BUFFALO, N.Y. — I think we know that the Sabres had zero chance of keeping up in the East Division this season, but the only team they’ll have to face next year is the Boston Bruins.
Buffalo will most likely be back with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens, so how does Kevyn Adams build a team to compete with those teams?
A lot of this conversation hinges on if Jack Eichel, Linus Ullmark, Sam Reinhart and Rasmus Ristolainen are still on the team.
If Reinhart is just going to sign his qualifying offer or go to arbitration, his value has never been higher that it is right now.
We don’t know if teams are willing to give the Sabres the proper value to acquire Eichel. If they do, that’s going to help fill quite a few holes on this team.
For the purpose of this article, let’s assume Eichel and Reinhart are gone. That means your top two centers are Dylan Cozens and Casey Mittelstadt. I think Cozens is a legit top center, but Mittelstadt would still need more improvement to be a solid No. 2 behind Cozens.
I honestly don’t think they have any top-six forwards after that. I think in order for this team to compete, both Jeff Skinner and Victor Olofsson need to be out of your top six. Skinner is one of the few forwards that didn’t improve under Don Granato, but Olofsson did. His 5-on-5 play was better, but I just don’t know if it’s improved enough to warrant a spot in the top six.
Arttu Ruotsalainen is interesting. In 17 games with Buffalo he netted five goals and an assist for six points. Over 82 games that would equal 24 goals. I don’t like how small he is, but he’ll turn 24 right after the season starts, and I think he could improve even more so there is a possibility. Ruotsalainen impressed enough to be selected for Team Finland at the World Championship.
I think Jack Quinn is projected to be a top-six winger, but Buffalo’s 2020 No. 1 pick is still a year or two of development away from that.
That would mean that the assets you get in trading Eichel, Reinhart and Ristolainen would have to be players that can play and excel in the top six.
Ullmark became a No. 1 NHL goalie this season, but it will take an overpayment to sign him. I think the Sabres have done enough of that over the years and it’s a big reason they’re where they’re at.
Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen showed us that maybe he’s further along than we thought, but I don’t think he’s ready for the job quite yet. Michigan sophomore Erik Portillo could be as good as or better than Luukkonen eventually, but not yet.
On defense I liked Jacob Bryson, but as a rookie he was very good some nights and had his problems on others. I think I’d start him in Rochester and bring in a veteran defenseman or two that can really help Rasmus Dahlin, Henri Jokiharju, Mattias Samuelsson and Will Borgen.
Colin Miler still has one year left on his deal, but I believe Adams is going to try to steer the Seattle Kraken into taking Miller in the expansion draft.
So trying to figure out if the Sabres can compete for a playoff spot is very difficult to figure right now because we don’t know who will get traded and what will the Sabres get back. Getting the head coaching situation settled is a top priority as is trying to sign Ullmark and of course, figuring out what you’re going to do with Eichel.
I think the future is bright, I don’t think a rebuild is necessary, it just needs to be done quickly.