The Buffalo Sabres’ 91-point season in 2022-23 surprised many hockey fans. Although the team did not break its 12-season playoff drought, it hung in the postseason wild card race longer than most hockey pundits expected. Given the team’s upward trajectory, I believe there’s a good chance the Sabres will make next season’s playoffs.
In this post, I’ll do a bit of a season review of the team. In the review, I’ll look at both the 2022-23 season’s successes and predict what could happen with the Sabres if things continue to go as they have been.
The Sabres’ Forward Units
The Sabres’ forward units generally had solid performances from each player. Center Tage Thompson had a career season. In 78 games, he scored 47 goals and added 47 assists (for a total of 94 points). He was easily the team’s top offensive player and contributed 20 power-play goals, averaging 18:35 of ice time per game.
Left winger Jeff Skinner played 79 games, scoring 35 goals and adding 47 assists (for a total of 82 points). Right winger Alex Tuch contributed 36 goals, and 43 assists, for a total of 79 points with 74 games played.
Center Dylan Cozens played in 81 games, scoring 31 goals and adding 37 assists (for a total of 68 points). Casey Mittelstadt, another center, played in all 82 games, scoring 15 goals and adding 44 assists (for a total of 59 points). Left-winger Victor Olofsson played 75 games, scoring 28 goals and adding 12 assists (for a total of 40 points).
Other players such as Jack Quinn, John-Jason Peterka, Kyle Okposo, Peyton Krebs, Tyson Jost, Zemgus Girgensons, and Vinnie Hinostroza also contributed to the team’s performance. However, their performance was not as offensively notable as the other players mentioned.
Overall, the Sabres’ forward units had a season that was more positive than negative, with some of their younger players beginning to lead the way. It was a good sign going forward.
The Sabres’ Defense
The Sabres’ blue line was also much improved. They have three key defensemen – Owen Power, Mattias Samuelsson, and Rasmus Dahlin.
As a rookie, Power showed potential despite some early struggles. He also contributed to the team’s offense with four goals and 31 assists (for 35 points). Mattias Samuelsson is a strong defensive defenseman; however, he suffered multiple injuries towards the end of the 2022-23 season. Still, pencil him in as an essential part of the Sabres’ defensive corps.
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Rasmus Dahlin is the team’s key defenseman. He has the potential to become a future Norris Trophy winner for the Sabres. Extending his contract is a top priority for the team. The word is that the team is currently in discussions to extend his bridge deal.
Getting that extension done (and perhaps also Power’s next contract) will be crucial for the team’s future cap space. It would be good if the Sabres could sort out this contract business sooner rather than later. Getting a clearer picture of that not only for next season but for future seasons as well would be helpful.
Things to Build on for the Sabres
The Sabres certainly can build on the potential of the Thompson line, the improved defense, and the advantages of having a younger team for next season. The Thompson line has shown flashes of huge potential and increased scoring. They were one of the NHL’s top young forward lines, and they likely have the potential to become even better. Quinn and Peterka provide extra bricks the team needs to build a strong foundation.
Additionally, the Sabres are the youngest team in the league. That, in itself, provides advantages such as more energy and endurance during a long season. Expectations for the Sabres are high next season. In my mind, the Sabres will become a regular playoff team and finish in the top three of the Atlantic Division.
What About Devon Levi in Goal?
Youngster Devon Levi put up good numbers in his short six-game audition to end the season. His advanced stats hint at prolonged success, and he led all Sabres goalies in goals saved above expected through six games. Sure that’s a small sample size, but he looks like the real deal.
Although I hope it isn’t accurate, there is some talk that the Sabres might try to trade for John Gibson from the Anaheim Ducks. He’s a decent goalie, and could potentially help the team immediately. And, the Sabres have the draft capital to make such a trade happen.
However, why give up draft choices if the team believes in Levi? They did at the end of the season, and he stood the test. The big question in goal is whether the Sabres will give Levi the job as their number-one goalie or explore other options such as trading for Gibson.
Will Anyone Be Moving On from the Sabres?
The Sabres might consider moving Victor Olofsson, who has been a healthy scratch for several recent games and struggled to perform at five-on-five this season despite scoring goals on the power play. Eric Comrie is also a potential player to move.
Kyle Okposo and Zemgus Girgensons are both on expiring contracts. Will the Sabres bring either back? Okposo has 984 NHL games under his belt and would likely want to hit 1,000. But, unless they value his leadership and he will sign a more team-friendly contract, he might hit the 1,000-game mark with another team.
The Bottom Line for Next Season
In conclusion, the Sabres did not make the playoffs. However, they still had a successful season. The young core gained valuable experience and there was measurable improvement from key players. The team’s foundation and prospects are in place, and they now have a clear picture of who will be staying for the next several seasons.
They will likely be able to add depth players to their NHL roster during the offseason and just before the start of the 2023-24 regular season. They have the opportunity to do so with players from the American Hockey League’s Rochester Americans. Names such as Lukas Rousek, Brandon Biro, and Jiri Kulich have been mentioned.
The bottom line is that, with the right moves, the Sabres could be on their way to the postseason as soon as a year from now.