Tag: Robin Lehner

Zach Bogosian, Boone Jenner

Sabres’ biggest question: Defense


As much as the Buffalo Sabres have improved lately, it still seems like they’re going to struggle on defense.

Honestly, there are strong odds that they’ll struggle a lot.

You can trot out the simplest stats (Buffalo allowed a league-worst shots on goal average of 35.6 per game, two more than second-worst Toronto) or go a little deeper (the Sabres’ Fenwick Close was downright ghastly), but the bottom line is that Buffalo was atrocious on D. Their offensive firepower was meek in 2014-15, yet the Sabres’ work in their own end was the leading reason people described them as “historically inept.”

Just look at the dregs of NHL.com’s “SAT” stat and you’ll see just how much worse Buffalo was than the rest of the worst:

26. Columbus: -365
27. Toronto: -515
28. Calgary: -839
29. Colorado: -984
30. Buffalo: -1,789


GM Tim Murray made this team better in many ways – and certain facets should benefit Buffalo defensively – but the personnel is still lacking.

Even if Dan Byslma’s a big difference-maker, it’s difficult to imagine him working many miracles with some combination of Rasmus Ristolainen, Zach Bogosian (pictured), Josh Gorges, Mike Weber, Matt Donovan, Mark Pysyk, Jake McCabe and Carlo Colaiacovo.

(Seriously, take a step back and ponder that group for a moment.)

Look, players like Ristolainen could very well make significant strides in 2015-16. Buffalo is also likely to enjoy better two-way play from its forward group, as Ryan O’Reilly and David Legwand both possess some defensive chops. Again, Byslma’s systems could at least drag the Sabres closer to respectability, as well.

If you dial down the optimism to more reasonable levels, the Sabres are likely to put a ton of pressure on Robin Lehner and Chad Johnson next season, as that defense stands as a work in progress … at best.

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’

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

Andrej Meszaros, Rasmus Ristolainen, Brian Gionta

The biggest winners of the Buffalo Sabres’ summer of resounding improvements might just be the players who suffered through the 2014-15 season (not to mention the fans).

Veteran winger Brian Gionta probably isn’t very familiar with seasons like that, so it makes sense that he seemed excited about the additions of Dan Byslma, Ryan O’Reilly, Jack Eichel, Robin Lehner and so on. He praised Sabres GM Tim Murray’s work to USA Today on Friday.

“Look at the moves he’s been able to make,” Gionta said. “You can say you want a better team, you want to bring in better players, but for him to actually pull that off and make the moves he did, it shows that he means business. That excites guys in the locker room.”

Back when he was hired by the team in May, Bylsma said that he sees a bright future for the team, as the Buffalo News reported. Even so, one would guess that Bylsma, Gionta and possibly even Murray are all a little surprised by just how much progress the Sabres have made in mere months.

(They certainly don’t seem out of place on “most improved teams” lists like this one by NHL.com.)

Naturally, it’s not that tough to improve upon the disaster that has been the Sabres for the past two seasons – the phrase “historically bad” came up uncomfortably often – but it remains to be seen how much these moves will translate into results.

It might take some time, yet it’s also plausible that the rebuild will be more rapid than expected, a notion that isn’t lost on veterans such as Gionta.

(H/T to The Score.)