Here we are, 15 games into the 2023-24 NHL season and there are portions of the Sabres’ fanbase who think the team is going nowhere, while others see hope. I wanted to put together my thoughts on the season so far, where the teams stands and what I would do if I had GM Kevyn Adams’ job.
Compared to last year
Objectively, the Sabres are pretty much in the same position they were in last season. Subjectively, they’re doing much better this year. Let me explain.
Last season, the team started quick. After 10 games, they were 7-3-0. But then on November 4, 2022, they hit the wall, losing their first of 8 games in a row! So, after 15 games, the same point we’re at this season, their stat line looked like this:
Compare that to this season. You could say the team started slowly, going 5-5-0 in their first 10 games. They’ve remained at .500 since and are now at 7-7-1:
They’ve scored 11 fewer goals this year but have also allowed 5 fewer goals. Their schedule last season was arguably easier last season, with them playing 6 games against non-playoff teams in the first 15 games versus only 4 games this year. But the main reason for me to claim they are in a better position this year is that they haven’t been prone to losing streaks. While they’ve had some bad games, they’ve always come back stronger the next time out.
- The top two lines (Thompson and Mittelstadt lines) are working well almost every game. Sure, there are times when we’d like to see more offensive output but that happens in hockey; at least the effort is there.
- The fourth line is doing what they’re supposed to do, which is play hard and limit the other teams’ scoring chances. Girgensons and Okposo haven’t produced much offensively but that’s OK as long as they’re not costing the team anything on the backend. So, for me, that’s still a positive. You can’t always be on offense, sometimes you have to stop the other team from scoring.
- The PK unit is doing quite well this year, and with the addition of Thompson, the PK squad has even produced 2 shorthanded goals.
- Overall team defense has been better this season. Sure, there have been breakdowns but honestly there are far fewer than what we saw last season.
- Goaltending has been good to outstanding. All three goalies (Levi, UPL and Comrie) have had great games when they stole two points and other games when the team could have used one more big save. But none of them has had what I would consider a bad game.
What’s not working
- The powerplay has been dismal this season. Last year, it kept them in games. This season, I feel the lack of scoring is costing them games, not just because of the goals they aren’t scoring but because of the momentum shifts they aren’t getting.
- Whatever third line Don Granato has cobbled together over these first 15 games has generally not worked. Various combinations of Cozens, Jost, Olofsson, Krebs, Benson, Savoie and Rousek just haven’t produced much.
- Something seems a bit off with Dylan Cozens so far this season. He has 3 goals and 4 assists in the 13 games he’s played, but he doesn’t seem to have the same drive that we saw last year. Unless there’s an injury we don’t know about, I’m not too worried about Cozens though. He’s a hard worker and will find his way out of this.
- Victor Olofsson has not been contributing to the team in the 9 games he’s played. He scored 28 goals last year yet was a team-low -25! This defensive liability clearly has him in the coach’s doghouse.
GM for a day – The trade route
The trade route would be my preferred one. If there’s one thing the Sabres have is assets. Right now, they’ve got 8 NHL-caliber defensemen on the active roster. They have loads of prospects in the pipeline too.
I think the team needs a middle-six winger who can play a hard-nosed, go-to-the-net kind of game. I’m not looking for a shooter or a playmaker; I want someone who is willing to stand in front of the other team’s goalie and take cross checks to the back. Someone like Brendan Gallagher in Montreal. I’m not saying I’m going after Gallagher… just someone like him. I’d be willing to trade Olofsson and Bryson/Jokiharju. The trade could also be an Olofsson-Comrie package deal.
There are fans out there who are talking about bringing Zadorov back to Buffalo after he asked for a trade from Calgary. To me, this doesn’t make sense. Sure, it improves their toughness, but who do you trade? Calgary may take a D + Olofsson if you retain most of his salary, but I don’t think this improves the team.
GM for a day – The free agent route
There’s only one free agent that people are talking about and that’s Buffalo native Patrick Kane. If I were GM, I’d consider signing him if he can prove he’s healthy. At this point in his career, I think he’d fit quite well next to either Dylan Cozens or Casey Mittelstadt. He’d also improve the powerplay, probably replacing Jeff Skinner on the top unit.
So, I’d sign him up if he’d be willing to accept a 2-year deal in the $4.5 million AAV range.
GM for a day – Call-ups and line shuffling
Given the time of year, trades and free agents are quite rare, so the call-up/shuffling route is our most likely scenario. Here’s how I’d like to see the team lineup for the next few games:
Skinner – Thompson – Tuch
Greenway – Mittelstadt – Peterka
Krebs – Cozens – Kulich
Okposo – Jost – Girgensons
Dahlin – Samuelsson
Power – R. Johnson
E. Johnson – Clifton/Jokiharju
Levi – UPL
So, I’m sending back Rousek and calling up Kulich while I wait for Jack Quinn to come back. Olofsson is the extra forward who plays when there’s an injury. I waive Bryon when Comrie comes back from his injury.
What are your thoughts?