Welcome to the November 2021 edition of my THW Buffalo Sabres Mailbag! The 2021-22 NHL season is now well underway, with most teams having reached the 10-games played mark. The Sabres have managed to exceed all expectations set for them this season with their hot start, and despite slowing down a bit and facing some injuries, there is no lack of storylines for this team. Last week, general manager (GM) Kevyn Adams finally traded former captain Jack Eichel in a blockbuster trade with the Vegas Golden Knights, and officially turned the page on a new era of Sabres hockey.
Without further ado, let’s dive in to another Sabres mailbag, full of questions from Sabres Twitter that are begging to be answered as we progress through the early part of this season. (Note: Some questions have been edited for clarity and style).
Who ends up with Eichel? Calgary or Vegas? – @boehringerm98
Just for everyone reading this, I started fielding questions for my November Mailbag before the Eichel trade went down, and this was one of the questions submitted to me before it happened. As far as how I would have answered this question when it was asked, though, I’ll be one hundred percent honest and admit I thought the Calgary Flames were going to be the eventual winners of the Eichel sweepstakes.
One day before Eichel was traded to the Golden Knights, rumors circulated around Hockey Twitter that a deal between the Sabres and Flames for Eichel involving Matthew Tkachuk and at least four other pieces had been offered by Flames GM Brad Treliving. We now know those rumors were all but false, but at the time, it was coming from legitimate insiders who have a pretty good pulse on the goings-on in the NHL. But alas, Eichel is now a the newest member of the Golden Knights.
Alex Tuch will go to Buffalo in the trade for Jack Eichel. He is 25 years old and in his prime years, but he is not a superstar who can be a franchise centerpiece. How does he fit into the organization’s plans, and what logic did they use when they pulled the trigger on him? – @ToNewbyginnings
I think there were a lot of reasons why Adams was interested in Alex Tuch as part of the return package for Eichel, but being a franchise centerpiece wasn’t one of them – so I agree with you in that regard. Instead, I think the expectations for Tuch are that he will provide a veteran presence in the locker room of a young, inexperienced team, and will play his prime years in the Sabres’ top-six while driving the offense at even strength and on special teams. Sound like a lot to ask from just one guy? Maybe. But Tuch seems elated to be here, and I see him fulfilling his expectations.
Tuch has four full NHL seasons under his belt, and has already eclipsed the 20-goal threshold and the 50-point threshold, both back in the 2018-19 season. Reaching either of those marks is not an easy thing to do, and with 18 goals and 33 points in the shortened 56-game season last season, he was on pace to score even higher than those career highs. Waiting until January for Tuch to return from his injury will feel like a long time, but I’m certain that the energy he will bring into the lineup from the moment he touches the ice will be just what the Sabres wanted when they acquired him.
With a young center core of Casey Mittelstadt, Dylan Cozens, Tage Thompson, and now Peyton Krebs, Tuch will have four young, talented centers to build chemistry with, and I expect his first season in royal blue to be an exciting one that shows Sabres fans what he’s all about. Signed through the 2025-26 season at a cap hit of $4.75 million, he has the potential to play above his pay grade and be a bargain for the Sabres.
Do you think the tandem of Anderson/Tokarski can continue to perform as strongly as they have or was it more so a strong start that will see their numbers balance out as the schedule proceeds? – @MrAlwaysWrite
I’m not exaggerating when I say that the goaltending tandem of Craig Anderson and Dustin Tokarski has been the number one biggest surprise to me so far this season. You would almost never guess that Anderson is 40-years-old and briefly considered retirement before signing with the Sabres, or that Tokarski was a member of one of the most dismal goalie carousels I’ve ever seen from the Sabres, just last season. To sum it up: they’ve been really good.
Anderson, the grizzled veteran who is playing in his 17th NHL season, is 4-2-0 with a 2.50 goals against average (GAA) and .921 save percentage (SV%), while Tokarski is 1-2-2 with a 2.72 GAA and .915 SV%. Most people, myself included, probably expected both goalies to be rocking GAAs over 3.00 and sub-.900 SV%s at this point in the season, so I’m pleasantly surprised with how both goalies have performed, to say the least. That being said, I think both goalies are going to have a coming-down-to-earth moment sooner than later.
With the Sabres in the midst of a small losing streak now, and with teams starting to catch up to and pass them in the Atlantic Division standings, I’d expect to see a regression in the goaltending department, especially with Anderson out with a day-to-day injury, and as both goalies pile up the number of games played. All things considered, this is much better than the worst-case goalie scenario I had pictured in my head before the start of the season.
Is Dahlin permanently broken by Krueger? – @boehringerm98
This is an interesting question: was former head coach Ralph Krueger‘s coaching style so bad and so destructive that he permanently ruined 2018 first-overall pick Rasmus Dahlin’s career? I know there’s a bit of satire intended here, but my answer is still a resounding “no.”
Just look at the season Dahlin has had to date. At the time of writing, in 11 games played, he has scored one goal and five assists for six points, with three of those points coming at even strength and three on the power play. He has registered 20 shots on goal so far, and is shooting at a five percent shooting percentage (S%). That comes in a hair above his career average of 4.7 S%. If Dahlin were to keep up his offensive numbers over the rest of the season, he projects to finish with roughly 48 points – that would be a new career high for him, slightly beating out his rookie season’s 44 points.
I know offensive numbers aren’t all that matters when it comes to a No. 1 defenseman, but in Dahlin’s case, it’s a really good indicator of a return to form, and a player regaining the confidence to make plays at both ends of the ice, a characteristic that surely got him drafted first overall in 2018. I, for one, am excited for what the 21-year-old defenseman can do this season, and I’ll be watching closely every game.
Do you think attendance will significantly increase with relaxed border restrictions? – @dkokkinis12
I think it’s safe to say that attendance for Sabres games at KeyBank Center will definitely see an increase in the weeks and months to come with relaxed border restrictions at the U.S.-Canada border. How significant this increase will be, I have no idea. We do have some key information that could help us get an idea, though.
An estimated 10 to 20 percent of the Sabres’ season-ticket holder base is Canadian, so even a portion of those fans being allowed to cross the border for Sabres games will be a boost to attendance. The only thing stopping some of those fans is the requirement that any persons attending games at KeyBank Center be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, but vaccination numbers continue to steadily increase, so that wouldn’t be an issue for most of the fans in question. I sincerely hope the attendance numbers increase with relaxed restrictions, as the arena is always better the more full it is.
Is Buffalo for real? Or is this another hot start that will severely fade (like that 10-win streak a few years back)? – @Raggio9124
At the time of writing, the Sabres have lost four games in a row, going 0-3-1 over that span. In their most recent loss, an overtime loss to the Detroit Red Wings, they blew a three-goal lead in a total team collapse in the third period. After their hot 5-1-1 start, the Sabres’ record seems to finally be correcting itself to a more expected 5-4-2. They are now fifth in the Atlantic Division, and have the entire rest of the season to try and stay competitive.
If I were being a realist, I would say that no, this Sabres team is not for real, and this hot start will fade – just like that 10-game win streak in the 2018-19 season (pain). But then again, this team was never expected to compete for a playoff spot this season. So, any win they get should be a good thing, every close game they lose should be a lesson, and every awesome moment should be something that Sabres fans can be happy about. And no matter where they finish this season, they look to be legitimately positioning themselves for a better future, and adding pieces to the new young core that will one day lead this team to relevance again.
Have any thoughts on the topics discussed in this Mailbag? Share it down below!
Brandon is a Buffalo Sabres Contributor for THW and Co-Host of THW’s ‘Sabres Scoop,’ who received his Master of Science in Sport Administration from Canisius College in Buffalo, NY, and founded his website, Seltytending, in 2017. He is an avid hockey writer and podcaster with prior work experience in the OJHL, NWHL, and NCAA. Twitter: @BSalts15