Jason Botterill has hired his second head coach since taking over the Buffalo Sabres in 2017. Now that Ralph Krueger is officially in the fold for the Sabres, the two can begin forming their plan for the 2019 off-season.
Both Botterill and Krueger need to work together and come up with a unified approach that will set the organization up for a successful 2019-20 season.
Krueger will have a lot of input on how the they attack this off-season, and it seems that he will have a say in player decisions as well….
Botterill said Krueger will be involved when they’re talking about player decisions.
— Paul Hamilton (@pham1717) May 15, 2019
The Sabres have a lot to do this summer if they want to see drastic improvement next season, and below are the key things that Botterill and Krueger must do before training camp in 2019.
Re-sign Jeff Skinner
This is the most obvious task for the Sabres, keeping a 40-goal scorer who has great chemistry with Jack Eichel is a no-brainer. Skinner was the Sabres leading goal scorer(40G), leading ES goal scorer (27G), and third on the team in ES points (42).
Even though he was hitched with Jack Eichel for most of the season…he was an extremely important player and the Sabres have to do everything they can to bring him back. The good news for Sabres fans is that Skinner and the Sabres are still maintaining a dialogue, and now that the team has a coach they can meet with Skinner and get the negotiations going again.
If all goes well with meetings between Krueger and Skinner I was told they’re actually not that far apart in a deal. Still some work to do but there’s not a major divide (2/2).
— Chad DeDominicis (@CMDeDominicis) May 15, 2019
Re-signing Skinner seems to be the easiest, and quickest thing the Sabres can check off their off-season to-do list but it’s just the start…
Bolstering the top-6 forward group
Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart and Jeff Skinner carried the load all season for the Sabres with little help from their supporting cast.
Secondary scoring has been a huge problem for the Sabres since they drafted Eichel, and forcing players like Mittelstadt, Rodrigues and Okposo into roles they aren’t suited for (for a variety of reasons) blew up in the team’s face last season.
The Sabres need to explore all options for upgrading their forward group, whether it be through trades, free-agency or promoting a young guy from within their organization.
If the Sabres decide to explore off-season trades it’s obvious that Rasmus Ristolainen is their best ticket to fetching a quality return.
His underlying numbers are terrible, but a 24-year-old righ shot defenceman who can put up 40 points a season while producing on the powerplay has value in today’s NHL.
With rumours that Tampa Bay was sniffing around Risto at the trade deadline it’s obvious that teams in the league still think they can salvage Risto’s career.
In a perfect world the Sabres would target a player like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the Oilers need a right-shot defenceman and a possible RNH-Risto trade has been discussed by media the last few summers.
The team also has an extra first-round pick, and some mid-level prospects to sweeten any Ristolainen deal if they have to.
I am a big proponent on avoiding free agency at all costs, too many times “B-level” players get massive contracts that hurt their organizations down the road (Kyle Okposo anyone?) but if a GM takes the right approach they can find value in free agents.
There’s a few names in this year’s free agency pool that would be great additions for the Sabres’ forward group.
The 29-year-old winger scored 19 goals and 37 points for the Islanders, and was their best player in the playoffs. If the value is there I would try and bring him in.
Duchene and the Sabres have been linked a few times this year, and he could be a nice addition if Skinner refuses to re-sign. Duchene could play 2nd-line center and take some pressure off Casey Mittelstadt.
It also helps that he can produce on a regular basis (31G, 39A, 70P).
Hayes would be a great fit, he can play the 2C role and if Mittelstadt does in fact show the improvement we all expect him to Hayes would be an amazing 3C that any organization would love to have.
He scored 19 goals and 55 points with the Rangers and Jets, and his frienship with Jack Eichel could lure him to Buffalo.
Young up and comers
The Sabres have some NHL-ready talent waiting in the wings with Rochester and there’s at least 3-4 forwards that have the potential to make the Sabres right out of training camp.
Olofsson is all but a lock to make the Sabres next season, he was dominant at times in Rochester, and showed instant chemistry playing with Jack Eichel at the NHL level.
His shot is obviously his best asset, but he’s good in transition (breakouts and entries) and is a much better offensive creator than many thought. He scored twice and added two assists in six NHL games this season.
It would take a very big surprise to not have him penciled in to the Sabres top-6 next season.
Barring an off-season trade (which isn’t impossible) Nylander has to make the Sabres next year…othwerwise the former 8th overall pick may not have a place in Buffalo’s future.
He set career-highs in every offensive category for Rochester and added four points in 12 NHL games this season. This is his best chance at making the Sabres roster, he’ll be 21 and has a clean slate with a brand new coach heading into 2019.
I am still a VIP member of the Tage Thompson fan club, and stand by the argument that Phil Housley used him wrong. His NHL numbers were terrible (7G, 5A in 65GP) but his AHL numbers were solid (6G,3A in 9GP) and he was arugably the Amerks best player once he got there.
A new coach, and some renewed confidence from his AHL stint may be just what TT needed to get to the next level.
Smith has been Rochester’s best player since he got there 2-years ago. In 119 games played Smith has recorded 45 goals and 57 assists for 102 points.
He has gotten some brief NHL playing time but has never been put in a position to succeed, this could be Smith’s last chance to become a full-time Sabre, he’s 25 and will be on his third coach (played two games under Bylsma).
Showing Eichel and Dahlin the team can succeed
I want to stress this part of the article by saying that Eichel is not going anywhere, he signed a long-term deal with the Sabres and is their best player.
Dahlin will be entering his second season and will be building off one of the greatest seasons by an 18-year-old defenceman.
The organization has to show these two players that they have a plan, and that they can build a winner (centering around those two players).
While expecting playoffs in Krueger’s first season may not be fair to Krueger, it’s beyond fair to expect Botterill to build a playoff caliber roster in his third summer as the team’s GM.
Fortifying the forward group and signing Skinner are two key pieces in building a winner but there’s so much more that Botterill has to do.
A brief list of what else the team needs to do can include:
-Getting the 7th overall pick right
-Cutting the dead weight from the bottom tier of the roster
-Getting more innovative within the organization (Krueger has already talked about this)
There’s a lot to do this summer, but Botterill and the Sabres have to make significant progress next season.
The Sabres’ GM said it himself, no one wants to go into a season building towards the next one…he has to build towards a playoff run in 2019-2020 otherwise he will fail at his first GM gig in the NHL.