With the Sabres season rolling, and a rather optimistic start, there seems to be new signs of hope developing in the 716. There is an excitement that hasn’t been felt since the days of the slug jerseys, the days when Lindy Ruff was behind the bench and Ryan Miller was making huge saves. But those days are long gone.
For the past decade, being a Sabres fan has been pretty painful. Through various players, coaches and general managers, the winning formula just seemed to never be discovered.
Well, early on this season, it seems a winning formula may be in the works.
Let’s start with the addition of new head coach, Ralph Krueger. Krueger has been in the soccer world for the past four years with Southampton FC, which caused some people to question the hire. However, anyone who knew Krueger raved about how great of a hire this was for Buffalo. So far, Krueger has earned his paycheck. For the first time in a long time, Sabres are playing with purpose and structure. It seems as if the players are carrying out a game plan, which was something that seemed to be missing over the past many years.
Speaking of players, some new additions this year have revitalized the Buffalo lineup. Depth scoring has always seemed to be an issue, but that issue started getting addressed this offseason. With the trade for Jimmy Vesey and the free agent signing of Marcus Johansson, the middle six of this lineup has some needed new faces trying to net some more goals.
The Sabres also went out and strengthened their blue line. They acquired Colin Miller from Vegas and promising rookie Henri Jokiharju from Chicago. Jokiharju has played very well, especially with being so young, and will continue to develop. Miller started playing alongside 19-year-old franchise defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, allowing Dahlin to really flourish due to Miller’s solid all-around game.
They also brought up arguably Rochester’s best player from last year. His name is Victor Oloffson and if you don’t know of him yet, get used to the name. Known for his rocket of a shot, Oloffson has also displayed excellent hockey IQ and passing ability. Not to mention he started playing on the first line and power play alongside Sam Reinhart and Jack Eichel, which meant plenty of early points and Rookie of the Year conversations. His production thus far is mostly on the power play, but the even strength goals will come as he gets more comfortable.
There could be more reinforcements on the way, as the Sabres also have guys in the minors waiting for the call up who are more than ready to go. One of them is Tage Thompson, who had a huge summer that led many to believe he should have made the Sabres out of camp. He has already started scoring in the minors, so it may only be a matter of time before we see the big number 72 back in Buffalo.
One of the most important factors in the Sabres doing well this year and maybe getting back in the playoffs is goaltending, just like every other team. If you are not getting good play from one or both of your goalies, good luck. Carter Hutton has looked very sharp out of the gate and Linus Ullmark has done very well in his games as well. However, both looked very good early on last year as well, and we all know how that ended.
Goaltending is huge for any team trying to get to the playoffs, and it will be no different for Buffalo this year. They have a promising goalie prospect in Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, though he is still rehabbing from hip surgery and will most likely have to spend the year in the minors anyway. But if things got very desperate, UPL could possibly get a chance this year.
All in all, Sabres have a good amount of talent that is being coached by a guy who has a plan. Playoffs are certainly in sight this year, though being in a stacked Atlantic Division means will have to be well over .500 to even just get a wild card spot. Either way, the future is very bright and there is finally some light at the end of the tunnel. Hopefully the Golden Season lives up to its name.
Austin Sauer is a Niagara Wheatfield alumnus. Want to respond, or have a take? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.