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2017-2018 NHL Preview: Buffalo Sabres

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The Sabres are headed in the right direction, slowly.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

In this 31 part series, I will be working my way back from 31st to 1st in my projected 2017-2018 standings. Tenth up are the Buffalo Sabres who are entering their 48th season. They were in the Stanley Cup finals 17th seasons ago losing to the Dallas Stars in six games (Dominik Hasek was a beast in that series). They have made the playoffs just 6 times in the last 17 seasons most importantly they have not made it in the last 6 seasons.


Basic Stats:
2016-2017 NHL Standings: 26th
Eastern Conference Standings: 15th
Atlantic Division Standings: 8th
Goals for Rank: 24th
Goals against Rank: 19th


Overview
: For starters, I would be naïve to ignore the fact that their star player (#2 overall 2015 draft pick) Jack Eichel was out for 25% of the 2015-2016 season due to an ankle injury. Despite this, there was no sophomore slump as Eichel was able to score one more point then his rookie year in 25% fewer games. Buffalo as a whole averaged 1.9 goals per game while he was injured and 2.65 goals per game with him in the lineup. Given a full year there is no reason to believe they can't rise from 24th to 20th in goals for per game. Putting this in reference, if they averaged 2.65 goals for over the course of the season they would be in 19th place. There isn't much star power beyond Jack Eichel but what is lacks in star power, it makes up for in solid depth. They had 6 players with over 40 points and 8 players with at least 10 goals. This year they have Phil Housley as a new coach, the 6th overall pick in the 1982 draft to the Buffalo Sabres. He has a strong ascension track record as a coach taking the USA U20 team to a golden medal in 2013 and then he was assistant coach to the Nashville Predators up through their Stanley Cup run last year. He will focus in on Buffalo's young defense where Rasmus Ristolainen, Marco Scandella, Zach Bogosian and Jake McCabe also serve as a non-flashy but solidly deep crew they need to improve upon their 34.3shots against per game (worst in the NHL). This compounded upon added weight for  Anders Nilsson (now gone) and Robin Lehner (still there on a $4MM one year deal) had 23 wins across 59 games sporting a 2.68GAA and a .920 Sv% last year. Their 19th goals against will not improve unless Phil Housley can get the defense to stop the shots allowed and diminish the shots that Robin faces. They make a step up this year, not large but they are headed in the right direction.


Major Additions
: Marco Scandella, Nathan Beaulieu
Major Subtractions: Cody Franson, Anders Nilsson, Tyler Ennis


Prospects and Picks:
-Casey Mittlestadt. Selected 8th overall in the 2017 draft he is known most recently for doing one bench press and zero pull ups in the hockey combine. This will probably be forgotten when he starts producing, something he did in the USHL last year scoring 30 points over 24 games with the Green Bay Gamblers. He will be joining the University of Minnesota this year and should make for a fun NCAA candidate. He's not very physical but has tools and speed to score, we shall see if time in NCAA toughens him up.

-Alex Nylander. The 8th overall selection in the 2016 draft (see a trend with draft spots?) played a full season with the Rochester Americans scoring 28 points over 65 games. His brother (William Nylander) spent 2 years in the AHL and I think we will see the same for Alexander who has shown flashes of skill but needs time to develop. I see him on the same trajectory of entering the NHL at age. 20. If he can put his goal scoring on display (a combined 38 goals across 112 games between OHL and AHL)  then he could crack the lineup and see some playtime with the Sabres.


Sleeper Fantasy Asset:
-The three headed monster that is Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart and Rasmus Ristolainen combined for 139 points across 242 games (.57 points per game), last year they combined for 149 points across 219 games (.68 points per game). All of them had more points in fewer games year over year. Pending no fluke injuries or suspensions I think all three should see at least another 5 points bump meaning Rasmus would have at least 50 points, Sam would have at least 52 points and Jack is looking at over 60 points.



Cap Situation:
They currently have around $10.9MM with 21 players signed.


Projected finish:
2017-2018 NHL Standings: 22nd
Eastern Conference Standings: 12th
Atlantic Division: 6th

NHL 23rd: Los Angeles Kings (Western Conference 12th; Pacific Division 6th)
https://www.faketeams.com/2017/7/27/16050954/2017-2018-nhl-preview-arizona-coyotes

NHL 24th: Los Angeles Kings (Western Conference 12th; Pacific Division 6th)
https://www.faketeams.com/2017/7/25/16027648/2017-2018-nhl-preview-los-angeles-kings

NHL 25th: New Jersey Devils (Eastern Conference 13th; Metropolitan Division 7th)
https://www.faketeams.com/2017/7/23/16008676/2017-2018-nhl-preview-new-jersey-devils

NHL 26th: Detroit Red Wings (Eastern Conference 14th; Atlantic Division 7th)
https://www.faketeams.com/2017/7/21/16008282/2017-2018-nhl-preview-detroit-red-wings

NHL 27th: New York Islanders (Eastern Conference 15th; Metropolitan Division 8th)
https://www.faketeams.com/2017/7/19/16000766/2017-2018-nhl-preview-new-york-islanders

NHL 28th: Vancouver Canucks (Western Conference 13th; Pacific Division 7th)https://www.faketeams.com/2017/7/17/15981620/2017-2018-nhl-preview-vancouver-canucks

NHL 29th: Florida Panthers (Eastern Conference 16th; Atlantic Division 8th)
https://www.faketeams.com/2017/7/13/15958366/2017-2018-nhl-preview-las-vegas-golden-knights-marc-andre-fleury

NHL 30th: Las Vegas Golden Knights (Western Conference 14th; Pacific Division 8th)
https://www.faketeams.com/2017/7/15/15977312/2017-2018-nhl-preview-florida-panthers

NHL 31st: Colorado Avalanche (Western Conference 15th; Central Division 7th)
https://www.faketeams.com/2017/7/11/15953066/2017-2018-nhl-preview-colorado-avalanche