season), and Olofsson. 
Handed those top line minutes by necessity granted, but he made the most of them nonetheless.

Thing is, a top C, or even a 2C has to have the peripherals to go with his goals and assists, and in that regard, he wasn't that great. Heavy minus numbers (ok, ok, team stat and goalie assisted thing, I know), still giving the puck away about as much as he took it away, didn't do a ton of shot blocking (not a huge deal, but something a good do-everything top center would do as well), and a very poor 40% on his face offs won, despite getting nearly 1,000 chances at it.

Now, if I come off negative on him, yet said I was IMPRESSED by him, you might be thinking: "What gives, O Resident Wall of Texter Crazy Blonde Lady? Make up your mind!"
Well, the fact that he DID put up the offensive numbers, and did so about equally 5 on 5 as he did on the PP.... the fact that he wasn't afraid to use his large frame as a bowling ball when  necessary, INCLUDING going to the the so-called 'dirty areas' of the ice....the fact that he took relatively few penalty minutes doing all this, and he had absolutely no qualms about shooting the puck at any given time.

While I don't believe he is a long term top line center due to the negatives I mentioned, his attitude and work ethic seemed to be there....no small feat playing on a perennial non contender like the Sabres.
Now, he could regress like you said, or he could, **gasp!**...build upon this past season? We will have to wait n see. But overall, I was impressed by the giant leap he took, even if he becomes a victim of his own success moving forward....

Rasmus Dahlin.
Not only did he improve his offense, but I found his aggression level had gone up as well.
That was indicated in his higher penalty minutes (normally, not a good thing, however, he seemed like a punching bag for everyone else in prior years, so good to see him show some teeth and fight back, or even initiate a bit of violence!), and higher hit totals.
Played top pair minutes and usually matched up against the other team's top six forwards on top of all that.

He overall defensive work still needs work (positioning, decision making, that kind of thing), but his shot blocking was improved as well, and to me, he really did pass the eye test in terms of determination, and overall willingness to get his hands dirty in order to help his team win.

He took lots of guff from people because he was a number one pick and many were already labeling him a bust, but I think, at just 22, we still have yet to see (and I think we will!) his best!  This past season was a pretty good taste, and I expect him to be less of a candidate to regress than say, Tage Thompson, this coming year.

As you stated, lots to work on still, but in the long term, unless the FO shoots themselves in the buffalo, they should be setting themselves up pretty well for success, playoffs, and, dare Sabre fans dream.... an NHL title??

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