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Atlantic Division Preview: Buffalo Sabres

After years of dwelling in the basement, are the Sabres beginning to climb their way out?

Detroit Red Wings v Buffalo Sabres Photo by Tom Brenner/Getty Images

Let’s be honest, the Buffalo Sabres have not developed the reputation of being a very good hockey team among those in the hockey world over the last several NHL seasons, but they also aren’t a team that you wish continued failing on. Growing up less than one hundred miles away from Buffalo I can attest first-hand to the loyalty of Sabres fans, both friends and family, despite enduring numerous years of misery and suffering on their part.

Buffalo has pretty much stayed buried in the basement of the Atlantic Division over the last several seasons, occasionally playing spoiler to “better” hockey teams, but the organization does appear to be making moves that will eventually aid in the team crawling out of their perpetually miserable divisional rankings.

What They Did In 2015-2016

Record: 35-36-11
Atlantic Division Finish: Seventh
Goals For: 199 (25th in NHL)
Goals Against: 215 (16th in NHL)
PP%: 18.9 (12th in NHL)
PK%: 82.6 (9th in NHL)

Although the Sabres did not qualify for the postseason during the 2015-2016 NHL campaign, they added a few key pieces that will undoubtedly continue to help them as they re-build into a better hockey club, most notably, second-overall draft pick, Jack Eichel. Along with Eichel, the additions of Ryan O’Reilly and Evander Kane (for better or worse) gave the Sabres a much needed offensive spark. Eichel, Kane and O’Reilly all contributed 20 plus goals to the team in 2015-16.

Buffalo also got their first major contributions from another of their former first-round picks, Sam Reinhart. Reinhart put up 23 goals and 19 assists in 79 games played with Buffalo last season. The Sabres have acquired some nice prospects over the last few years, players like Eichel and Reinhart will be what helps push the Sabres to the next level of success in the years to come.

What They Did In The 2016 Off-Season

The Sabres added some more quality offensive pieces to their team in the 2016 off-season, namely free-agent Kyle Okposo. Okposo signed a seven-year, $42 million-dollar contract with Buffalo, which will most likely see him spend the remainder of his career with the organization. Okposo will be an instrumental piece in giving the Sabres a new identity on offense this upcoming season.

On the back-end, Buffalo added veteran defencemen, Dmitry Kulikov and Justin Falk. While neither Kulikov or Falk are premier NHL blue-liners, both will add a veteran presence on Buffalo’s blue-line and could benefit from a change of scenery.

And it wouldn’t be an off-season in Buffalo without adding another top-prospect via the NHL Entry Draft, which just so happened to be held in Buffalo this year. This year the Sabres selected skilled winger, Alexander Nylander, eighth-overall. Nylander will be another valuable asset for Buffalo in the years to come.

2016-2017 Outlook/Predictions

While nobody is expecting the Sabres to come out and dominate the Atlantic Division, they could very well surprise some people and possibly make a strong push for a Wild Card spot. If Buffalo does intend to make a playoff-push in 2016-17, they will need a much more complete team-effort, most notably from either (or both) Robin Lehner and Anders Nilsson between the pipes. The Sabres possibly making the playoffs may seem like bold opinion at this point, but stranger things have happened.