The 2015-16 NHL season is finally upon us and boy is it exciting. The Sabres in particular enter the new season with new expectations and new faces. Featuring a revamped roster, Buffalo should be a very entertaining team to watch this upcoming season. So, before the season starts let’s have a little fun. I put together three bold predictions for the Sabres this season.
1. Tyler Ennis Will Lead the Team in Scoring
Over the past three seasons Tyler Ennis has finished the season at least in the top 3 in scoring on the team and lead the team last season. The former first round pick has always been a dynamic player since entering the league. Ennis has stepped up his game and took it the next level on a very bad team. He’s been the best offensive player for Buffalo and put up numbers without a great supporting cast.
This season that’s all going to change for the 25-year-old forward. Ennis will find himself playing on the wing with either Ryan O’Reilly or Jack Eichel. Not only will he have a legitimate top line center, but another playmaker will be on the other wing in Evander Kane. For the first time in a few seasons, Ennis won’t be the main focus of the opposing defenders. This should allow him to have more space on the ice. Playing with the high talent level he’ll be surrounded with should enable Ennis to have a breakout season. The high-end speed and finishing touch of Ennis will allow him to be a dynamic offensive threat this season. Want a point prediction? Ok, fine… 32 goals and 35 assists for a team leading 67 points.
2. The Sabres Will Finish in the Top 10 on the Power Play
Right away this may not seem like that bold of a prediction, but remember the Sabres were the worst power play unit in the league over the past two years. That won’t be the case this season. The offensive talent of Ennis, Eichel, O’Reilly, Kane and Matt Moulson will contribute to pushing the Sabres near the top of league in power play efficiency.
All the fire power won’t come from the forwards however. Newly signed blue liner Cody Franson will play a huge role on the
power play. Franson has a hard heavy shot that the Sabres have lacked from point with the man advantage. The former Maple Leaf and Predators defenseman was brought in late in the offseason to bring a veteran presence to defense group and contribute on the Power Play.
The third factor will be the scheme of new head coach Dan Bylsma. In Pittsburgh, Bylsma’s clubs were always at the top of the league in power play efficiency. Sure Malkin and Crosby had something to do with that, but the talent is there in Buffalo too. Over the past two seasons the Sabres were led by a coach who really didn’t teach schemes in Ted Nolan. This season players are getting back to the X and O’s if you will under Bylsma. More structure by the coaching staff should help the power play unit be organized.
3. The Sabres Will Make the Playoffs
Ok, so this one may not be a bold prediction, but perhaps a bold leap. Hear me out on this one though. The Sabres are a much improved team over last year, at least on paper. The team is also led by a coach who has a history of winning and will bring structure.
Buffalo will need to make a huge leap in the standings, at least 44 points if the final playoff spot is 98 points again this season. It’s surely a large mountain to climb, but it’s important to remember what the goal of the organization was last season, regardless of what the team says publicly. The plan was to finish at the bottom of the standings and management didn’t do much of anything to help a struggling team. This season is a complete 180 in mindset for the organization. The Sabres are expected to start winning games and being a relevant team in the league again. General Manager Tim Murray will support the team with NHL caliber call-ups or further additions if the team has injury or production concerns. You won’t see a NHL caliber player like Mark Pysyk spend the entire season in the AHL if he’s needed with the big club.
Lastly, the division is in the middle of a power change. The Canadiens, Bruins and Red Wings controlled the division over the past few years. Entering this season, the Bruins and Red Wings may be on the decline. While Ottawa, Florida and Buffalo appear ready to pass those two teams and chase down the Canadiens. As of now the, the Lightning will still remain the kings of the division. After you get past Tampa Bay and Montreal, that third spot in the division is wide open. The Sabres can very well play on the same level as any other team in the division outside of the top two. In order for Buffalo to make the playoffs, I think the 3rd spot in the division is their only way. I believe both wild card spots will come out of the stacked Metro division.
So there you have it. My three bold predictions for the 2015-16 season for the Sabres. I’m ready to see how this season unfolds and find out if the plan really did work. Watching a much improved and talented roster will be a pleasure after a few seasons of very poor hockey in hockey heaven.