We are in the dog days of summer, and there is little to report in the way of news, trades, & signings. So now that 98% of the pieces have fallen into place for the upcoming campaign, we can look at each club's additions & subtractions and assess what can be expected of them. Most teams are competing for the Stanley Cup, others are at one point or another of a rebuild, retool, or a straight up tank job. With 32 teams to get to, we're going to start with the Atlantic Division & the Buffalo Sabres.
The Sabres finished 5th in the Atlantic Division with 75 points, a full 25 out of the final playoff spot. After nearly a decade in the NHL's basement, the Sabres finally have an upward trajectory & boast a respectable young core of players who appear collectively ready to take the next step. So was '21-22 a flash in the pan or are the Buffalo Sabres truly on the rise?
Well, aside from finishing they don't do anything particularly well. Starting with goaltending, the Sabres are currently dressing Craig Anderson & Eric Comrie between the pipes, which is hardly a daunting duo for opponents. While Anderson is a legend, neither he nor Comrie are fit for a starter's role. Even with excellent goaltending, the Sabres xGA ranked 19th in the NHL last season, which effectively measures a team's ability (or inability) to limit scoring changes. The Sabres weren't horrible there in '21-22 but hardly instill confidence when paired with their goaltending. The addition of Ilya Lyubushkin & Owen Power's first full NHL season ought to help. But keeping pucks out of the net will not be an area of strength for Buffalo in 2022-23.
Their ability to score was another story last year. Seventh-best finishing in the NHL last season surely aided in their success, if you can call it that. But Buffalo didn't do a great job of consistently generating offense at 5v5, relying almost entirely on their powerplay. And they have only added in Vinnie Hinostroza to their forward group, so I don't suspect any meaningful improvement in xGF or actual GF.
All in all, the Sabres will boast largely the same team they iced in '21-22. I would not expect them to fare any better, as the Atlantic Division is largely considered the 'most improved' division em masse so far this offseason. Furthermore, GM Kevyn Adams's low-key offseason almost certainly has to do with the fact that next year's NHL Entry Draft features two special talents -- Connor Bedard & Matvei Michkov. Drafting a player like that can change the trajectory of a franchise. See Crosby/Malkin, Kane/Toews, Stamkos, etc.
With three first rounders this summer, the Sabres drafted skilled C Matthew Savoie, C Noah Ostlund, and C Jiri Kulich. Drafting three centers in the first round could either pay off big down the road, but if two of the three don't pan out, it could prove to be a costly mistake.
According to Byron Bader of Hockey Prospecting, the Sabres currently hold the third ranked skaters' prospect pool & the 25th ranked goaltending prospect pool.
While the Buffalo Sabres will likely take a backwards step in 2022-23, they do have a strong skater group who will graduate to the NHL before you know it. The upcoming campaign likely won't be fun, but not to worry Sabres fans. If they do in fact Tank Hard for Bedard, the Sabres' future could possibly be instantly & exponentially brighter with the acquisition of one of these generational players. So while I don't see them being strong contenders in the upcoming season, GM Kevyn Adams & co. have proven to be prudent & effective in their pursuit thus far. They've collected a strong group of young players -- Tage Thompson, Dylan Cozens, Rasmus Dahlin, Jack Quinn, JJ Peterka & the like. But they still lack that franchise-altering talent they lost in Jack Eichel, so they could be throwing the entire season in order to earn the chance of drafting one of Bedard or Michkov. Seems more likely than the Sabres winning anything in 2022-23, anyway.