Tag: Buffalo Sabres

Sam Reinhart

Looking to make the leap: Sam Reinhart


All eyes in Buffalo will be on Jack Eichel during training camp, but it would be a shocking turn of events for him to be left off the team’s opening game roster, so let’s talk about the Sabres other second overall pick because he arguably has a lot more to play for during the preseason.

Reinhart earned that high 2014 selection after scoring 36 goals and 105 points in 60 contests with WHL Kootenay in 2013-14. He managed to secure a roster spot with Buffalo out of training camp, but was given just 10:21 minutes of ice time per game and returned to the juniors after registering one assist in nine NHL contests.

Despite that setback, he went on to record 65 points in 47 WHL contests before heading to AHL Rochester where he registered three assists in three games. On the international stage, he helped guide Canada to a gold medal in the World Juniors by scoring five goals and 11 points in seven contests.

By the time this year’s development camp rolled around, Reinhart looked like a matured player, as Mike Harrington noted for the Buffalo News:

When most of you last saw Reinhart, he looked lost. He was overmatched through his nine NHL games, failing to score a goal, when the Sabres mercifully sent him back to junior hockey. He returned to Kootenay of the Western League needing to work on his skating and, most of all, on his conditioning.

Early returns are very good. Reinhart looks more chiseled. His skating appears eons better, with strong, confident strides and sharp turns. Every step had a purpose. No energy was wasted.

Eichel is the Sabres’ top prospect now and so much of their aspirations rest on his shoulders, but there isn’t a player in this league that can single-handily carry a team. Buffalo needs a core that extends beyond Eichel and Reinhart has the potential to be a vital part of it.

Under Pressure: Robin Lehner

Robin Lehner,

If you want a hockey example of “be careful what you wish for,” look no further than Robin Lehner.

He’s getting what he likely pined for during his time with the Ottawa Senators – the No. 1 gig – yet he’ll face a challenging situation in Buffalo.

It doesn’t help matters that Sabres fans cringed at the cost of acquiring Lehner.

Lehner cost a first-round draft pick in a loaded draft while the Senators also managed to unload David Legwand’s contract. The 24-year-old may need to do a little convincing early on.

A bumpy 2014-15 season

Whether it was crafty veteran Craig Anderson or fast-food sensation Andrew Hammond, Lehner couldn’t snare the starting gig in Ottawa, and things only got worse when concussion issues ended his season altogether.

It’s easy to forget that Lehner sports a perfectly respectable career save percentage (.914) because his 2014-15 season was so unsightly: 9-12-3 with a mediocre .905 save percentage.

Long story short, Lehner has plenty to prove after a bumpy start to his NHL career.

source: AP
Via AP

A big opportunity, but a huge challenge

That said, he’s definitely getting a fair shot with the Sabres and GM Tim Murray. Murray was nothing if optimistic about acquiring the big Swede, as the Ottawa Sun noted after the trade.

“I think Robin needed a change of scenery,” Murray said. “I think he’s a very talented, big strong, young man that is just scratching the surface and, hopefully, we can bring the best out of him.”

Some might roll their eyes at the idea of a change of scenery making a difference, yet it’s not without precedent. Steve Mason’s resurgence in Philadelphia argues that a struggling netminder can thrive after a career Etch-a-Sketch shake.

Granted, it won’t be easy; Lehner’s essentially going from a holding pattern in Ottawa to a trial by fire with Buffalo. What do you think: will he sink or swim?

It’s Buffalo Sabres Day at PHT


Throughout the month of August, PHT will be dedicating a day to all 30 NHL clubs. Today’s team? The Buffalo Sabres.

Since the Sabres’ debut in 1970, Buffalo has finished with a points percentage (points divided by maximum possible points) below .400 just three times and two of those incidences were in 2013-14 (.317) and 2014-15 (.329), so it’s not a stretch to say that their last two seasons have been a statistical low-point for this franchise.

Very little was expected of the Sabres going into the 2014-15 campaign and right from the start they couldn’t subvert expectations. They didn’t even possess a lead in a game until their fourth contest of the season on Oct. 15. They didn’t win a game in regulation time until Oct. 25. At no point during the season did they have own a winning record.

Buffalo did enjoy a stretch from Nov. 15-Dec. 15 where the squad went 10-3-0, but any hope that it would be the part of a march towards the playoffs was quickly dashed as the Sabres fell apart once more. The team only had two winning streaks (each just two games in length) after that point.

Their offense was a particular problem as they didn’t have a single 50-point player and only Tyler Ennis reached the 20-goal mark. Buffalo ended up recording just 1.87 goals per game, making it the second straight season that it was the lone sub-2.00 team.

Off-season recap

And yet there is a sense of optimism in Buffalo and it’s not unjustified.

With the second overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, Buffalo was able to take a potential generational talent in forward Jack Eichel. Combined with their acquisitions of Evander Kane in February and Ryan O’Reilly in June, the Sabres’ offense isn’t looking so anemic anymore.

They also surrendered the 21st overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft to pry goaltender Robin Lehner from Ottawa. Lehner is coming off of a rough campaign where he posted a 3.02 GAA and .905 save percentage in 25 contests, but he’s still just 24 years old and has a lot of promise.

On the coaching front, Buffalo fired Ted Nolan and replaced him with Dan Bylsma. While how much Nolan should be blamed for the Sabres’ shortcomings last season given the roster they had is debatable, Buffalo is gaining a head coach that has won the Stanley Cup and owns a 252-117-32 regular season record.

Buffalo hasn’t transformed itself into a major contender, but it’s easy to look at what they’ve done and come to the conclusion that they’ve taken a meaningful step forward this summer.

Owner Pegula: Sabres have gone through ‘two of the most successful seasons we’ve ever had’

Terry Pegula

Statistically speaking, the last two seasons have been among the worst in Buffalo’s history, but Sabres owner Terry Pegula sees great value in those painful years. In fact, he would list them as “two of the most successful seasons we’ve ever had,” per the Associated Press.

Obviously, those losing records allowed the Sabres to draft second overall in back-to-back years (having lost the draft lottery both times). They used those picks to select Sam Reinhart and Jack Eichel, but general manager Tim Murray was also able to get plenty of other pieces for the rebuild over that span. He also acquired the likes of Evander Kane, Ryan O’Reilly, and Robin Lehner in trades while moving other players like Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek to get future assets, including first round picks.

A couple rough seasons in the service of a long-term goal can make sense, but the success of the Sabres’ rebuilding effort will be measured by how they do going forward. They don’t have to look any further than the Edmonton Oilers to know how hard it can be to transition from a rebuilding phase to a competitive one. Having a generational talent like Eichel on the roster certainly helps, but he and the Sabres have a lot to prove.

Given that, we can’t call the last two seasons successful for Buffalo in terms of on-ice accomplishments, we’ll have to let history judge if the off-ice moves are as beneficial as Sabres fans hope.

Related: Gionta: Sabres’ offseason ‘excites guys in the locker room’

PHT Morning Skate: ‘Hawks fan hikes Machu Picchu, meets Jonathan Toews

Jonathan Toews

PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Ryan Adorjan has been traveling in Peru for the last three months, during which time he both watched Jonathan Toews win the Stanley Cup on television… then met Jonathan Toews while hiking Machu Picchu. Decent little trip, that. (Oswego Only)

Former Kings, Devils and Hurricanes forward Andrei Loktionov is eyeing a return to the NHL. (Russia-Hockey.ru)

He hasn’t been asked yet, but Ryan Smyth has contemplated housing Connor McDavid this season in Edmonton. (NHL.com)

The Coyotes have hired Corey Schwab and Jon Elkin as their new goalie coaches. (Fox Sports Arizona)

Sidney Crosby and Nathan MacKinnon worked the drive-thru window of a Nova Scotia Tim Horton’s on Monday. Insert Ryan O’Reilly joke here. (The Chronicle Herald)