27. Buffalo Sabres
Last year’s last place team is building themselves back up again after a long rebuild, and things are finally starting to look up for them. But, they’re still rebuilding and they’ve still got a ways to go before they can be considered Stanley Cup contenders.
The Buffalo Sabres finished last in the whole league last year with 62 points, but thing are looking up for a much better season.
Why they could win
The youth movement of the Buffalo Sabres is starting to seriously come together, and this could be the year that they finally break out of the basement and become a team worth notice. They made some moves to support the young players, and could be contributors themselves.
The last two years, the teams that finished last place the season before came all the way back the next season and got into the playoffs behind a massive youth movement, those teams being the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Colorado Avalanche. Additionally, the last two teams to pick first overall also made the playoffs, again the Maple Leafs and the New Jersey Devils. The Sabres were both last season, and their loyal fan base has hope and will start paying attention once again.
Jack Eichel will take another step in his development this season, and if he can stay healthy with his near point-per-game scoring pace, he can lead the Sabres to overachieve past the low expectations set on him. But luckily for him, he won’t have to carry the load alone. If first overall pick Rasmus Dahlin can live up to the hype of a generational two-way defenseman and produce in his first year, the Sabres will have two of the best young players in the league on offense and defense.
Why they won’t win
While the youth movement is ready to take over, that doesn’t mean that all of the youth will be good right away. This team still needs time to gestate and finish their development before serious playoff contention can be considered.
Eichel will likely be able to carry a huge portion of the load on offense, but the depth around him still isn’t up to snuff even with the likes of Mittelstadt and Thompson ready to play at the NHL level. While Dahlin may be really good in year one, it’s unfair to expect him to carry the entire defensive load at just 18 years old. Newly signed 32-year-old goalie Carter Hutton will also be a wild card, if he can keep up the pace he played at last year while getting starter minutes.
Even if the Sabres can manage to sneak into a wild card spot in the eastern conference, they’ll likely got tossed aside by a division winner like the Maple Leafs, Avalanche and Devils were when they managed to get in.
The Sabres don’t really need to tank anymore with how much elite talent they’ve acquired through the draft, so expect a massive improvement from finishing in last. But making the playoffs this season is a bit ambitious. They don’t have the talent this year that the Maple Leafs, Devils, and Avalanche had when they got in, but they’re getting there. There’s hope for Sabres fans, but they just need to be patient with the process.