Our Tampa Bay Lightning Atlantic Division opponent preview series continues today by looking at the Buffalo Sabres. Buffalo missed out on returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2011 last season by just one point. Many expect that this will be the year they finally qualify in a very interesting Atlantic Division.
2022-23 Record: 42-33-7 | 91 points | 5th in Atlantic
2022-23 Head-to-head vs. Tampa Bay: 2-1-1
October 17 @ Buffalo
January 20 @ Buffalo
February 29 vs. Buffalo
April 15 vs. Buffalo
Buffalo is going to be returning much of the same group this season in large part. They are still a very young group with many of their star players locked up and surrounded by some nice veterans. One of the x-factors to this team this year will be goaltending. Buffalo has had quite a few goaltenders in the mix in recent years, including four last season. The goaltending picture has cleared up slightly following the retirement of Craig Anderson.
Buffalo elected to move on this summer from Ilya Lyubushkin, which ended up being their only trade of the off-season. It just seemed as though Lyubushkin did not fit into their future plans and elected to move him to Anaheim rather than playing out the final year of his contract in Buffalo.
Another loss of note is that Buffalo will be without young forward, Jack Quinn. Quinn ended up rupturing his Achilles over the summer and is expected to miss the start of the season. Quinn accounted for 37 points in 75 games last year in what was his first full NHL season.
Similar to not many losses over the offseason, Buffalo did not have a ton of additions. They helped sure up their defense by bringing in veteran and Stanley Cup Champion Erik Johnson via free agency on a one-year deal after playing his entire career in Colorado. Similarly, Buffalo also brought in Connor Clifton on a three-year deal after playing all 232 games of his NHL career in Boston. With Johnson and Clifton, Buffalo has certainly bolstered the right side of their defense to go along with Rasmus Dahlin and Owen Power, both typically playing on the left.
Other nice pieces of business from the summer included re-signing some veteran pieces to help guide this young group. Zemgus Girgensons and Kyle Okposo will both be returning to Buffalo on one-year deals. 25-year-old depth Center Tyson Jost also re-signed for another year with the Sabres after being claimed off waivers last season. Jost recorded 22 points in just 59 games in Buffalo last season.
Line Projections (via Daily Faceoff)
Jeff Skinner- Tage Thompson- Alex Tuch
JJ Peterka- Dylan Cozens- Casey Mittelstadt
Jordan Greenway- Peyton Krebs- Victor Olofsson
Zemgus Girgensons- Tyson Jost- Kyle Okposo
Mattias Samuelsson- Rasmus Dahlin
Owen Power- Connor Clifton
Henri Jokiharju- Erik Johsnon
Verdict: This Team Should be Expected to Make Playoffs
This is probably the first season in a long time that there are actually strong expectations around the Buffalo Sabres. Last year saw them flirt with making the postseason as their young core began to develop and Tage Thompson broke out and made himself a superstar. Jeff Skinner and Alex Tuch make for nice offensive pieces to play alongside Thompson. Dylan Cozen should also become more of a star in his own right this season with the ability to play behind Thompson as this team finds themselves with a solid group of forwards.
Buffalo was certainly able to score a lot last season, Thompson had five goals in one night all by himself. The trouble has been keeping the puck out of their own net. Dahlin and Power should continue to improve this year and Buffalo will have two major studs on their hands with these two. Add in Mattias Samuelsson and you have a very big, long defense core that finds itself looking very intimidating.
As mentioned before, goaltending will be an x-factor. Devon Levi may be the long awaited answer in the Buffalo crease. While still just 21, Levi began playing in the NHL after finishing his second season at Northeastern University. Levi made just seven starts with Buffalo but won five of them and looked pretty good in his time. If he is able to grab the net and play up to his high expectations, Buffalo should certainly be looking at being a playoff team. A lot is riding on where this youngster in net can take this team.