As the Buffalo Sabres wind down the remaining six games of the 2015-2016 season, most fans and media members are looking forward to the National Hockey League’s Draft Lottery, the Draft, and upcoming trades and signings that general manager Tim Murray will likely try to make.
This season, the Sabres remain towards the basement of the league, even though they have added talent like Evander Kane, Ryan O’Reilly, Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart and goaltender Robin Lehner. To many, this was expected as the Sabres are still in a rebuilding year. The Sabres are still one of the youngest teams in the NHL, with the average age of its players being 26.
Once the season ends on April 9, the 2015-16 season will be remembered as a year of growing pains for the Sabres. What do the Sabres need to do to bolster the roster in order to make the playoffs?
Right at the top of the list for the Sabres is the need for another top-six forward. This year, the Sabres have lacked in the offensive department, even though they have added a lot of talent. To be fair, a lot of the Sabres offensive talent is young, and will have even more time to grow. The Sabres have 174 goals this season, which puts them in the basement compared to the league average at 197.
Next on Buffalo’s list of needs is an efficient puck-moving defenseman. At this point in time, the Sabres have a decent but young defensive core. They have a few talented two-way defenseman like Jake McCabe, Mark Pysyk, and Rasmus Ristolainen. These players will grow to be solid in the defensive zone with some offensive talent as well. But the Sabres could use a more offensively gifted defense who can move pucks into the offensive zone.
A good puck-moving defense can do a lot for your team. Not only will they help a team defensively by being able to move pucks up the ice but, especially for a team that has trouble scoring, could help in the offensive zone as well.
Although older, both Brian Campbell and Alex Goligoski will be free-agents in June if they do not re-sign with their respective teams. Campbell, 36, has 29 points in 74 games and is a plus-22 with the Florida Panthers. Goligoski, 30, has 34 points in 75 games and is a plus-10 with the Dallas Stars.
Tim Murray has said that they are looking for younger players that have not necessarily hit their prime yet. It may be expensive to trade for a young puck-moving defenseman at this point in time, so signing a grizzled veteran may be the Sabres best option at this point.
Another need for the Sabres is to add more depth talent to the roster. The Sabres may have five out six of their Top-6 forwards. In the bottom-6 forward pool, the Sabres lack depth. While Johan Larsson and Brian Gionta have bounced back from slow starts to the season, a player like Matt Moulson has had a poor year and has been able to produce on a consistent basis.
Also, injuries have plagued the Sabres this year and have exposed their need for depth. Ryan O’Reilly and Zach Bogosian missed a decent portion of games this year, and Tyler Ennis has not played since December 30.
After two-and-a-half years of rebuilding for the Sabres, fans may get impatient while waiting for this young team to fully blossom. It is important to note that while the Sabres could use more talent on this roster, at the same time it does not mean Murray should get off track. It is important for this team to grow and see where the dust will settle before any major changes are made.
While the Sabres need to add some scoring offense to the roster, the Sabres need to add a couple of players that play with a nasty edge to their game.
It is not about acquiring a fighter or some goon to thrown down the gloves and throw punches every-other game. The age of enforcers on the roster is dying out, so the need for a John Scott on the roster is not necessary.
However, the Sabres can still be a soft team. It is not just about hits, it is also about the entire persona of the team. The Sabres average 23 hits per game, which puts them in the middle of the pack in the NHL. Hits do not exactly show how tough a team is, but it is also how a team reacts to one of its players being taken advantage of.
Last week Friday against the Ottawa Senators, Chris Neil gave Jack Eichel a couple of shots when he was down and no one answered to it. It is just a reminder from the past few years of why the Sabres are still a soft team.
Sure, they have players like Marcus Foligno, Nicolas Deslauriers and Zach Bogosian who will stand up for the team, but three guys isn’t enough. The Sabres need to add some more players who can not only be physical and stick up for themselves and others, but also those who can contribute offensively.
One player who is a perfect example of what the Sabres need in terms of physicality and offensive prowess is former Boston Bruins forward, and a very hated player
Why is he hated? Remember this?
That is why. But anyways…
Lucic is on the last year of his contract with the Los Angeles Kings with a cap hit of $6 million, and will become an unrestricted free agent this summer. In his first season with a very good Kings team, Lucic has 17 goals and 46 points in 73 games. While Lucic is regarded as having an average year, he is the type of player that the Sabres could definitely use. He hits just about anything that moves, gets in the opponent’s faces, and he is not afraid to stick up for his teammates for whatever reason.
The Kings are having a great year and could make a run at the Stanley Cup this year. Lucic may want to stay with the Kings or sign a long term contract with another immediate contender.
The Pegulas have built a bully on the football field, now it is time to build a bully on the ice.
If the Sabres can make the right moves in the offseason to help bolster the roster, this team may finally be able to reach that next step in the rebuilding process, the playoffs. While a big name like Steven Stamkos may help accelerate the process, if the Sabres cannot land a guy like him then Murray will have to figure out where to play from there.
Buffalo is in good hands. The improvements are being seen this season, but if Sabres management can put the right pieces in the puzzle together, the 2016-17 season could be a different looking Sabres team.