After the NHL Draft, free agency and other offseason moves, NHL.com is examining where each team stands in preparation for the 2020-21 regular season, which is targeted to start Jan. 1. Today, the Buffalo Sabres:
The Buffalo Sabres wanted to find a way to appease captain Jack Eichel, who said in May he was “frustrated” they had failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs throughout his five seasons in the NHL. They are hoping the addition of Taylor Hall, the top forward available in free agency, will help them make the playoffs for the first time since 2010-11.
Hall, who signed a one-year contract Oct. 11, has scored 563 points (218 goals, 345 assists) in 627 NHL games. Coach Ralph Krueger, who coached Hall with the Edmonton Oilers for 48 games in 2012-13, plans on lining up the 28-year-old on Eichel’s wing.
“You have to be excited when you think of two elite forwards of that caliber attacking the opposition with the system we have,” Krueger said. “It will be lethal.”
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New general manager Kevyn Adams, who replaced Jason Botterill on June 16, said he hopes Hall enjoys his time in Buffalo to the point the sides can eventually agree to a multiyear contract.
“We believe in Taylor as a player and as a person, and we hope this turns into a long-term relationship for both sides that works,” Adams said.
The Hall signing wasn’t the only big splash the Sabres made since Adams took over. They acquired Eric Staal in a trade from the Minnesota Wild for forward Marcus Johansson on Sept. 16 to be the No. 2 center behind Eichel.
Adams and Staal were teammates with the 2005-06 Stanley Cup champion Carolina Hurricanes, a relationship Staal said made the trade easier to digest.
“I certainly hope that the players and coaches and our staff and the organization are excited, and our fans are excited,” Adams said. “But we’re in a position right now where we have to go earn it. We have to go get better every day.”
Here is what the Sabres look like today.
Taylor Hall, F: The left wing scored 52 points (16 goals, 36 assists) in 65 games for the Arizona Coyotes and New Jersey Devils last season. He won the Hart Trophy voted as NHL MVP in 2017-18, when he scored 93 points (39 goals, 54 assists) to help New Jersey end a five-season playoff drought. … Eric Staal, F: The 35-year-old scored 47 points (19 goals, 28 assists) in 66 games with the Wild last season. … Matt Irwin, D: The 32-year-old, who signed a one-year contract Oct. 9, had three assists in 36 games with the Nashville Predators and Anaheim Ducks last season. … Tobias Rieder, F: The 27-year-old signed a one-year contract Oct. 9 after scoring 10 points (four goals, six assists) in 55 games with the Calgary Flames last season. … Cody Eakin, F: The 29-year-old center signed a two-year contract Oct. 11 after scoring 15 points (five goals, 10 assists) in 49 games with the Vegas Golden Knights and Winnipeg Jets last season. … Kevyn Adams, GM: The 46-year-old had been Buffalo’s senior vice president of business administration.
Johan Larsson, F: Signed a two-year contract with the Coyotes on Oct. 10 after scoring 18 points (six goals, 12 assists) in 62 games last season. … Jimmy Vesey, F: Signed a one-year contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs on Oct. 11 after scoring 20 points (nine goals, 11 assists) in 64 games last season. … Wayne Simmonds, F: Signed a one-year contract with the Maple Leafs on Oct. 9. He scored 25 points (eight goals, 17 assists) in 68 games with the Sabres and Devils last season,. … Jason Botterill, GM: The Sabres were 88-115-30 in his three seasons as GM.
On the cusp
Dylan Cozens, F: The 19-year-old, selected with the No. 7 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, scored 85 points (38 goals, 47 assists) in 51 games for Lethbridge of the Western Hockey League last season. Krueger said Cozens, a natural center, could start his NHL career at right wing. … Casey Mittelstadt, F: The 21-year-old, the No. 8 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, split time between Buffalo and Rochester of the American Hockey League last season, scoring nine points (four goals, five assists) in 31 games for the Sabres and 25 points (nine goals, 16 assists) in 36 AHL games.
What they still need
Clarity at goalie. Krueger said Oct. 12 that Linus Ullmark (17-14-3, 2.69 goals-against average, .915 save percentage) and Carter Hutton (12-14-4, 3.18, .898) are the choice “for the moment” but added the situation continues to be examined. The Sabres allowed 3.12 goals per game last season, 22nd in the NHL, but Ullmark, Hutton and Jonas Johansson (six games) combined for a .922 5-on-5 save percentage, 11th in the League.
Eichel could finish among the top five fantasy players this season after the addition of Hall. Eichel scored an NHL career-high 82 points (28 goals, 54 assists) with left wing Jeff Skinner on his line in 2018-19 before being on an 82-game pace for 94 points last season (78 points in 68 games) with rookie Victor Olofsson on his left side. With Hall, a two-time 80-point scorer, Eichel has his best sidekick yet. — Pete Jensen
Taylor Hall — Jack Eichel — Sam Reinhart
Jeff Skinner — Eric Staal — Dylan Cozens
Tobias Rieder — Cody Eakin — Victor Olofsson
Zemgus Girgensons — Curtis Lazar — Kyle Okposo
Rasmus Dahlin — Jake McCabe
Henri Jokiharju — Rasmus Ristolainen
Brandon Montour — Colin Miller