Kukla's Korner

The Sabres Observer

Odds Stacked Against Buffalo Playoff Berth

It's tough to tell a Sabres fan right now that the playoffs likely aren't in the cards for this season, considering the wealth of young talent and offseason acquisitions. Trust me -- you won't get a pleasant response.

The perceived lack of respect from prognosticators -- well, let's just say it hasn't been taken very well from a large number of diehards who expect Buffalo to leap into the postseason this coming April.

In an unscientific twitter poll I ran yesterday, 69% of 313 voters picked the Sabres to finish in the top four of the Atlantic Division.

Hey, I love the optimism and I hope they're right. But a 27-point jump from being one of the worst teams in the history of the NHL is one thing, and a 15-point improvement into the mid-nineties with some of the big boys is another. 

I say the latter is tougher to accomplish, and the Sabres don't quite have the complete team that can do it. Not just yet.

Sure, Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart should get even better than they were last year. Same with Rasmus Ristolainen, whenever his deal gets done. Kyle Okposo is here, Tyler Ennis is back, and Ryan O'Reilly is still very good. (Oh, and if it matters to you, Matt Moulson has a chip on his shoulder.)

So we can quickly brush aside the big question marks on defense and in net because the forward group is so good, right?

Well, consider how good they have to be in order to compensate for a blue line with no depth and goaltending that's still suspect. For all the press clippings about the quality of the forwards last season, Buffalo finished 26th in goal scoring. It wasn't from lack of talent as much as a slow and shaky defense unable to move the puck well.

If the expected improvements this season get the Sabres 30 more goals, they still likely won't be in the top ten in scoring. And the only big offseason move on defense was swapping out analytics darling Mark Pysyk for Dmitry Kulikov, who is a second-pairing defenseman expected to get top-pairing minutes in Buffalo.

Robin Lehner has to prove not only that he can maintain or improve on last season's .924 save percentage, but also that he can withstand the rigors of being a number one NHL goalie. Six years in the league without ever starting even half the games in a season will do that.

So, how do the Sabres beat the odds? Some hypothetical scenarios that would tilt them in Buffalo's favor:

- Eichel's development as the franchise player accelerates into high gear and he ends up near the top in league scoring, with something like 40 goals and 50 assists.

- Lehner stays healthy and has a breakout season worthy of Masterton Trophy consideration.

- Kulikov blossoms into a legitimate top-pairing defenseman, which has a domino effect as Ristolainen is much better with a quality partner.

- Ryan O'Reilly evolves into a 30-goal scorer.

Some other story lines that would be helpful include bounce back seasons from Zemgus Girgensons and Tyler Ennis, a coming of age for Jake McCabe, Moulson having a respectable 15-goal season, and Evander Kane doing his thing on the ice while staying out of trouble off of it.

If a good number of these things happen, the Sabres can be a surprise team and get into the playoffs.

That's asking a lot. Many of the ideas listed are more likely to occur the following season.

Prediction: 88 points.

dd@kuklaskorner.com

Follow me on Twitter

Filed in: | The Sabres Observer | Permalink
  Tags: buffalo+sabres, nhl+playoff+odds

Comments

Be the first to comment.

Add a Comment

Please limit embedded image or media size to 575 pixels wide.

Add your own avatar by joining Kukla's Korner, or logging in and uploading one in your member control panel.

Captchas bug you? Join KK or log in and you won't have to bother.

Smileys

Notify me of follow-up comments?

Feed

Most Recent Blog Posts

About The Sabres Observer

Dave Davis has covered the Buffalo Sabres for various NHL accredited websites and newspapers since 2003.  He was the senior writer and Sabres correspondent for The Fourth Period, covered hockey for Western New York Sports and Leisure Magazine, and has had articles featured on NHL.com, FOX Sports, Yahoo Sports and in New York Sportscene.  Sabres news and notes can be found on his Twitter page.

2014-15 NHL Reverse Standings

 

Email: dd@kuklaskorner.com Twitter: [@DaveDavisHockey]