Sabres: A Story of Incremental Progress
In a league where success is often measured in playoff berths and Stanley Cups, incremental improvements can sometimes fly under the radar. That was the story of the Buffalo Sabres in the 2022-2023 NHL season. They missed the playoffs by just a single point but showed substantial signs of life, especially with a red-hot first line. As we preview the upcoming 2023-2024 season, the question becomes: can they finally make that leap into postseason play?
Recapping the 2022-2023 Season
The Sabres were tantalizingly close to a playoff spot last season. With Tage Thompson, Jeff Skinner, and Alex Tuch leading the charge, their first line alone amassed an impressive 118 goals. Rasmus Dahlin continued to show why he's considered one of the league's best young defensemen, and Dylan Cozens provided some much-needed secondary scoring.
However, the Sabres had issues with depth, as the rest of the team couldn't quite keep up with their top-tier talent. They were an offensive juggernaut but also generous defensively, averaging over 7.2 goals per game at both ends of the rink. Clearly, the Sabres were fun to watch but equally frustrating for the coaching staff.
Buffalo didn't set off any fireworks during the offseason. The roster remains largely similar to last year’s. In terms of new acquisitions, Erik Johnson and Connor Clifton bolster the defensive end, which could help tighten up their defensive play.
The most significant change is in the net. With Craig Anderson retiring, it appears that the Sabres are going with a young goaltending duo of Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen and Devon Levi. This move indicates a willingness to let the next generation take over, but it also raises questions about the reliability of the goaltending unit. There is a chance that talented Levi will emerge as a starter this season and for years to come.
Continuity in Coaching
Don Granato will continue his role as the Sabres' head coach. During his tenure, Buffalo has improved every year, which speaks volumes about his ability to develop talent and build a competitive team. His challenge for the upcoming season will be to translate that incremental improvement into a playoff berth.
The 2023-2024 Season: What to Expect?
Given their roster and recent trajectory, the Sabres are expected to be a competitive NHL team this year. However, the most likely scenario is that they will once again fall short of making the playoffs. Depth remains an issue, and it's unclear if their new goaltending tandem can withstand the rigors of a full NHL season.
On the flip side, if the top line continues its offensive prowess and the young players like Dahlin and Cozens take another step forward, Buffalo could surprise many. The addition of Johnson and Clifton might stabilize the defense, and if Granato can squeeze more out of his lineup, they might just break their playoff drought.
While missing the playoffs last season was a disappointment, the Buffalo Sabres have given their fan base reasons to be optimistic. They possess high-end talent and are showing yearly improvement under Don Granato. The 2023-2024 season will be crucial in determining whether they can finally make the transition from a "team of the future" to a "team of the present." The pieces are there; it's just a matter of putting the puzzle together.
Unfortunately for the Sabres the competition in the East if fierce and Ottawa & Detroit have improved as well.
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