Welcome to our 2022-23 Preview series. In each article we'll be focusing in on a different team, reviewing how they did last season, what their summer has been like, and what their outlook is for the 2022-23 campaign.
We've already covered the Florida Panthers, Toronto Maple Leafs, Tampa Bay Lightning, and the Boston Bruins so we'll continue our look at the Atlantic Division today by examining the Buffalo Sabres.
2021-22 Season in Review
For a detailed look at how their regular season went, check out our What Went Wrong article on them. What I will say here though is that if you look at the Sabres' 2021-22 campaign in the context of it being the start of a new rebuild, then there are positives you can latch onto.
Tage Thompson made a huge leap forward, jumping from 14 points in 2020-21, to 38 goals and 68 points in 78 contests. Part of that jump came because he was given a much bigger opportunity, but part of that was due to his own progression as a player. He's still just 24-years-old too (25 in October), so he should emerge as a leader of the Sabres' next generation.
Dylan Cozens held his own too, scoring 13 goals and 38 points in 79 games as a sophomore. He's got a lot of growing to do, but at the age of 21 he also has a lot of time left to develop.
Then of course there's the heart of the Sabres' new rebuild, defensemen Rasmus Dahlin and Owen Power. Dahlin could certainly improve defensively, but he's already a fantastic puck mover and a key part of the Sabres' power play. He set career-highs last season with 13 goals and 53 points in 80 games. As for Power, Sabres fans got a taste of what he could do at the end of the season, and it was encouraging. Having two former first overall picks in Power and Dahlin leading their defense gives Buffalo a strong foundation to work with.
It's also worth noting that, all things considered, Buffalo did better than expected in 2021-22 with a 32-39-11 record. That wasn't good enough to put them in the playoff race, especially in the tough Atlantic Division, but the Sabres weren't the train wreck some anticipated they'd be so soon after cutting ties with Jack Eichel (albeit that trade didn't happen until Nov. 4, but he didn't play with them in 2020-21), Sam Reinhart, and Rasmus Ristolainen.
Speaking of those three, Sabres GM Kevyn Adams deserves a lot of credit for the returns he got in those trades. Buffalo had three first-round picks in 2022 and already has three second-round picks in 2023. So the 2021-22 campaign was another one where Buffalo missed the playoffs, but at least there's a silver lining there.
How has their summer gone?
With a clear focus towards the future, the Sabres didn't make a splash during the UFA period. They did sign Ilya Lyubushkin to a two-year, $5.5 million contract, who will probably serve in a third-pairing role. They also inked Eric Comrie to a two-year, $3.6 million deal to split the goaltending duties with returning netminder Craig Anderson.
While the Sabres might make a few more minor additions before the summer ends, changes with the team are likely to come internally. For example, the Sabres are primed to get their first full season out of Power. We also might see Jack Quinn make the opening game roster after scoring 26 goals and 61 points in 45 AHL contests last season. John Peterka, who scored 28 goals and 68 points in 70 AHL games in 2021-22, will be another young forward to watch during Buffalo's training camp.
The Sabres' young core is likely to take a step forward this season and with the likes of Power, Quinn, and Peterka all potentially working their way onto the roster in 2022-23, we might see a stronger Sabres than we did a year ago.
At the same time, they are still very much a work in progress. Their top line doesn't measure up that of their division rivals. Tampa Bay, Toronto, Boston, and even Ottawa can easily outmatch them in that regard.
Speaking of Ottawa, while the Senators finished behind them in the standings last season, the Senators have likely leapfrogged the Sabres thanks to Ottawa's aggressive summer spending. Similarly, Detroit is also looking like a better team than Buffalo, at least for now.
Don't forget, the Sabres have a lot of X-Factors. Beyond the obvious of young players being unestablished, there's also Jeff Skinner, who had a strong performance in 2021-22, but has experienced extreme highs and lows in his career and shouldn't be counted on to match his 33-goal performance in 2021-22.
Then there's Buffalo's goaltending. How much can Anderson be counted on at the age of 41? Is Comrie reliable? Sure, he was solid as the backup goaltender in Winnipeg last season, but he only played in 19 games, including 16 starts. In total he has 28 games worth of NHL experience, so he still has a lot to prove.
Past him is Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, who might be the Sabres' best long-term option in goal, but he has just 13 NHL games on his resume and might need more time to develop. The Sabres seem to think so if their decisions to re-sign Anderson and bring in Comrie are any indications.
Even Buffalo's blueline, which is the most promising aspect of their roster, still needs time to reach its full potential.
There's a lot to like about the Sabres' future, but when it comes to 2022-23, they are likely to extend their playoff drought and might even see their record dip compared to last season's.