Buffalo Sabres Mailbag: Eichel, Prospects, Outdoor Games & More

Welcome to the first Buffalo Sabres mailbag I’ve done in my time covering the team for THW. I knew that with the offseason winding down and the 2021-22 season fast approaching, Sabres fans must want some questions answered, especially with the slowdown in the hockey news cycle. Why is Jack Eichel still on the team? Will Eichel be traded before the season starts? Will the Sabres or Team X allow Eichel to have the surgery he wants? Basically, a bunch of Eichel questions, plus a whole lot of other topics I’m glad Sabres fans have on their minds.

Without further ado, let’s get to the packed Sabres mailbag, full of questions from Sabres Twitter that I was happy to answer before the Labor Day Weekend (Note: Some questions have been edited for clarity and style).

Where would you rank the 2020-21 Buffalo Sabres on the list of worst teams in NHL history? In sports history? 

– @johntlammers77

Last season certainly felt like one of the worst ever played by an NHL team, didn’t it? That’s why it actually surprised me to find out upon fact-checking this that the 2020-21 Sabres, who finished 15-34-7 in the shortened 56-game season, rank 40th in terms of worst winning percentage among NHL teams all-time. That’s not even the Sabres’ personal worst, either – their 2013-14 season (21-51-10) ranks 30th worst all-time.

Buffalo Sabres coaches
The 2020-21 Buffalo Sabres finished last in the NHL, winning just 15 games in the shortened 56-game season (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The “worst” team in NHL history in terms of worst winning percentage was the 1974-75 Washington Capitals, who finished that season with an 8-67-5 record. In terms of most total losses in a season, the 1992-93 San Jose Sharks recorded 71 losses, so that’s a tough record to beat. But in terms of the expectations set for the Sabres last season after acquiring Taylor Hall, Eric Staal, and icing the likes of Eichel, Sam Reinhart, Rasmus Dahlin, Rasmus Ristolainen, and many more, I think it’s fair to say that this was one of the most disappointing seasons in the salary cap era.

The Sabres had an 18-game winless streak last season, setting a new franchise record for the longest winless streak, tying the NHL record for longest winless streak in the salary cap era, and tying the longest playoff drought streak in NHL history. Those aren’t records to be proud of. But does this make for one of the worst seasons in all of sports? I’m not sure. Personally, the 2008 Detroit Lions and 2017 Cleveland Browns being the only teams to go 0-16 since the NFL expanded its regular season to 16 games in 1978 takes the cake for me.

Thoughts on Eichel allegedly traveling to Montreal? Do you see them as a legitimate trade partner, and if so, what would a return look like? – @dkokkinis12

The report in question that alleged Eichel was traveling to Montreal with his hockey sticks in hand was first mentioned in a tweet from Eric Engels of Sportsnet.

As it turns out, though, Eichel isn’t flying to Montreal because he was traded, but because he is attending the BioSteel camp, an offseason skills camp attended by NHL and junior hockey players alike to hone their craft in the offseason. But playing with the idea of an Eichel trade with the Montreal Canadiens is a fun one, and if the Canadiens fail to match the offer sheet Jesperi Kotkaniemi signed with the Carolina Hurricanes, they would be in the market for a new center. So what would it take for the Habs to acquire Eichel?

Recent reports indicate that Sabres general manager (GM) Kevyn Adams is looking for four to six pieces in return for Eichel, so the asking price is high. From the Habs, that price would likely include one or two of their top young players, namely Nick Suzuki and Ryan Poehling, not to mention a pair of first-round draft picks and potentially another roster player. Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin has the assets to give up, but I doubt he would be willing to part ways with them, especially a few months after making the Stanley Cup Final. Still, it’s fun to hypothesize a trade.

Is it possible the Sabres look at the wildest of scenarios and keep Eichel, tank for the first-overall pick and draft Shane Wright? They could then go with Eichel, Cozens, and Wright down the middle. – @MichaelPagani

If there were any way that the Eichel situation could have been handled that resulted in him still wanting to play for the Sabres, I think it already would have happened. But the “disconnect” that Eichel said exists between him and the team has become a rift, and a very public one at that. So no, I can’t see a situation where the Sabres hang on to Eichel that far into the regular season, and even if he’s not traded by October, there is close to no chance that he wears a Sabres jersey again. That being said, the Sabres have a much better chance of increasing their odds to land Shane Wright in the 2022 draft if Eichel is playing for another team, so that’s always encouraging. A center core of Wright, Casey Mittelstadt, and Dylan Cozens would be exciting to watch in a few seasons.

If there were an All-Star Game this season, and the Sabres had to have someone play in it, who would go? Assuming Eichel is gone, of course. – @boehringerm98

The 2022 NHL All-Star Game is set to be played at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, home of the Vegas Golden Knights. After last season’s All-Star Game was canceled, this particular event hasn’t really been on my mind, to be honest. Is that bad? But all kidding aside, I do hope that this next one does take place, and I hope every team is represented at the event. I think it’s a good way for smaller market teams to be represented and for fans of every team to be happy watching the event. As for who I think will represent the Sabres in this scenario, I’m rooting for Dahlin. I think he’s going to have a real bounce-back season playing some heavy minutes, and if he returns to his rookie season form, he would be a great choice to play at the All-Star Game.

Where do you think Donny G will utilize Jeff Skinner? – @johntlammers77

First, I like that nickname for new head coach Don Granato. “Donny G” sounds a lot better to me than “Donny Meatballs.” Second, it’s hard to say. A lot of Sabres fans thought that Jeff Skinner would see an immediate promotion from the fourth line to the top six when Ralph Krueger was fired, but that obviously didn’t happen. Not much else changed for Skinner post-Krueger, other than he finally broke his personal goal streak and looked like the weight of the world was taken off his shoulders. But knowing he can be trusted to play his preferred style of game instead of being forced to play a system he doesn’t gel with could be reason enough to give him more playing time, both at even strength and on special teams.

Jeff Skinner Buffalo Sabres
Jeff Skinner, Buffalo Sabres (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

With Reinhart gone, and Eichel presumably having suited up for his last game with the Sabres as well, I could see Granato leaning on Skinner to help some of the younger players gain the confidence and Hockey IQ it takes to become a lethal scoring threat at the NHL level, and I just hope it translates into a huge bounce-back season for Skinner himself.

Where do you see Jack Quinn fitting in long term? – @holidayrinks

The Sabres are hoping Quinn develops into a goal-scoring top-six winger one day soon, and I think he will get there. It would have been best for his long-term development if he had played in the OHL last season, but that didn’t happen for obvious reasons. He played in the American Hockey League (AHL) with the Rochester Americans instead, and had a pretty good showing – nine points in 15 games – before losing the rest of the season to injury. He looks like he needs a few more seasons to get used to the professional game and strengthen his body, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in the Sabres lineup as soon as toward the end of next season.

Long term, I see Quinn playing on the second line, and finding his wheelhouse on one of the Sabres power play units. He likes the same spot of the ice that Victor Olofsson and Arttu Ruotsaleinen do, so he’ll have some competition. But his right-handed shot will go a long way in making a spot for himself, and if all goes according to plan, we’re looking at a player with 30+ goal-scoring potential every season.

With Devon Levi, Erik Portillo, and UPL in the system, how do you view the Sabres’ future in goal?

– @boehringerm98

Losing Linus Ullmark to the Boston Bruins in free agency was a huge blow to the Sabres’ immediate goaltending depth, but let’s face it: immediate success isn’t what’s important for a team clearly heading into a fresh rebuild. That’s why a Craig Anderson-Aaron Dell duo isn’t the worst thing to happen to this team this summer. And finally, the goalie prospects in the Sabres’ pipeline give reason to be excited for the future.

Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen Team Finland
Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, Team Finland. (Photo by Kevin Hoffman/Getty Images)

Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen is the No. 1 goalie prospect in the system, while Devon Levi snagged the No. 2 spot when he came to the Sabres via the Sam Reinhart trade with the Panthers. That leaves Erik Portillo at No. 3, but all three of these goalies have some modicum of NHL potential, with Luukkonen having starting potential, and Levi and Portillo projecting to be backups in the NHL one day. It’s going to take a few seasons of painful waiting for the Sabres’ goalie of the future, but I really do think that goalie is already in the system. And if he’s not, there’s still a chance to trade Eichel for him, right?

Why do the Sabres keep hosting outdoor games OUTSIDE of Buffalo? – @boehringerm98

Lance Hornby of The Toronto Sun reported a rumor that the Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs could face off in an outdoor matinee game at Tim Horton’s Field in Hamilton, ON, on Mar. 13, 2022 this upcoming season. This would be the third outdoor game that the Sabres have played in, the first being the Winter Classic at then-Ralph Wilson Stadium, home of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills, and the second being at Citi Field in Queens, against the New York Rangers. The Sabres are 0-0-2 in those games, so hopefully the third time would be the charm.

It’s interesting that not only would this game be outside of Buffalo, but the Sabres would actually lose a home game if they indeed went ahead and made this game official. The Sabres and Maple Leafs are already scheduled to play each other at KeyBank Center in Buffalo at 3pm that day, so that would be moved to Hamilton if this game were approved. Not only is it a little unfair to take a home game away from the Sabres, but the game would be moved to Canada, where the Sabres would be surrounded by Leafs fans booing them all game long. Well, maybe it isn’t so different from KeyBank Center, then.

Do you think this game still happens if the border is not fully open? – @dkokkinis12

I have to assume that the only reason this game hasn’t been officially announced is because the NHL is feeling out the situation with border restrictions between the U.S. and Canada. That being said, I do think this game would still get the green light from the NHL and local governments because travel wasn’t inhibited last season in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and with vaccination rates rising in both countries and the NHL having a pretty good grip on COVID protocols at this point, it’s hard to make an excuse for not hosting a game like this. I hope it ultimately is played.

Will alcohol consumption be encouraged in the press box this season? – @Gridironguru99

That would certainly make things more bearable, wouldn’t it?

Have any thoughts on the topics discussed in this Mailbag? Share it down below!

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