Being a fan of the Buffalo Sabres isn’t easy. In 2017-2018, the club won just 25 games and allowed 81 more goals against than goals scored. They were dead last in the standings.
Jack Eichel was a rare bright spot, scoring 64 points in just 67 games. He had a team-leading 25 goals and a team-leading 39 assists, but he was still a -25 because this is the Buffalo Sabres we’re talking about here.
It’s hard to find anything resembling optimism in Buffalo, but Rasmus Dahlin is as good a reason as any. The number one pick of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft is due to arrive. The defenceman from Trollhättan played youth hockey with HC Lidköping and is capable in every aspect of the game.
Dahlin has variously been compared to the likes of Erik Karlsson, Brian Leetch and Nicklas Lidstrom. His skating ability really is sublime, and Sabres’ fans have every reason for their excitement.
But there’s still plenty of trouble in the franchise and it’s hard to imagine one player, even someone with the promise of Dahlin, has the nerve to turn things around on a dime.
That’s not to say Buffalo hasn’t improved.
In late June, the Sabres acquired forward Conor Sheary in a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He has two Stanley Cups under his belt and scored 30 points last season. Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka and Tage Thompson were added in a swap with the St. Louis Blues. The Sabres lost Ryan O’Reilly in the deal, however.
In goal, the club picked up Carter Hutton – another St. Louis Blue – and signed him to a three-year contract. Hutton isn’t necessarily a saviour when it comes to the position, but he’s an upgrade of sorts from Robin Lehner, who unsurprisingly went to the Blues.
The problem is that Buffalo tolerates an awful lot of shots on goal – like a lot. Last season, they allowed 32.4 shots on goal per game, the 10th most in the league, and they allowed 280 goals against – the third most in the league. They posted a fourth-worst .917 save percentage in the five-on-five, too.
With the tandem of Linus Ullmark and Hutton holding the fort, are the Sabres a playoff team? Hardly.
But the additions of Dahlin, Sheary and maybe even Berglund are worth something and there are some players on the horizon, like potential second line pivot Casey Mittelstadt, that could turn some heads. For the most part, 2018-2019 looks like another playoff-missing season for this hockey club. But watching them edge ever close to propriety may at least be a little less painful.