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Buffalo Sabres: 2019-20 NHL Season Preview

An in-depth look at the season ahead

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What can I say about the Buffalo Sabres that has not been said? Last season’s second half plunge resulted in a coach firing as the entire team looked out of sync. With a new head coach in Ralph Krueger, fans hope that someone can finally get this group to be on the same page. Even with more additions than subtractions, I find it hard to forecast significant change in the near-term. The long-jam of league-wide RFA’s has definitely halted GM Jason Botterill‘s ability to make a blockbuster, which they may really need to change for the better.

Notable Players In: Colin Miller (D), Marcus Johansson (F), Jimmy Vesey (F), Henri Jokiharju (D)

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Notable Players Out: Jason Pominville (F-UFA), Alexander Nylander (F-Chicago)

First Key Game: October 9, 2019 vs Montreal Canadiens

Odds to win the division

61:1 (6th overall) (via Betway)

Is this a bet worth taking?

Unless you really want to put a small amount of money down, hell no! The Atlantic Division is bound to be competitive with plenty of teams well ahead. Realistically, the Sabres would be lucky to be in the top 3. The highest they are likely to achieve is 5th, which could contend for a playoff spot but they are a few years of good progress away from a division title, even with the likely improvements of their younger players (Casey MittelstadtRasmus Dahlin). And that is if they ever get there.

Keys To The Season

Story to watch

Can a new coach, despite limited NHL coaching time, get this team back in sync? For some players, Ralph Krueger is their fourth coach since joining the Sabres. Three coaches before could not right the ship, though part of that was due to inept roster management. Either way, Krueger will need to instill a philosophy the players believe in, even if it means less offensive production from Captain Jack Eichel or Jeff Skinner.

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The Sabres must improve in their own end and while, on paper, Jason Botterill acquired defenders who can move the puck up the ice, will the forwards be prepared for transition? I expect a rocky start to this but there needs to be change in this aspect of the game for Buffalo.

Player to watch

Rasmus Ristolainen. The whole situation surrounding the 24 year old blueliner is intriguing. Being in plenty of trade rumors, we all speculate what the return on the supposedly disgruntled defenseman. On the other hand, if Ristolainen is still on Buffalo’s roster, can the Ralph Krueger regime optimize his talents? Ristolainen is not one for good breakout passes and decent partners, as they have all tended to act as if the puck will explode if on their stick too long.

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With the right counterpart, the coaching staff can take advantage of more offensive zone starts for him. There is definite talent but previous eye tests make you wonder about where is hockey IQ is at. I hate to say it but the advanced stats have matched the visual and you have to wonder if it can improve after all these years on the Sabres.

Biggest need

A second line. There have been improvements to the forward ranks with Marcus Johansson and Jimmy Vesey but on a good team, they are likely in the bottom six. And that is not necessarily a bad thing. But now, the Sabres’ newest forwards are due to find time in the top-six to make up for the lack of available depth. Help could come if Victor Olofsson continues after a strong year in both Rochester and six games with Buffalo.

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If Tage Thompson proves he has taken off-season conditioning seriously, maybe he adds the goal scoring he was projected to produce as a prospect. It is all hypothetical, but even with that, they do not have an NHL, second-line center on the Sabres at the moment. Even if the players move around in the top-six, I am not confident it is enough.

If the Buffalo Sabres were an animal, what would they be?

A lemming. On the surface, they try to show they are migrating in the right direction. The tendency of this movement, in many cases so far, has resulted in falling off of a cliff.

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