Last Updated: 2018-09-02
Parker Michaels continues his NHL Season Preview series in reverse to first order according to his projected standings. Be sure to bookmark our Season Previews home base here where links to all 31 teams will appear as they’re posted. Today at No. 27, the Buffalo Sabres.
Tell me if you have heard this line before – “The Buffalo Sabres are going to be improved this year!”
It has been the expectation heading into each of the past two seasons, specifically. In 2015-16 the Sabres finished 23rd overall with 81 points and just 12 points outside the playoffs. The next step was a playoff spot and with the summer signing of free agent Kyle Okposo to bolster the offense, 2016-17 was supposed to end with a return to the postseason. A gruesome ankle injury to Jack Eichel the day before the season opener was a precursor for a season derailed by injuries to key players, including a serious health scare to Okposo which landed him in the ICU. The Sabres finished 26th overall with 78 points and 17 points outside the playoff picture.
Frustrations boiled over in the locker room and rumors surfaced about Eichel’s unwillingness to sign a contract extension if then head coach Dan Bylsma remained behind the bench. Bylsma was fired along with General Manager Tim Murray and the rebuild would move on.
Ownership hired Jason Botterill to take over the GM duties who had been known for his salary cap management and player development skills while with the Pittsburgh Penguins organization, and former Buffalo defenseman and legend Phil Housley was brought in as the next head coach. Housley had spent the previous four years as an assistant coach with the Nashville Predators, helping elevate their defense to the top of the league, a seemingly perfect fit for the young Sabres with no clear direction on the blueline.
Veteran defender Marco Scandella was added in a trade with the Minnesota Wild to help stabilize the defense, along with forward Jason Pominville for added scoring depth. Victor Antipin came over from the KHL and Nathan Beaulieu in a trade with the Montreal Canadiens, two young defenders who could grow under the hand of Housley. And Eichel finally signed his extension the day before the season, a stark turnaround from the eve of opening day the year before. Optimism was high again.
Record: 25-45-12 (62 points), 8th in Atlantic Division, 31st Overall
Playoffs: Missed by 35 points
The Sabres opened the season with a 3-2 shootout loss to Montreal but looked sharp, fast and competitive (The Canadiens were coming off a division crown and we did not know they would completely stink at that time). Trade acquisition Jason Pominville scored twice, the team fired 45 shots on goal and Robin Lehner stopped 38 of 40 at the other end. The optimism from the summer looked warranted after one night.
The picture was not so bright by the end of October when the team had only two regulation wins and three total. After just three more victories in November, Buffalo was staring a 6-15-4 record in the face and the season was already a lost cause.
There was not much to praise from last season. The offense finished dead last with just 199 goals (2.43 per game) and the defense was not much better, allowing the third most in the league at 280 goals (3.41 per game). Buffalo received strong seasons from Eichel, Ryan O’Reilly and Sam Reinhart who finished one, two and three in scoring, but the secondary offense was non-existent with only three other players scoring double digits in the goals category. The defense was a rotating mess, beset with injuries and an overall lack of cohesiveness. Only two defensemen (Rasmus Ristolainen and Marco Scandella) played more than 60 games and outside of their combined 11 goals, the rest of the unit added just eight more for the season.
The goaltending may have been the most disappointing part of all. Starter Robin Lehner had compiled a .921 save percentage over the two previous seasons with very positive advanced metrics, as well. Chad Johnson had put up a .916 mark over the same time as a capable backup, including 40 starts with the Sabres two seasons prior. Last season, Lehner and Johnson struggled with a .908 and .891 save percentage, respectively, and a combined 25 wins.
Another season of optimism ended with more of the same disappointment fans have grown used to over a now franchise-record 7-year playoff drought. The Sabres slipped even further in the standings, this time right to the bottom with a 31st overall finish, a dismal 62 points and 35 points from a playoff spot. Rock bottom was finally here.
To say every aspect of the Sabres season was doom and gloom though would be unfair. Botterill’s job as the new GM was to assess the roster and figure where changes were needed. The biggest came just before the trade deadline when Botterill shipped out Evander Kane to San Jose. Kane was arguably the top trade chip on the market at the time but returned an underwhelming package consisting of a 2019 first-round draft pick, a 2020 fourth-round pick and forward prospect Daniel O’Regan. Botterill expressed his frustrations after the deal, saying the market was not as high on Kane as perceived and they had only received one legitimate offer. Kane’s on-ice talent was desired by many teams, but his off-ice issues had everyone shy to pull the trigger, except the Sharks.
Regardless, it was a bold move by Botterill and Kane’s departure was an indication of a needed culture change within the organization and one where players would be held accountable.
Buffalo’s summer highlights started earlier than expected in May when Russ Brandon resigned from his position as managing partner and president of Pegula Sports and Entertainment, after an internal investigation for allegations of personal misconduct in the workplace. Brandon oversaw operations for both the Sabres and the Bills in the NFL.
Kim Pegula, wife of owner Terrence Pegula, stepped in as president for both teams to bring stability to the position and became the only female team president currently in the NHL.
With that out of the way, the Sabres summer of fun was just beginning. Buffalo won the draft lottery and the right to select franchise defenseman Rasmus Dahlen first overall.
Less than a week later, Botterill pulled off the first of a trio of summer trades which would completely overhaul the roster. First, Botterill took advantage of a Pittsburgh Penguins team searching for salary cap relief and plucked winger Conor Sheary and veteran defenseman Matt Hunwick for a mere conditional 2019 fourth-round draft pick.
On the opening day of free agency, Botterill dipped into the free agent pond and signed goaltender Carter Hutton to a 3-year, $2.75 million per year contract then dealt forward Ryan O’Reilly to the St. Louis Blues for a massive package consisting of forwards Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka and intriguing prospect Tage Thompson, along with a 2019 first-round pick and a 2021 second-round pick. The Blues even paid the $7.5 million contract bonus O’Reilly was due to receive at the end of that same day. O’Reilly made headlines near the end of the season for his comments on the team being in the mindset of being okay with losing and how it had made him lose love for the game. They were honest comments but also another indication of the team needing a culture change.
Early in August, Botterill completed his (likely) final act of the summer when he acquired sniper Jeff Skinner from the Carolina Hurricanes for prospect Cliff Pu, a 2019 second-round pick and 2020 third-round and sixth-round picks.
In all, Botterill added seven fresh players this summer in addition to Dahlen who will be a mainstay in the lineup from the start. So, who is out?
The Sabres had seven Unrestricted Free Agents who they chose not to re-sign. Forwards Benoit Pouliot and Jordan Nolan, along with veteran defenseman Josh Gorges all remain unsigned. Forward Jacob Josefson returned to Sweden and defenseman Victor Antipin returned to the KHL. And starting goaltender Robin Lehner and backup Chad Johnson were let go to free agency as the Sabres will move in a new direction in goal this season.
Finally, for Sabres fans wondering about Matt Moulson who has one year remaining on his 5-year, $25 million contract and played just 14 games in Buffalo last year, Botterill said he will play the season in the minors and they will bury his contract rather than buy out the final year. According to CapFriendly, the cap hit is reduced to $3.975 million.
Stanley Cup: +10500 (5Dimes)
Eastern Conference: +5000 (5Dimes)
Atlantic Division: +4000 (Bookmaker, 5Dimes)
Regular Season Points: 80.5 (-110) (Bookmaker), 79.5 (-115) (MyBookie), 79.5 (-140, +110) (Bovada)
Make Playoffs: YES +375, NO -500 (Sportsbook.ag)
Current odds as of September 2, 2018
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
*Predicting depth charts is often called a fool’s errand and can be as difficult as predicting where a team will finish in the standings. Nonetheless, I decided to undertake this impossible task and am confident (as one can be doing this task, anyway) with the below information heading into training camp. All attempts will be made to update these charts once camp is underway and head coaches change their mind a thousand times.
*Individual Player Ratings involve the base formula created by Justin Kubatko at hockey-reference.com. An explanation of how I use his methods can be found here with a more detailed methodology by Kubatko himself, here.
*Salaries in green denote entry-level contract
NHL RANK: 23
Jack Eichel will turn just 22 years old in October but will already be entering his fourth full season in the NHL. Eichel has seen his output steadily rise each season from 0.69 points per game in his rookie season to 0.93 to 0.96 last year. His career-high 25 goals were good enough to tie with Sam Reinhart for the team lead and his 64 total points led the team in scoring for the second straight season, despite losing over a month of time with another ankle injury. Eichel is still developing and with better linemates and a better team around him now, this could be the year he really breaks out and joins the upper tier of premier NHL centers.
Ryan O’Reilly was beginning to form a strong one-two punch with Eichel down the middle, but his absence now presents an immediate opportunity for 19-year old Casey Mittelstadt. The Sabres are trying to keep expectations down for the rookie but there is no doubt he is an elite prospect with a chance to be a high-end NHL player. Mittelstadt is an offense-creating machine and is a gifted young playmaker with outstanding hands. He earned tournament MVP honors at last year’s World Juniors, helping the United States win a bronze medal. After finishing his college season at the University of Minnesota, Mittelstadt created more buzz when he displayed his skills with a goal and four assists in six games to end the season with Buffalo.
Housley is going to be very careful with how he handles his new star center. Look for Mittelstadt to play a sheltered role early in the season, slotting in as the second line center against lesser competition while sliding down to the third spot against the better center combos in the league, like Crosby/Malkin, Matthews/Tavares and McDavid/Draisaitl.
Playing the buddy system role will be newly acquired Patrik Berglund who will open on the third line but swap with Mittelstadt during those tougher matchups. Berglund notched 17 goals last year in 57 games after missing the start of the season due to shoulder surgery and scored 23 the year prior. After averaging 16 goals per year over his first eight seasons, his assist totals have dropped to coincide with the improved goal totals but his 0.46 points per game has remained steady. Berglund has never quite lived up to his billing as a first-round draft pick but should provide the Sabres with solid secondary scoring, something they desperately need.
The fourth line spot was a sore disappointment last season and there is a chance it could be just as bad this year. Zemgus Girgensons has three straight seasons under the 20-point mark, not exactly what Buffalo had in mind when they selected him in the first round of the 2012 draft. Johan Larsson will compete for the spot, but the former second-round pick has been even more disappointing.
Either player will be a temporary placeholder as the Sabres pipeline is stacked with talent. Rasmus Asplund signed his entry-level contract this summer and is coming to camp with the intentions of making the team. He is a strong skater with excellent playmaking abilities and his well-developed defensive game may give him an edge on others competing for this spot. A strong camp might earn Asplund a few games to begin the season, but he is likely still a year away from making an impact as a regular middle-six forward.
Other prospects expected to get a look in camp are Andrew Oglevie, Sean Malone and Daniel O’Regan. All have the upside as a solid bottom-six center but could use more time developing in the minors.
NHL RANK: T-22
Buffalo’s left wing will look completely different this season with three of the four spots filled with newcomers. Conor Sheary and Jeff Skinner will create a nice one-two punch to complement Eichel and Mittelstadt and it does not really matter which order you put them in as both will see time on the top line.
The addition of Skinner, especially, is a huge boost to the Sabres offense and top-six. I have him slotted to start on the second line although he could very well be the No.1 left-wing or even slide to No.2 center if an injury occurs. The reason for starting Skinner on the second line is to give better support for the young Mittelstadt. Sheary saw his ice-time decrease as last season moved on and his reliance to produce became more dependent on playing beside a top center like Sidney Crosby. If Sheary needs a star center to help drive his game, pairing him with a rookie to start may be unwise.
Skinner is going to get his time with Eichel though and I would expect that combo for games when Berglund starts at second center. Consider Sheary and Skinner interchangeable, much like Mittelstadt and Berglund will in the middle.
The bottom-six should be manned by some combination of Evan Rodrigues, Vladimir Sobotka and Scott Wilson. Rodrigues is unfortunately the biggest loser in this scenario as he was penciled into a top-six spot before the two trades but his speed and flexibility to play anywhere will be an asset to Housley. I really enjoyed watching Rodrigues play last year as he took a big step forward in his development, jumping from six points in 30 games two seasons ago to 25 in 48 last year. His shot differentials were also among the best on the team.
Housley will experiment with Sobotka on the third line, as well, particularly when Berglund is centering the line to see if the former St. Louis Blues teammates can find some chemistry.
Wilson was initially slotted into the fourth spot but with the addition of Skinner it bumps everyone down the depth chart. Wilson was acquired from Detroit in December for a draft pick and was solid in a depth role and should provide nice support as an extra forward.
With the additions to the left side, prospects Victor Olofsson and C.J. Smith will assuredly remain in the minors to begin the season now, along with Alex Nylander. Olofsson has a slick shot and is known as a sniper after leading the Swedish Hockey League in goals last season and can play either wing. He is likely the closest to being NHL-ready but could use some time adapting to the smaller ice in the AHL.
Nylander has started to develop the tag as a bust in some circles but I would quickly tune out those naysayers. He struggled at times in Rochester last year but was one of the youngest players in the AHL at just 19-years old. Now 20, Nylander has special talent on the offensive end with great hands and playmaking abilities. Buffalo (and fans) just need to be patient with him but there is a chance we see him up with the Sabres at some point this year.
NHL RANK: T-25
Sam Reinhart was one of the few positives last year as his development took another step forward. The former 2014 second overall pick set career highs with 25 goals and 50 points while playing in all 82 games and was nearly a point per game player from January on with 39 points in 44 games. His shot differentials were the best on the team for anyone with at least ten games played and will be the unquestioned top guy on this side. Reinhart is currently still a Restricted Free Agent looking for an extension after his ELC expired this summer but neither side seem concerned about reaching a deal before the season begins.
Kyle Okposo will slot in on the second line and look to revive his offensive touch. Okposo averaged 0.88 points per game over his final three seasons with the New York Islanders but has seen that number dip to 0.63 in his two seasons since joining Buffalo, the difference of a 61-point player down to a 45. The forward landed in the ICU after a reaction to sleep medicine two seasons ago and dealt with a concussion in each of the last two seasons but has had a great summer of training and appears to be fully healthy.
The third line spot will be cautiously penciled in with Jason Pominville after producing just 34 points over 82 games, his lowest points per game rate over his entire 14-year career. The veteran will turn 36 in November and will be looking over his shoulder at several young players who will be looking to supplant his position on the depth chart.
That will include prospect Tage Thompson who was acquired in the O’Reilly trade over the summer. Thompson will be given a chance to impress during camp but is in the unfortunate position of being waivers exempt so can be freely moved up and down from the AHL. His main competition will be Nick Baptiste and Justin Bailey, who are not exempt and would have to be exposed before being sent to Rochester. That likely gives one of the two the inside track despite looking underwhelming over a small sample size last season. Thompson surely has the most upside, but this will be one of the best battles in camp and whether he starts the season or not, Thompson should be a regular fixture in the Sabres lineup before long.
NHL RANK: 22
Number one overall draft pick Rasmus Dahlin is without a doubt the future number one defenseman for the Sabres, but the plan is to ease him into the NHL. Few 18-year old rookie defensemen have ever made a significant impact in their first year but Dahlin is no ordinary 18-year old. His offensive game has been compared to Erik Karlsson with the defensive skills of Drew Doughty, a true combination of all-around elite talent. Although he loves to play on the right side and did so while playing in Sweden (where he set an SHL record for points in a season by an under-18 defenseman), Dahlen will start on the left and slot onto the second pair, sheltered somewhat behind Marco Scandella.
On a team with defense as bad as the Sabres had last season, it is difficult to say any individual player really stood out in a positive manner, but Scandella did a solid job while being tasked with a career-high in ice-time (23:19 compared to previous high of 21:43) and usually against the opponent’s best lines.
The most competitive battle in training camp will be for the third spot. Brendan Guhle would be the obvious choice purely on talent and upside, but he is in the unenviable spot of being the only Sabres defender currently waivers exempt so chances are high he will start the season in Rochester. Guhle was impressive in 18 games with Buffalo last year and is another excellent skater whose strength is moving the puck. He led all Sabres with more than ten games on the blueline in shot differentials and if his development continues at this rate, will solidify the left side behind Dahlin for the next decade. It will not be long before he is a regular in the lineup.
So, if Guhle is going to be the odd man out simply due to the waivers issue, who gets the spot? Jake McCabe, Matt Hunwick and Nathan Beaulieu will all compete for what should be two available slots on the roster. McCabe or Beaulieu are most likely to grab the spot with the veteran Hunwick surviving as the seventh defenseman. Free Agent signee Lawrence Pilut comes over from the SHL where he was named the top defenseman in the league with 38 points in 52 games. He will also get a look in camp but is ultimately expected to return to Rochester for the year.
NHL RANK: 25
While the left side will receive a healthy infusion of youth this season, the right side does not currently have anyone in the pipeline ready to make an impact but could still be improved over last year. Rasmus Ristolainen continues to get a bad rap for his defensive skills but now has three consecutive seasons with over 40 points on the offensive end. He is still just 23-years old and is coming off his first season of having positive 5-on-5 shot differentials, largely due to having a better defensive partner in Scandella. Dahlen will help take some of the offensive pressure away so it will be interesting to see if Ristolainen can take another step in his development with an improved team around him.
Zach Bogosian gets the award for “worst contract” on the Sabres and still has two more years at over $5 million per season. He was limited to just 18 games last year before undergoing season-ending hip surgery and has not played more than 65 games since the 2010-11 season. Bogosian said the hip has been a bother for years and decided it was finally time to take care of it. He has reportedly had a fantastic summer with his strength and conditioning and could enter the season the healthiest he has ever been. It is hard to believe but for those who remember, Bogosian was drafted third overall in 2008 behind Steven Stamkos and Drew Doughty and ahead of Alex Pietrangelo.
The third spot will belong to Casey Nelson who showed decent progression last year in his third season but still has just 55 games of NHL experience under him. Nelson showed a lot of success alongside Guhle in limited minutes and would be an interesting bottom pair if the Sabres can find some way for Guhle to stay up with the team.
NHL RANK: T-22
(Starter – t-26th, Backup – 37th)
Buffalo made the rare move of replacing both their goaltenders this summer and will rely on a bit of the unknown to support the improvements they have made on the offensive end. Carter Hutton will enter training camp looking to lock down the number one starter role for the first time in his career. Going from career backup to full-time starter has seen varied results from other goaltenders in recent years. Will Hutton be able to carry over last year’s success much like Cam Talbot and Antti Raanta were able to do for their respective new teams or will he stumble along the lines like Scott Darling in Carolina last year?
Chad Johnson was one of the worst backups in the NHL last season so the Sabres will be upgrading the position by adding just about anyone. The Sabres will promote Linus Ullmark from within but he is not just anyone. After performing as one of the best goaltenders in the AHL last year with a .922 save percentage over 44 games, Ullmark also saw action in five games with the Sabres, looking comfortable and posting a .935 save percentage.
Ullmark has been groomed to be the eventual starter in Buffalo and will be given the opportunity to compete with Hutton for playing time. With Hutton transitioning to a starter and the Sabres wanting to prepare Ullmark for a larger role down the road, the number of starts could be surprisingly more split than expected, especially if Ullmark continues to put up solid numbers.
The Casey Mittelstadt/Patrik Berglund dynamic as middle-six centers is going to have a big say in how improved the Sabres will be this year but an equally, if not more, important combo is going to be the play of Carter Hutton and Linus Ullmark.
Hutton led the NHL last season with a .931 save percentage and 2.09 goals-against average, going 17-7-3 over 32 games with St. Louis. Hutton was also 9-2-3 in one-goal games, showing he could be counted on when needed most. The Sabres are banking on those numbers improving their woes in close games, where they finished 11-11-12 for the second-worst win percentage in the league.
Is Hutton capable of moving into the starter’s role and continuing his success? This will not be the first time Hutton has taken the role as the starter, but it will be his first time entering a season as such. Hutton took over for the struggling Jake Allen in the Blues net last season, starting 10 of 13 games in a stretch from December 30th to the end of January, going 7-1-1 with a .937 save percentage. Back in 2013-14 in his rookie season with the Nashville Predators, Hutton was thrust into the starter position for nearly half a season when Pekka Rinne went down with a significant injury. Hutton handled the role well for a rookie, going 20-11-4 with a .910 save percentage.
Handling the workload should not be a problem for Hutton, especially considering Ullmark will likely see more playing time than most anticipate but expecting numbers like last year is probably asking for too much. Hutton had an impressive season, but his career save percentage is slightly above average at .915 over five seasons between Nashville and St. Louis (and one game with Chicago in 2012-13) and 138 total NHL games. What is more concerning is Hutton’s advanced metrics. According to the stat page at hockey-reference, Hutton had a GSAA* in the negative for three of those five years with a fourth barely above even. In fact, Hutton’s +15.09 GSAA last year certainly appears to be an outlier compared to his overall body of work. Expecting Hutton to regress closer to his career norm of being a slightly above average goaltender is the more likely scenario and being just slightly above average usually is not good enough to carry a team to the playoffs. In my Point Share ratings, Hutton has a projection of 8.5 which is below average for a starting goaltender and a big reason I do not currently have the team finishing higher in the standings. If Hutton can duplicate last year’s numbers, it would bring the Sabres a bit closer, but the probability of last year’s success is low, by my estimation.
The wild card with the Sabres goaltending this year is not only with Hutton, but also with Ullmark. After seeing 20 games with Buffalo in 2015-16 and putting up a respectable .913 save percentage, the now 25-year old has continued his development with Rochester the past two seasons. Ullmark is a very intelligent, athletic goaltender and good at handling the puck around the net. His biggest asset might be his mental composure and ability to remain calm which will be important behind a team used to getting peppered.
Personally, I am very high on Ullmark even if my Point Shares rating only projects to 5.0 for him (which is still above average for a backup). A big part of that is due to him being projected to play 31 games whereas Hutton is at 51 games. The two netminders are almost even entering the season with Hutton providing a per game average value of 0.1669 points and 0.1600 for Ullmark.
The Sabres goaltending appears to be in much better shape heading into this season but would likely require a performance worthy of a Vezina nomination to carry the team as far as a playoff spot. I would not count on that happening although I do think Ullmark will outperform Hutton by season’s end and we will be discussing Ullmark as the full-time starter by this time next year.
*GSAA (Goals Saved Above Average) – An advanced stat metric created at hockey-reference.com. Like any advanced stat, GSAA has its flaws, but does an excellent job of equalizing goaltender performance across the league and, in my opinion, aligns much better with actual on-ice performance and results than the GSAA found at Corsica.hockey. Of the past 17 Vezina winners dating back to the 2000-01 season, 12 winners have been the leader in hockey-reference GSAA at the end of the regular season and finished second in three other years.
Per the hockey-reference definition, GSAA is “the goals this goalie prevented given his save percentage and shots faced vs. the league average save percentage on the same number of shots. Min. 4 shots faced per team game needed to qualify.”
It might be a bit unexpected to see Buffalo this early in my projections with all the hype surrounding their summer, but I will say they are in a very tight spot with the next two teams ahead of them, separated by less than one point overall. There is also a clear separation over the bottom four teams in the league, nearly five points ahead of the team below them, the Detroit Red Wings. For the first time in a while, the Sabres should not be in danger of finishing in the bottom three of the league. Even in the most optimistic of projections though, the Sabres should still finish in the bottom-third of the standings.
I have the Sabres projected for 79.0 points, close to the 79.5 to 80.5 number currently offered from offshore sportsbooks, which are all a significant jump over the 62 points recorded by Buffalo last season. In terms of Stanley Cup Futures, sportsbooks have the Sabres listed anywhere from 25th to 28th overall, so my projection at 27th does not seem to be selling them too short.
I think it needs to be stated just how bad Buffalo was last season. I have the Sabres projected for 17 more points in the standings which is (spoiler) the second largest improvement of any team in the league and they still are not close to a playoff spot. A 62-point season is incredibly poor and just goes to show how terrible the team really was last year.
Make no mistake though, this year’s Sabres are going to see a substantial improvement. Jason Botterill has done an excellent job turning the franchise around in a brief time and even though the team struggled last year under Phil Housley, the current group of players say they became very tight-knit and the atmosphere in the locker room is the best it has been in a long time. It would seem the culture change Botterill desired has taken hold.
The improvements on offense are noteworthy and their top-six should finally be respectable, but their top-end stars are still not at the level of the elite teams or even the lower-seeded playoff teams. The pipeline is stacked with some of the best prospects in the league though and with three more first-round picks in the 2019 draft, Buffalo’s young core is going to be a force. Realistically, that force is still a year or two away from being a factor in the playoff race. Pencil me in for a Sabres Stanley Cup Future in 2023 but as for now, this team will not make my final list.
Something I do expect to make my list is a bet on the rookie of the year. Rasmus Dahlen may open the odds-on favorite to win the Calder trophy and even though a defenseman has only taken home the award three times over the past 20 years, Dahlen may have the potential to be a generational talent on the blueline. He will not be the first name on my radar though. That will be Casey Mittelstadt, who should see regular minutes all season in a scoring role. Mittelstadt will be among my top favorites for the award along with Elias Pettersson of the Vancouver Canucks who I discussed previously.
The feeling of hope in Sabres fans should finally be warranted this season, although just realize how deep of a hole the franchise is climbing out of and temper expectations. Anything north of 80 points should be considered a success with the picture for a bright future becoming clear.
Salary numbers from capfriendly.com, stats from hockey-reference.com and naturalstattrick.com
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