Let’s be clear right off the bat - yes, the Eichel injury is awful in its timing and severity, but the Buffalo Sabres season is by no means over. Every team has to learn to deal with injuries, and if the Sabres can’t stay around the .500 mark without Eichel, then they’re probably not ready for the playoffs anyway.
That being said, taking #15 out of the lineup leaves a huge void in the Sabres roster that can’t be filled easily. Let’s take a look at some of the lineup options Dan Bylsma should consider before the team’s home opener tonight.
Move Sam Reinhart to center
The good news here is that the Sabres do have another very talented young player on the roster with plenty of experience at center in Sam Reinhart. Moving him to the pivot alongside Evander Kane means that the team would need another right winger to fill Reinhart’s spot, and the two most likely candidates would be Matt Moulson or Hudson Fasching, assuming Bylsma wants to keep the Foligno-Larsson-Gionta line together.
Moulson is a former top-six player, but it remains to be seen if his offseason re-dedication has given his career new life or not. Fasching made a big push in camp to earn his roster spot, but is he ready for the responsibility that comes with that role, or is he only on the roster until Kyle Okposo returns from injury? Marcus Foligno is also another possibility in this role should Bylsma be willing to break up his third line.
A fourth option at wing would be to promote Alex Nylander or Justin Bailey from Rochester to fill either a second or fourth line role, depending on who slots in with Reinhart. Bailey performed well in his trial last season, while Nylander’s crazy offensive talent could be worth the risk he represents at this point in his career defensively.
Promote Girgensons or Larsson
Zemgus Girgensons was most likely going to center the fourth line, but he could be a candidate to slot in between Kane and Reinhart. He has fulfilled this role for the Sabres in the past, and this could be a good chance for him to start the season strong and prove to the Sabres he’s worth another contract next year.
Johan Larsson could also fill in, but as mentioned previously, that depends on whether Bylsma wants to break up the one line we all figured on coming in to the season.
Do something crazy
Could Derek Grant handle a second line role? Does Reinhart move up to play with Ryan O’Reilly while Okposo is out to create one super-line and then you just hope your other lines break even? Does Tim Murray make some out-of-nowhere trade? Probably not on that last one, but with Murray you never know.
No coach or GM wants to have such a massive change forced upon them the day before the season opener, and the timing here would indicate that the conservative option is more likely.
Were I a betting man, I would think Reinhart slides to center and someone, probably Moulson or Fasching, gets moved up. We’ll find out more today as we count down the hours to the season opener.
Chin up, Sabres fans. Hockey is back in Buffalo!