Mailbag: Are the Buffalo Sabres still bad?

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Are the <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nhl/teams/buf" data-ylk="slk:Buffalo Sabres">Buffalo Sabres</a> still bad? (Getty)
Are the Buffalo Sabres still bad? (Getty)

Training camp!!!

Now that camps are open, it’s officially time to consider all the intrigue of the last few months, including the stuff that surfaced this week. This is all likely to have a big impact on the league as a whole over the course of the coming season, now only about three weeks away from starting.

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So I’m like Radio Shack: you’ve got questions and I’ve got answers. Here we go:

Mike asks: “Which team with terrible numbers but amazing luck will sneak into the playoffs this year?”

When talking about this kind of thing, it’s important to really only look at teams with goalies who are slightly above average and go from there. It’s possible (but rare) for teams to get league-average goaltending and PDO their way into the playoffs through a high shooting percentage alone.

So who has a good goalie but a potentially not-great team? Probably not Vegas again, but mainly because I think they’re better than they were last year. Montreal probably isn’t good enough in front of Carey Price to help him out even in a bounce-back year. New Jersey could do it but they’re one of those rare teams that shot their way to the playoffs last year.

So I think what I’ll say is: Maybe Minnesota. Probably Washington (look at their underlying numbers from last season, and assume Holtby recovers from a putrid 2017-18). And I’ll go with Anaheim too, because I really like John Gibson but not so much the rest of that team or the coach.

Andrew asks: “I’m a Canucks fan living in Ottawa. Should I just sit this season out?”

By the time you read this, Erik Karlsson might have already been traded and the local team is already pledging to push out the boat with 10 rookies on it. I said yesterday that I don’t know if that’s mathematically possible but if they’re even in the neighborhood, it’s gonna be a long year. I wouldn’t wish “watching the 2018-19 Senators” on my worst enemy.

To a lesser extent, because your favorite team is going young and gritty, which is not a great combo, the Canucks could be tough to watch. There are cost-of-admission players like Brock Boeser and maybe Elias Pettersson but also a lot of garbage. Certainly, even if they’re a little fun to watch at times they won’t be, like, competitive.

But here’s the thing: I think this could be one of the most fun, intriguing seasons for the league in general. So much intrigue this season with potential stars getting traded if they’re heading toward UFA status, stacked divisions that will be absolute street brawls for six months, and so on.

I say it all the time but hockey fans are too parochial and concerned with only their teams. If more people watched the whole league, I think everyone would be a lot better off. I urge everyone to abandon their crap teams, get Center Ice or whatever, and watch 150 games a year for teams they normally don’t give a rat’s ass about. You’ll have a blast.

Jimmy asks: “Are the Sabres still bad?”

You can’t add as much talent as the Sabres did this summer and still be bad, no.

However, you can’t also be as bad as the Sabres were last year, add a bunch of non-elite talent, and be as good as people really seem to want them to be either. I’ve said it before but they’re probably the fifth-best team in their own division now, up from seventh- or eighth-best, so that’s a marked improvement. And it’s not their fault the top of that division is absolutely stacked.

But because of that stackedness, I can’t see the Sabres as a legit playoff threat unless, like, Carter Hutton goes all the way off.

Again, it’s hard not to improve when you bring so many good players aboard (and even with the acknowledgement that they got crushed in the Ryan O’Reilly trade) and when you were the worst team in the league but the hole is so deep that you’re not digging out in one summer.

Granville asks: “Who comes outta the Central?”

Right now I think I’m still leaning Nashville over Winnipeg, but St. Louis will keep it really interesting all year. I just like the Predators 1-20 a little more than I do Winnipeg, but I still think the Jets are a top-3 team in the league, so it’s razor-thin. If Hellebuyck remains great, as he was last year, and Pekka Rinne isn’t exactly “unexpected Vezina winner”-quality again, well, that order can flip-flop. And if Jake Allen actually has a good season, I can see St. Louis edging above one of those two teams, but it’d take a good amount of luck for that to happen.

If I’m ballparking it right now, I probably go: Nashville, Winnipeg, (small gap), St. Louis, (slightly bigger gap), Dallas, Minnesota, (small gap), Chicago, Colorado. I can see every team in this division finishing north of 85 points.

Brodie asks: “Will Yzerman end up as GM in Seattle?”

Of course not.

He’s got a year left on his deal in Tampa, which he’ll serve from Detroit. Then he’ll take a job in the Red Wings’ front office. Whether that means he takes over from Ken Holland who gets “promoted” to another job or slides in at some other position then becomes GM when Holland’s contract is up after 2019-20, who knows? But we all know what’s gonna happen here.

Especially because, even if he were to take the job in Seattle, that team likely won’t start play until 2020-21 (according to the latest reports) so that’s a lot of work to put in for a guy who already basically didn’t do anything for a year and would have to move, again, or take on an even longer commute to do the job.

He’s the next GM of the Red Wings and he’s gonna have two years of very high draft picks to make it easier to hit the ground running. It’s not a particularly well-kept secret.

Matt asks: “What team do you see as this year’s 2017 Oilers, that a lot of pundits pick to win the Cup but regress/bust?”

I don’t know if anyone in the Cup convo has a legit shot to crash and burn that hard. It would take some serious doing; bad seasons from multiple key players including a goaltender, injuries, etc. It’s not impossible because this is the NHL but ehhhhhh, it’s just hard to see.

The only teams I can really think of that seem to be getting a baffling amount of hype in the last month (and I already mentioned them above) is both teams from the Cup Final.

I’m just really not sold on this Washington group, yeah even after they won the title, because they needed a lot to go right for them, everyone’s a year older, they just did the long playoff slog, etc. Vegas didn’t have that big long playoff fight because of how easily they knocked off everyone they played, but c’mon. Even as they improved this summer, we all understand they’re not in the same league as Winnipeg or Nashville, and probably even St. Louis and San Jose.

Doesn’t mean either team is bad — and maybe Todd Rierden has a trick or two up his sleeve — but they’re not legit contenders.

John asks: “Given the current state of the teams, who seems to have had the craziest draft in the last ten years?”

Well, no teams have really had the kind of “draft three elite talents” drafts in the last 10 years that Montreal did in 2007. With their first three picks that year, the Habs went with Ryan McDonagh (No. 12 overall), Max Pacioretty (No. 22), and PK Subban (No. 43). Very funny that none of those guys are on the team anymore and the collective return for them was…. bad.

But Colorado got Matt Duchene, Ryan O’Reilly, and Tyson Barrie in 2009, and only one of those guys is still with the Avs (despite long-swirling rumors a few years ago that they would move him too).

The Hurricanes got Jeff Skinner, Justin Faulk, and Freddie Andersen in 2010. Only Faulk is still with the team.

They also got both Noah Hanifin and Sebastian Aho in 2015. Hanifin just got traded. That same year, Philly got Ivan Provorov and Travic Konecny in the first round, so that’s something to keep an eye on.

I think maybe the craziest draft, in terms of the number of legit NHLers it produced, is what the Islanders did in 2009. They snagged John Tavares, Calvin de Haan, Casey Cizikas, and Anders Lee as outfield players, plus Anders Nilsson and KHL giant/new Oilers backup Mikko Koskinen for goalies. They got six NHLers of various quality in seven picks.

That was the year after they picked 13(!) times and snagged Josh Bailey, Travis Hamonic, Matt Martin, and Jared Spurgeon, which isn’t a bad haul either.

But in terms of raw talent, you gotta go with Anaheim in 2011, when they got Rickard Rakell, John Gibson, Wild Bill Karlsson, and Josh Manson. Obviously they were one of two teams that bailed on Karlsson, but any draft where you get a player like Rakell, Gibson, and Manson is a huge one.

Ben asks: “Create a team of three forwards, two defensemen, and a goalie made up of current college hockey players. You can’t have two players from the same conference.”

Ben, first of all, thanks for a college hockey thing but this is not a question, so consider this a formal warning.

Second, this isn’t really that tough this year:

Max Veronneau – Dylan McLaughlin – Wade Allison

Quinn Hughes – Alec Rauhauser

Cayden Primeau

Thanks.

Ryan Lambert is a Yahoo! Sports hockey columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

All stats via Corsica unless noted otherwise. Some questions in the mailbag are edited for clarity or to remove swear words, which are illegal to use.

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