Buffalo Sabres: Puck Daddy’s 2015-16 NHL Season Preview

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(The 2015-16 NHL season is nearly upon us! Why bother watching this team? What will make or break the season? Find out as we preview all 30 teams as camps begin!)  

Last Season

23-51-8, 54 points, last place in league

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2014-15 Season, In One Tweet

BUF tweet
BUF tweet

Did They Get Better, Worse Or Are They About The Same?

Ending up last in the NHL - albeit somewhat purposefully - there aren’t many more ways to go other than up.

Buffalo’s extreme makeover kicked into full swing in February of the 2014-15 season. The team acquired Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian and the rights to Jason Kasdorf from the Winnipeg Jets for Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford, minor-leaguer Joel Armia, the rights to Brendan Lemieux, and the lowest of Buffalo’s three first round picks. On the same day, goaltender Jhonas Enroth was mercifully shipped to the Dallas Stars in exchange for Anders Lindback and a pick. At the trade deadline, the Sabres swapped goaltenders again, this time sending Michal Neuvirth to the Islanders for Chad Johnson.

The Sabres tank job did leave them with the worst record in the league, all but securing them with the top spot in the draft. But like Jameis Winston and crab legs at a supermarket, the Edmonton Oilers walked away from the draft lottery with the first overall pick in their pocket like it was just another day. Buffalo settled with the second overall selection, American wunderkind, Jack Eichel.

When not taking all of five seconds to announce his selection at the podium, GM Tim Murray was busy working the phones. He kicked of his big trade day by acquiring Robin Lehner and David Legwand from the Ottawa Senators for a first round pick received in 2013 from the Islanders. He followed it up with a massive deal to pick up Ryan O’Reilly and Jamie McGinn from the Colorado Avalanche for Nikita Zadorov, Mikhail Grigorenko, J.T. Compher and Buffalo's 2nd-round pick in the 2015 draft.

Lindback, Patrick Kaleta, Andrej Mezaros, and Andre Benoit became free agents; however, Kaleta has returned to the team (for now) on a PTO. Buffalo bought out the remaining five-years of Cody Hodgson’s contract; then they backed up a dump truck full of cash to extend O’Reilly for seven years and $52.5-million. The Sabres won the Cody Franson sweepstakes signing the defenseman to a two-year contract.

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Five Most Fascinating Players

1. Jack Eichel, F

Eichel played coy at the draft when asked if he’d return to Boston University or turn pro. It took about three days and a three-year ELC that could reach its maximum value allowed under the CBA to change his mind. At BU, he scored 71 points in 41 games and was the first freshman Hobey Baker award winner since Paul Kariya. To say the expectations are immense for a kid that doesn’t turn 19-years-old until Oct. 28 is an understatement. Eichel the cornerstone in the evolution of the Sabres. No pressure, Jack.

2. Jack Eichel Robin Lehner, G

Lehner became the odd goalie out in Ottawa with the emergence of the Hamburglar. It wasn’t something Lehner could control even if he wanted to. The last time the netminder played in a regular season NHL game was February 16 when he left the ice after colliding with a teammate and was later diagnosed with a concussion, keeping him out the rest of the season. Coming to the Sabres, he’s expected to be the No. 1 goalie. It’s right to be wary as to if he can handle the workload when he’s only played in - at the most - 45 games between the NHL and AHL in one season.

3. Jack Eichel Evander Kane, F

Few people wanted Evander Kane out of Winnipeg more than Mr. Kane himself. His trials and tribulations with the organization are well documented and appeared to come to a head when he opted for season-ending shoulder surgery in February. Days later the trade to Buffalo came down. Kane’s behavior off the ice has distracted from the fact he’s a helluva talent - when he wants to be. At 6-foot-2, 204-pounds, he’s a freight train on skates with great hands. Kane is one of four active players with at least 100 goals, 100 assists, 350 penalty minutes and 1,200 shots on goal.

4. Jack Eichel Ryan O’Reilly, F

If it wasn’t for a certain Blackhawks forward, the media would be focused on the outstanding legal problems of O’Reilly. Ten days after signing a massive contract extension, he was arrested for driving while impaired when he crashed his truck into a Tim Horton’s in Ontario. The court hearing for his case is currently scheduled to take place on Oct. 1; the Sabres and the NHL have yet to decide whether or not to discipline. Buffalo is moving forward with their on-ice plans for O’Reilly by penciling him in as their No. 1 center with Kane and Tyler Ennis on his wings.

5. Jack Eichel Tyler Ennis, F

Lost in the race for the bottom last season was the outstanding play of Ennis. He led the Sabres in scoring with 46-points. He was first on the team in goals at 20 and second with 26 assists. In five NHL season, he’s scored at least 30 points. In the last two, he’s put up at least 40. At 5-foot-9, Ennis is small by league standards. Now, he’s surrounded by beef in players like O’Reilly and Kane who can clear the ice for him to make plays.

Potentially The Best Thing About This Team

General Manager Tim Murray. He knows he still has a lot of work to do in Buffalo before they can start planning the parade, and is keeping the fans in Pegulaville realistic. Plus, he looks and acts like the NHL version of Dwight Schrute. You know another GM has already put his calculator in a Jell-O mold.

Potentially The Worst Thing About This Team

The evolution of the defense is behind the offense, which isn't a total surprise. Establishing a stable defensive corps during a rebuild is far more difficult. Good young defensemen are hard to find and need time to develop. Zach Bogosian, Rasmus Ristolainen and Mark Pysyk are young and still relatively raw, but the upside is there. It's just going to take some time to consistently see it.

Dream 3-on-3 OT Group

Jack Eichel, Evander Kane, and Tyler Ennis. In the immortal words of Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson: SPEEEEEEEEED.

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being scorching hot)

Two. The Buffalo players reportedly liked playing for head coach Ted NoIan; however, when it came to his relationship with the GM, it was cordial, at best. Nolan was shown the door, and at the end of May, Dan Bylsma was hired.

It was only a matter of time before Disco Dan received another NHL gig. With a Stanley Cup and the successful raising of Sidney Crosby on his resume, he fit what the Sabres need in their transitional period. Bylsma is a players coach who can work with young players shouldering huge expectations. The leash is long for the first few years as Murray endeavors to makeover the rest of his roster to set Bylsma up for future success.

Awkward Old School Video Break

Ok, it's not a old school, but c'mon. Is there a better Latvian tribute music video than the one to Zemgus Girgensons? 

Their Best Case Scenario Is …

The foundation is laid for the Sabres to become a formidable team in the years to come. Even if they finish outside of the playoffs, they'll be able to add another high draft pick to their young core that is locked up for the next few years.

Their Nightmare Scenario Is …

The Sabres give maximum effort to win games and not getting results different than those of a season ago.

Prediction

The Sabres were out of a playoff spot by 44 points last season, but much of that gap is a result of striving for the bottom of league. On paper the team is far better than they were last year, but it doesn’t mean they’re going to be able to rocket up the standings in an increasingly competitive Eastern Conference. They’ll miss the playoffs but make significant strides towards turning things around.

PUCK DADDY SEASON PREVIEW 2015-16: Winnipeg Jets/Washington Capitals/Vancouver Canucks/Tampa Bay Lightning/San Jose Sharks/Pittsburgh Penguins/Philadelphia Flyers/Ottawa Senators/New York Rangers/New York Islanders/New Jersey Devils/Nashville Predators/Montreal Canadiens/Minnesota Wild/Los Angeles Kings/Florida Panthers/Detroit Red Wings/Dallas Stars/Columbus Blue Jackets/Colorado Avalanche/Chicago Blackhawks/Carolina Hurricanes/Calgary Flames

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Jen Neale is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email her at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow her on Twitter! Follow @MsJenNeale_PD.

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