The Sabres have had a miserable start to the 2017-2018 season. They sit near the bottom of the standings with a 5-9-3 record and they’re coming off two disappointing losses to the Florida Panthers and the Montreal Canadiens. The blame for this rough start can be pointed at many things. Injuries, drafting, lineup decisions, trades, the list can go on and on. It’s not going to be easy for Jason Botterill to fix this mess and it certainly won’t happen overnight.
Yes, Tim Murray, the once beloved figure in Buffalo. Tim has his fingerprints all over this disaster. It’s becoming more and more clear on every passing day why this man was shown the door at the conclusion of last season. When Murray was brought in by Pat LaFontaine in 2014, he was touted as the next great talent evaluator in the NHL. Murray had so many draft picks at his disposal and let’s just say that he didn’t do too well with those picks that he made. Buffalo had 9 picks in 2014, 6 in 2015, and 10 in 2016. That’s a grand total of 25 draft picks in a 3-year span and for the most part, the picks were either complete flops or we’re still in wait and see mode.
The 2014 draft was a borderline disaster for the Sabres. You can make the argument that the Sabres went 0/9 in their selections in this draft. Right at the top, the Sabres selected Sam Reinhart which was an easy pick. Now, Sam has gotten a lot of criticism from fans mainly because he’s just not as good as other forwards that were selected after him like Leon Draisaitl, William Nylander, and Nikolaj Ehlers, and a few others. Reinhart hasn’t been anything special by any means throughout his NHL career and has no doubt been surpassed by players in the same draft class. They selected Brendan Lemieux, Eric Cornel, and Vaclav Karabacek in the 2nd round. Lemieux was included in the Evander Kane trade and could possibly be a nice bottom 6 NHLer in the near future. But as of right now, it looks like Cornel and Karabacek will be career AHLers. They took Jonas Johansson and Brycen Martin in the 3rd round. To be frank, Brycen Martin isn’t good at all and I don’t anticipate him making the NHL. Johansson is a decent goalie prospect but he needs time to develop. Then they took Max Willman and Chris Brown in the 5th and 6th rounds. The jury is still out on these 2 college players but I don’t expect them to be NHLers. Then they selected Victor Olofsson in the 7th round who looks like a nice diamond in the rough for Buffalo. Olofsson hasn’t signed with Buffalo yet but hopefully, they can get him to come to North America for next season.
Murray faired a little better in the 2015 draft. A monkey could’ve selected Jack Eichel 2nd overall so I’m not going to give him credit for that one. Guhle in the 2nd round is looking like a great pick for them so far and he should be an NHL regular by next season. Will Borgen is looking like another good pick for the Sabres in the 4th round. I expect that he’ll sign his ELC at the conclusion of St. Cloud’s season. The jury is still out on Devante Stephens but I’ve liked what I’ve seen from him at development camp. They didn’t sign Giorgio Estephan and it doesn’t look like Ivan Chukarov will be an NHLer. This wasn’t a bad draft at all for the Sabres as of right now.
The 2016 draft is probably a little too recent to start writing players off but I liked the picks of Cliff Pu, Rasmus Asplund, Casey Fitzgerald, Brandon Hagel and Vasily Glotov. The Nylander pick has been questioned by the fans and media since the draft. Mikhail Sergachev, Charlie McAvoy, and Jakob Chychrun are already establishing themselves as good NHL defensemen and Nylander struggled for the most part in the AHL last season and he has yet to play a game this season because of an injury. I’m not too confident that Brett Murray, Philip Nyberg, Vojtech Budik, and Austin Osmanski will be NHLers.
The fact that the Sabres only have two players on their roster that they’ve drafted in the last three years is pretty embarrassing and those two players were picked 2nd overall so those are the easy picks. They need to draft better in the future, that’s for sure.
Murray also made his fair share of questionable trades during his tenure as Sabres GM. For one, he shipped off a ton of high-end draft picks. He moved 2 1st round picks in the Evander Kane and Robin Lehner trades. He traded 4 2nd round picks and 2 of which were traded to the Kings for Fasching and Deslauriers. He also traded 3 3rds and one of those were thrown away for the rights of Jimmy Vesey.
Murray did fairly well in trades leading up to the 2015 NHL draft with the exception of the Fasching trade. It all seemed to go downhill when he moved a 1st round pick for Robin Lehner. I like Robin Lehner but I think it’s ridiculous that anyone would move a 1st round pick for a goaltender who hasn’t established himself as an elite goalie. Next comes the Jimmy Vesey trade. Trading a 3rd round pick for a guy who was hell-bent on going to free agency probably isn’t a great idea especially when the pick is in a fairly deep draft. Then came the Kulikov trade that looks like a complete disaster. Kulikov didn’t really work out at all in Buffalo. He had a freak injury because of an open bench door and he really was never the same after that. Giving up on Mark Pysyk because he was too soft is just ridiculous. Pysyk has done well in Florida since the trade and he’s a guy that Buffalo could really use right about now. Asplund could be the saving grace in this trade but only time will tell.
Player development has also been a big issue in the Sabres organization. Look at players like Nick Baptiste, Justin Bailey, and Hudson Fashing for example. All of them are 2013 draft picks and were all highly touted coming out of junior/college. You’d expect them to start making contributions to the NHL roster but all three of them have been pretty much underwhelming when they’ve gotten the chance to play NHL minutes. Bailey has looked good at times on his call-up this year but has now been sent back to Rochester. Fasching had a bad groin injury last season so that was kind of a lost year for him development-wise but there was an opportunity for him to grab the 4th line winger spot this year and he couldn’t make the team. And Nick Baptiste has been pretty much a non-factor on his call-up this season. Jason Botterill and Randy Sexton are really stressing player development for the organization now and this is an area that needs to improve big time if the Sabres want to turn the corner soon.
Injuries have plagued the Sabres once again this season. Buffalo is without Rasmus Ristolainen and Zach Bogosian on their blueline as of right now and their being forced to insert AHL level defensemen in their lineup every night. There are nights when three of Matt Tennyson, Taylor Fedun, Zach Redmond, and Justin Falk are in the lineup. That coupled with Victor Antipin who has very little NHL experience, you’re not going to win many games especially when your forwards aren’t putting the puck in the net. You can have Dominik Hasek in net and you’re still not going to win many hockey games with that abysmal defense corps.
Pretty much the whole Sabres roster has been underachieving besides Jack Eichel, Evander Kane, and Jason Pominville. But the main players that I’ll point out are Kyle Okposo, Sam Reinhart, and Rasmus Ristolainen. Okposo has looked horrible for the most part this season. He’s looked better as of late after scoring against the Florida Panthers on Friday night but his play this season hasn’t been very encouraging. Okposo is locked up for 5 more seasons after this season at a cap hit of $6,000,000. He needs to be better. Reinhart has looked like a ghost on some nights and he hasn’t looked like anything you’d expect a number 2 overall pick to look like. He’s back on Jack Eichel’s wing so hopefully, that’ll jumpstart his production. And Rasmus Ristolainen looks like he’s regressed from last season. It’s astonishing that he doesn’t have a goal yet. He hasn’t even been Buffalo’s best defenseman because Marco Scandella has played so well in the last 10 games or so. I’m not one of those analytics nerds that’s going to tell you that Ristolainen is bad because of his Corsi but, my eyes don’t tell me that he’s a number one or even a number two defenseman which he’s been described as by many fans.
It’s not looking too great for the Sabres right now and it’s going to take a lot for them to turn it around soon. I’m not anticipating any big moves from the Sabres until mid to late January and that’ll probably be an Evander Kane trade. Right now, this team looks like they’re nowhere near being a playoff-caliber team.
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