We’re not taking layups here, the best case scenario is always winning the Stanley Cup and worst case is being last in the league.
Let’s dive into the specifics of what needs to happen for the Sabres to be successful or fall short of their goals.
According to Dom Luszczyszyn‘s model, the Sabres would be more likely to finish last than win the cup, but I’m confident neither will happen — even under threat of being cold taked’
- Jack Eichel has an MVP finalist caliber season with Taylor Hall nipping at his heels for the same honor. Hall chooses to sign another contract with the Sabres.
- Rasmus Dahlin has a breakout year solidifying his #1 defenseman status on the Sabres.
- Jeff Skinner and Ralph Krueger find a suitable line for him to have a bounce back year.
- Tage Thompson breaks out as a consistent top-6 scorer throughout the season.
- Dylan Cozens receives Calder votes, ending up as a finalist or just outside of it.
- Tobias Rieder and the rest of the penalty kill vastly improves their kill percentage.
- Linus Ullmark establishes himself as the #1 goaltender while Carter Hutton pushes him every step of the way with high quality backup performances. (Much like Marty Biron did for Ryan Miller all those years).
- Head Coach Ralph Krueger is able to adjust his system in ways that let players like Skinner off the hook for his occasional defensive liability to allow greater production and lets Dahlin and to an extent — Ristolainen and Montour — off the leash to rush the puck and enter the offensive zone with speed.
- Sabres make the playoffs and move beyond the first round.
- Above average Injuries and COVID issues (wishing the best health for players and their families this season. Get well soon Zemgus).
- Eichel and Hall don’t mesh as well as expected, eventually leading to Hall not resigning.
- The unchanged defensive core doesn’t improve off of last year’s performance.
- Goaltending doesn’t take the next step and loses the team more games than winning games for the Sabres.
- Special teams, especially the penalty kill, hurt more than help the team. *It’s hard to imagine the Sabres powerplay would hurt the team, even if things are lackluster at times.
- Krueger isn’t able to draw everyone into his system and lacks the proper deployment of his players and lines.
- Young players not on the team last season like Cozens and Thompson have a hard time adjusting to Krueger’s system
- Sabres miss the playoffs while still being buyers at the trade deadline.
This is not a hot take in the slightest, but if I had to put my money on the outcome, I would go with somewhere in the middle, yet leaning towards the side of best-case. Whether it’s optimism or what we see on paper, I think Dahlin will take a big step, the penalty kill will improve and the Eichel/Hall duo will be lethal.
The reason things could turn towards worst case is if Krueger’s defense-first style system doesn’t work as well as hoped and both the lack of chances on defense and in net hold an improved forward group back.
Regardless of what happens this season, it’s nice to have hockey back in our lives and I’m excited to get this season going.