NHL.com is providing in-depth roster, prospect and fantasy analysis for each of its 31 teams from Nov. 16-Dec. 16. Today, the Buffalo Sabres.
The Buffalo Sabres are hoping a busy offseason leads to them reaching the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in 10 seasons.
“We know that we haven’t been good enough,” general manager Kevyn Adams said. “We have to go and get better every day and work to become the team that all of us want to become.”
Adams, who replaced Jason Botterill as GM on June 16, oversaw Buffalo signing free agent forward Taylor Hall, trading for veteran center Eric Staal, and adding depth at forward and defenseman in the offseason.
Signing Hall, who was voted winner of the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP for 2017-18, to a one-year contract Oct. 11 was the biggest move and may have signaled a change in the perception of the Sabres.
“People seemed surprised when it came out that I had signed with the Sabres,” said Hall, who was traded to the Arizona Coyotes by the New Jersey Devils on Dec. 16, 2019. “I don’t think they should be.
“Before free agency even began, my agent and I assessed every organization in the League and considered what it might be like to play there. When I looked at Buffalo, I saw a coach (Ralph Krueger) whom I respect and who knows how to get the most out of his players. I saw young, elite talent that will only get better. I saw owners in Terry and Kim Pegula and a general manager in Kevyn Adams who are committed to success. I told my agent that, should the opportunity arise, Buffalo would be a place I could see myself playing.”
Hall and Staal join a forward group led by center Jack Eichel, who has scored at least 24 goals in each of his first five NHL seasons, including 36 last season. There are also Sam Reinhart, Jeff Skinner and Victor Olofsson, who each has scored at least 20 goals in a season.
Hall’s signing helped show Buffalo is serious about ending the longest active playoff drought in the NHL. It also should help appease Eichel, the Sabres captain, who said in May he was frustrated about never having played an NHL playoff game.
“We wanted [Hall] as a piece of the puzzle,” Adams said, “and [Hall] did as well.”
Staal, acquired from the Minnesota Wild for forward Marcus Johansson on Sept. 16, should provide leadership on and off the ice. The signings of defenseman Matt Irwin and forwards Tobias Rieder and Cody Eakin bring depth to a team that hasn’t had much recently.
With the signing of Hall and Staal embracing being traded to Buffalo, the feeling about the future is much more positive for the Sabres, who finished 13th in the Eastern Conference last season (30-31-8, .493 points percentage).
Staal, whose family was entrenched in Minnesota, was stunned to be traded. Adams, his teammate with the 2006 Stanley Cup champion Carolina Hurricanes, convinced him that the Sabres were heading in the right direction.
Krueger, entering his second season as Sabres coach, was a big reason Hall chose Buffalo. Krueger was Hall’s coach for 48 games with the Edmonton Oilers in 2012-13.
“We have that trust level, Taylor and I,” Krueger said. “We developed it early on and we’ve held on to it over the last decade. I just let him know what we’re doing here.”
The influx of talent should help defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, selected No. 1 in the 2018 NHL Draft, take the next step in his development. He’s the quarterback of a power play that ranked 20th in the NHL last season (18.9 percent) but should see a spike in production with the additions of proven scorers Hall and Staal.
Dahlin, who turned 20 on April 13, has shown consistent improvement in his first two NHL seasons and seems poised for a breakout. With 84 points in 141 games, he ranks second to Hockey Hall of Fame member Phil Housley (132), a former Sabres player and coach, for most points by a teenage defenseman in NHL history.
Adams is encouraged by the pieces in place but said the true measure of the Sabres offseason will come once the games start.
“We know this is a lot of work and it’s a lot of work in front of us,” Adams said. “I think all of us, kind of in that mentality, we’re hungry and humble and we just want to get better, period.”