The Sabres are wrapping up a very disappointing 2016-2017 season. It started with Jack Eichel spraining his ankle, to Evander Kane breaking his ribs, to having half our defenseman out at one point. Hopes were high and even when given opportunities, the Sabres simply couldn’t rattle off the wins that were needed. To add insult to injury the Toronto Maple Leafs are headed to the Stanley Cup Playoffs a year after coming in last place. It’s been a frustrating year for fans to say the least.
The Sabres will need to fill multiple holes this offseason if they want to make the playoffs next year. Here are the Sabres needs and where I think Tim Murray can find the players to fill them…
1. Top 4 Right Handed Defenseman
The Sabres biggest need all year has been on the backend. Dimitry Kulikov was banged up all season and struggled on most nights. Zach Bogosian, once again, struggled to stay healthy and took a dip in his production. Josh Gorges and Cody Franson are both too slow for todays NHL, even if the nerds say Franson is our best defensemen. Jake McCabe has even struggled in the last part of the season. That leaves a lot left on the plate for Rasmus Ristolainen.
The Sabres are reportedly going to sign Viktor Antipin out of the KHL and Brendan Guhle should make the roster next season. That helps things out on the left side but the Sabres are still left with needs on the right side. Kevin Shattenkirk is an appealing player as one of the best puck movers in the NHL but it’s unlikely he would want to come to Buffalo. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I think the Sabres best bet would be to try and acquire Anaheim Ducks defenseman Josh Manson. With the Ducks flooded with talent in the defensive pipeline and the possibility that they could lose Manson for nothing in the expansion draft, it leads me to believe that he could be available. Manson is a solid shutdown defenseman and would help take pressure off of Ristolainen. Trading Zemgus Girgensons plus a prospect or a draft pick could get the deal done.
Our D core would possibly look like this:
I don’t see the Sabres re-signing Cody Franson or Dimitry Kulikov. Josh Gorges only has one more year on his deal left so it would be smart just to keep him as a 7th defenseman instead of buying him out.
2. Top 6 Left Winger
The Sabres have had a major problem all year trying to find the right fit on the left wing. Marcus Foligno played large portions of the year with Jack Eichel and that just won’t cut it. Will Carrier did show flashes when he played with O’Reilly and Okposo but might better be suited in a 3rd line role going forward. Evander Kane has been our only consistent threat at left wing so it’ll be necessary for the Sabres to look to add on the wing.
Alex Nylander would ideally be the player that fills in that last spot in the top six but unless he has a killer offseason he could be starting the year in Rochester again. If Nylander can add some weight and gain some strength he’d be a lethal weapon on Eichel’s wing. Even in the few games we’ve seen from Nylander he has shown his tremendous skill and ability to work in tight areas. If Nylander isn’t ready it’ll be tough to find a left winger in the free agent market. Their best bet would be to go after Thomas Vanek. While he may not be appealing for fans looking to move into the next chapter of Sabres hockey, Vanek would be a solid fill in for one season. With 48 points in 67 games this season with a cap hit of only $1,500,000, you’re not going to find much better value than that.
Another option could be KHL left winger, Yevgeni Dadonov. Dadonov had 66 points in 53 games for SKA St. Petersburg and currently has 16 points in 14 playoff games. At 28 years old he is reportedly looking to come over to North America. He’s a smaller, skilled winger that could add some speed into the lineup.
3. Filling Out the Bottom Six
If the Sabres want to make some noise next season they’ll need to bolster up their bottom six. You look at the teams making the jump this season like Columbus and Toronto, they have deep forward groups. Shift after shift they’re attacking. Right now the Sabres aren’t really scaring opponents with their bottom two lines. If the Sabres want to keep changes in house then giving younger guys like Will Carrier, Evan Rodrigues, Justin Bailey, Hudson Fasching, or Nick Baptiste regular roles would seem like the easy choice.
If the Sabres want to go to the free agent market to bolster their depth then Brett Connolly, of the Washington Capitals, and maybe a bigger name in Nick Bonino, from the Pittsburgh Penguins, would be solid adds. Both will be looking for raises but shouldn’t necessarily break the bank. Bonino could be getting a three year contract with an AAV of anywhere from $3-4 million. Connolly should be getting a slight bump with a 1-2 year contract for $1.5 million.
I’m going to assume that the Vegas Golden Knights take Tyler Ennis and the Sabres buyout Matt Moulson.
So if the Sabres make these moves this summer our lineup could look something like this:
Tim Murray isn’t afraid to make big moves so it wouldn’t surprise me to see him try to really improve this roster via a blockbuster trade. With a deep pipeline like the Sabres have, it won’t hurt that bad if we were to trade one of our prospects. With the smaller moves I’ve proposed plus maybe a bigger move that Tim Murray could make, I think the Sabres make the playoffs.
And they better because I just predicted they would make the playoffs and win in the first round! I don’t want to be featured on @sabrescoldtakes next year!
What moves, do you guys think, would put us in the playoffs next year?
Comment below or tweet me your thoughts!
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