After finishing dead last in the NHL the past two seasons, it was quite obvious that major changes needed to be made to the Buffalo Sabres roster. To say General Manager Tim Murray had a busy offseason was quite an understatement, as the Sabres made many moves that make the team significantly better for the upcoming season and down the road. Despite the past two seasons being tumultuous for Sabres fans, there is reason to believe heading into the 2015-2016 season.
Friday June 26th was not just the first day of the 2015 NHL Entry draft, but it a day that Sabres fans won’t soon forget. Murray pulled the trigger on two big trades as he traded away the 21st selection in the draft to the Ottawa Senators for goalie Robin Lehner and forward David Legwand. Moments before the draft started, Murray orchestrated a blockbuster trade, as he moved the 31st pick, Mikhail Grigorenko, Nikita Zadorov, and prospect JT Compher to the Colorado Avalanche for forwards Ryan O’Reilly and Jamie McGinn. To top it all off, Murray announced what Sabres fans had been waiting to hear all season, the selection of Jack Eichel.
The addition of centre Ryan O’Reilly was one that Murray had to make, as he is one of the league’s best two way forwards. O’Reilly thrives is his own end, and can be effective in the offensive zone as well, as he recorded 55 points in 82 games last season. The Clinton, Ontario product has solid size at 6-feet, and 200 pounds, and will have a solid impact on Buffalo’s penalty kill and the league’s worst power play. O’Reilly was rewarded with a whopping seven year contract worth 52.5 million dollars, the largest contract in team history. There is no doubt he will be the first line centre and will be a great leader for all the young players in the organization.
Adding Jamie McGinn was a nice move by Murray, as he acquires a solid third line player who plays with lots of intensity in his game. In 2013, McGinn scored a career high 19 goals; however, he was limited to just 19 games in 2014 due to injury. At 6-feet, 1 inch, and 210 pounds, the former second round pick adds nice size and some much needed secondary scoring to the third line. McGinn has the potential to make an impact on special teams, and will prove to be another good addition by Murray.
Since trading away franchise goalie Ryan Miller, the Sabres have struggled to find a consistent starter; however, that is going to change with Robin Lehner between the pipes. Although his numbers weren’t overly impressive in 2014, as he posted a 9-12-3 record with a 3.02 goals against average and a .905 save percentage, Lehner still has tons of upside potential. At just 24 years of age, the Gothenburg, Sweden product has ideal size as he stands at 6-feet, 4-inches and 223 pounds. Lehner covers up most of the net, and likes to play aggressive and challenge opposing shooters. If he can stay healthy, there is a chance he could be the franchise goalie that Murray has been looking for.
The acquisition of veteran forward David Legwand was a smart move by Murray, as he gets a true professional who adds much needed depth the the third and fourth lines. Legwand is 34 years old and past his prime but can still be a valuable piece for a young Sabres team. The past couple of seasons, the Sabres have lacked leadership, but the addition of Legwand will certainly change that. The Detroit, Michigan native can have an impact on the third or fourth line, and could be a key asset if the Sabres are in the midst of a playoff race.
The most anticipated addition to the Sabres roster this offseason was second overall pick Jack Eichel. Shortly after the Sabres selected Eichel, he announced that he wouldn’t be returning to college, and making the jump straight to the NHL. The Sabres get a franchise player in Eichel who at just 18 years of age, already possesses great size at 6-feet, 2-inches and 194 pounds. During his freshman year at Boston University, Eichel scored 26 goals and recorded 71 points in just 41 games, good enough to win himself the Hobey Baker Award. Eichel can do it all, and will play a massive part in the teams success down the road.
Although the Sabres didn’t make a big splash in free agency, they added some depth to their blue line by adding veterans Carlo Colaiacovo and Matt Donovan. Colaiacovo has had a solid NHL career, but has been often injured. If he can manage to stay healthy, he will eat up minutes on the back end and turn out to be a nice signing by Murray. Donovan on the other hand, is a defenseman who is looking for an opportunity to land a full time job in the NHL. At 25 years of age, Donovan has plenty of upside and should crack the Sabres top six on the blue line.
Overall, the Buffalo Sabres and Tim Murray have done an outstanding job this offseason bolstering the roster. The Sabres have been the laughing stock of the NHL the past two seasons, but that is going to change fast. With their new offseason additions, the Sabres will definitely be competitive come the 2015-2016 season, and could very well find themselves battling for a playoff spot come next April. Only time will tell just how good this team will be, but with the acquisitions acquired this offseason, the Buffalo Sabres will be very exciting to watch come October.