Are the Buffalo Sabres a legitimate contender?
The days of Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek of the early 2000′s are now a distant memory for Buffalo Sabres fans, many who have stayed faithful to their team through their struggles recently. At one point they were widely considered one of the best teams in the NHL, but never seemed to be able to put things together when it came time for the playoffs. With their teams core coming of age all at the same time the sabres were forced to dealoff some of their key pieces in order to sign big names like Thomas Vanek and Ryan Miller. But now they are gone and it is time to put the past behind them, after two years in the basement in the NHL it looks like there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
That light is Jack Eichel, Eichel was the second overall pick in this years draft behind Connor McDavid who went to the Edmonton Oilers. At Boston University he led them to the National Championship game which they ended up losing to Providence College. Eichel is a generational talent that combines great speed and awareness to score goals, he is also a great leader and a play maker. He is the kind of player that late in games you can bank on him scoring the big goals that could help you win. Winning is showing that has almost been forgotten in Buffalo who last season got upset at goaltender Anders Linback as he tried to get his career back on track with a string of wins late in the year. But that winning culture could soon be coming back to the Sabres organization who also added Center Ryan O’Reilly this past off season and locked him up to multi-year contract to help lead and guide the young sabres on the ice. But before the season starts O’Reilly will need to clean his act up off the ice, and get his DUI under control so it doesn’t serve as a distarction this upcoming season. Perhaps on of their biggest acquisitions this offseason was Goaltender Robin Lehner, who with the Ottawa Senators was in a battle for the starting job until and injury sidelined him late in the season. Lerner should bring some stability to the Sabres goaltending position which has been a huge uncertainty of the last number of season with many goalies trying to take the top spot but really none of them sticking.
With all of their new additions on paper the Sabres look like they could be the team to beat this upcoming season, but they are in one of the toughest division in hockey. For the Sabres to even sniff the playoffs they would have to leap frog teams like the Montreal Canadians, Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings and the Ottawa Senators. These four teams pose a huge challenge for the Sabres who were last in the division last year and have a very young team. Because of their inexperience in big games they will most likely miss the playoffs this upcoming season, they just don’t have that one player who could lead the team though years of experience into the playoffs. If they do make the playoffs it would most likely be like the Islanders from a couple years ago, a young team that makes it and plays their hearts out but is knocked out in the first round. In addition to that Robin Lehner has had a lot of trouble with injuries the last few years, and back-up Chad Johnson has no pierce in the NHL as a Starter for a long period of time. If Lehner goes out the Sabres will be in big trouble and will need scramble to find a suitable replacement for him while his out. There is no doubt that the Sabres are going to be a great team when all of their young core players mature and grow in the NHL together, but right now it would be tough for anyone to bank on them making any noise at all in the playoff race this season. Look for Eichel and O’Reilly to help build a high scoring offense, while Lehner shuts down the opponents on the defensive end of the ice. It’ll be interesting to what the Sabres will look like, and what the future will hold for the Jack Eichel led Buffalo Sabres.