NHL season preview series: Buffalo Sabres
BUFFALO SABRES SEASON PREVIEW
By DEVILS INSIDERS
How they Finished: 21-51-10 52 points. (8th in Atlantic Division)
F, Matt Moulson (FA)
F, Cody McCormick (FA)
F, Brian Gionta (FA)
D, Andrej Meszaros (FA)
F, Marcus Foligno (FA)
D, Andre Benoit (FA)
D, Josh Gorges (trade, MTL)
F, Cory Conacher
F, John Scott
A 52-point debacle of a season was most likely rock bottom for the Sabres. With coaching and general manager changes and a sizable roster turnover, Buffalo is aimed at rebuilding slowly.
The addition Matt Moulson was one of the more underrated moves in this year's free agency period. Moulson isn't going to help them win this year, but he's a versatile player that can play with just about anyone and will put up 20-plus goals every season. Though Brian Gionta's best days are behind him, the former Montreal Canadiens captain (and Western NY native) will bring leadership and some needed scoring help to this young roster.
For Buffalo, it's simple. The expectations are low, but it'll be time for the young players, like 2014 number two overall pick, Sam Reinhart to get their reps in and start building the Sabres back into a contender.
If everything breaks right: The Sabres will still most likely miss the playoffs. After a 52-point season, even an increase to something around the 75-point mark would be a great improvement. With some high character free agents coming in to nurture the young players such as Reinhart, Zegmus Girgensons, Rasmus Ristolainen, Nikita Zadorov and Jake McCabe
A season that ends with those aforementioned players finishing strong and looking like the beginning of a nucleus of young talent would at least have the Sabres brass and their fans excited about things to come. Players like Cody Hodgson and Drew Stafford will chip in offensively, as the team looks to build on their paltry 1.83 goals scored per game last season.
Goaltending is a big question for this team, but if either Michal Neuvirth or Jhonas Enroth can step in and wrestle away the number one goaltending job, the Sabres will be much improved.
On the back end, there is improvement as well. Josh Gorges was brought over in a trade and will instantly bring his shot-blocking prowess to the team. Andrej Mezsaros is an upgrade and if Tyler Myers can ever get his game together, it should give Buffalo some nice veterans to go with the young blue liners.
If it all goes downhill: It wouldn't be much of a surprise. After a 52-point season, there isn't much more room to be worse. Downhill would actually be hard for this team to accomplish, but if some of the rookies and younger players don't show any signs of improvement, then it might feel like an even more frustrating season, even if the team does finish with more points.
The goaltending situation could be what hurts this team the most. Enroth, though very good for spurts throughout his career hasn't shown enough to merit being a starting goaltender. Neuvirth has also had stretches of strong play when he was with the Capitals, but basically played his way out of the nation's capital when he wasn't able to take a step forward. What that means for Buffalo is that unless one of them steps up, it will be a frustrating season between the pipes.
Realistic Expectations: The Sabres should be better. Granted, it wouldn't be very hard to finish with more than the 14 regulation win they had last season. The mix of veterans that they brought in should help, but it really comes down to how all of the highly touted prospects do. If they start to click, Buffalo could find themselves approaching the 75-80 point mark. If the young talent is still developing and the goaltending situation handcuffs them, it could be a very long winter of discontent in Buffalo, once again.
For more NHL coverage, visit DevilsInsiders.com and follow them on Twitter: @DevilsInsiders