After last night's loss in Chicago, the Buffalo Sabres have played 41 games, and sit at the halfway mark of their 2015-16 season. Halfway though is a good time for reviews and projections, so we're going to fire up the ol' calculator, try our best to remember our ninth grade math curriculum and project what each player's stats could look like at the end of the season.
Before we get to the players, let's take a look at the team's record. Buffalo currently sits at 15-22-4, good for 34 points and 29th place in the NHL. This puts them on pace to go 30-44-8 and amass 68 points, which would be an improvement over last season when the team only won 23 games and scored 54 points, but not as much of an improvement as most fans were hoping for.
Where the Sabres are improving by leaps and bounds is in both goal and Corsi differential. Last season, Buffalo was outscored by their opponents by a massive 113 goals. This year, they've only been outscored by 20, putting them on pace to finish with a goal differential of -40, not the greatest number but a nice improvement nonetheless.
The improvement is even greater when looking at the Corsi numbers. According to War on Ice, over 82 games last year the Sabres were out-Corsi'd by an astonishing 2,184 shot attempts, or an average of almost 27 per game. Dan Bylsma and company have turned things around to a shocking degree this season, and the Sabres only have a -73 Corsi differential through 41 games. The end results of wins and losses haven't been much better this season, but the process behind them has improved dramatically.
By adding each players current goals, assists, and points to our projection model (goals, assists, and points per game multiplied by 41) we can project their 82-game stats with some basic math. Of course, this model assumes that everyone will play all 41 games remaining, which won't happen, and that injured players such as Ennis and Deslauriers could play tomorrow, which also isn't true, but it does show the pace each player is on, even for those who have already missed time. All numbers have been rounded up when possible so we all feel a little better.
2015-16 Buffalo Sabres
Compared to last year
Things look significantly better than last season at the top of the points chart. In 2014-15, the Sabres did not have a single player over 50 points - Tyler Ennis led the way with 46 points - but have three projected to do so this season. The team is also on pace to have ten players crack the 20 point plateau, where they only had seven last year. Finally, Buffalo had just one player who played in all 82 games last year, Nic Deslauriers, but seven players currently have the chance to go the distance this season.
The top of the scoring chart is full of pleasant surprises, led by Rasmus Ristolainen's breakout season. Despite just two points in his last eight games, Risto is on pace to break 50 points, a feat only 11 defensemen achieved in the NHL last season. Should he get there, it would be the first time a Sabres defenseman has done so since Garry Galley in the 1995-96 season.
Team leader Ryan O'Reilly is performing above most people's expectations, and is on pace to set new career highs in both goals and points. The two Sabres rookies, Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart, are also having very nice seasons, and a combined projection of 44 goals between the two of them would be a very nice contribution to Buffalo's efforts in their first NHL season.
We are who we thought they were
Players like Jamie McGinn, David Legwand, Nic Deslauriers, Jake McCabe, Cody Franson, Carlo Colaiacovo, Josh Gorges, and Mike Weber are right around where they should be, points-wise. McCabe's goals have been a nice surprise, and Colaiacovo has some good numbers for him despite often being a healthy scratch.
I feel like every season is going to be the Marcus Foligno breakout season, but after yearly totals of 13, 18, 19, and 20 points, 15 this year seems about right.
Unfortunately, the Sabres have a number of very disappointing players this season, and both Tyler Ennis and Matt Moulson need to be at the top of that list. Buffalo's two highest scorers from last season are both projected to finish at least 15 points below their totals from last year. Injuries and usage can be pointed to as reasons why, but with all the offensive talent the Sabres added this offseason, Ennis and Moulson were supposed to be top-six contributors who, at the very worst would come close to last year's totals. Unless they really turn things around in the second half, coming close to last year's totals seems like a pipe dream.
Evander Kane came very close to being in the "Average Season" category, as a projected 19 goals would match his second highest season total, but with the amount of ice time he's getting and the line mates he has compared to seasons past, 19-11-30 has be viewed as a disappointment. He's been snakebitten as of late, ringing just about every other shot off the pipe, so I could certainly see him finishing with better numbers if his luck turns around, but until we see it on the ice, it hasn't happened.
Despite the success of Eichel, Reinhart, and Ristolainen, a number of other young players haven't lived up to expectations this year. Zemgus Girgensons, Johan Larsson, and Mark Pysyk were supposed to be contributors this year, but all three have all been absent on the score sheet far too often. Each brings other good qualities to the team, but in terms of pure points, the Sabres need more from this trio. Zach Bogosian also is a bit underrepresented on the scoreboard, and while Brian Gionta is getting slower every year, 25 projected points would be his lowest total since 2012.
The Sabres have a few really good young players but too many disappointments.
Let us know what you think of the team at the halfway mark, or if any of those projections jump out at you in the comments.