The Buffalo Sabres are seeking to add secondary scoring to their roster. Ideal candidates have a history of success playing in a bottom six forward or bottom pair defenseman role. Speed and ability to generate offense are musts, power play proficiency is a plus.
All joking aside one of the top priorities this summer for Jason Botterill and the Sabres should be to add some depth to the lineup. For years now the bottom six forwards or the defense, in general, has contributed little offensively.
The club finished last in the NHL in goals this season. This is the third straight season they finished in the bottom third of the league in scoring.
Goals per game on the average jumped up this season to the highest its been since the 2005-06 season at 2.97 goals per game. The Sabres came in way off the league average at 2.43 goals per game.
One of the primary problems in terms of the secondary scoring for the Sabres continues to be the lack of offensive support from the blue line. The defense produced 113 points this year which is good enough for dead last in the league and only 19 goals, which again was was the worst in the NHL.
To make matters worse 36 percent of the points produced and 31 percent of the goals scored by the defense came from one player in Rasmus Ristolaien. In fact, over half of the point production (56 percent) came from Ristolainen and Marco Scandella. The duo also combined for 58 percent of the goal total if you were curious.
Now, adding players like Rasmus Dahlin and Brendan Guhle for a full season will help those numbers. Also, the addition of Lawrence Pilut from Sweden could contribute to some offense coming from the defense.
Nonetheless, you need production from your defense to be successful with how the game is played today.
It doesn’t get much better when you flip to the forwards. The scoring is mainly driven by three players in Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart and Ryan O’Reilly. They scored 37 percent of the goals this season for the Sabres. If you add in the 16 goals by Jason Pominville and 15 by Kyle Okposo, those five generated 53 percent of the goals last season.
The Sabres were tied for the least amount of double-digit goal scorers with only seven players hitting at least 10 goals. They were tied with the Chicago Blackhawks, Dallas Stars, and Ottawa Senators. All of them missing the playoffs.
It’s no secret the offense runs through Eichel in Buffalo. He’s their best player and when he’s not generating offense, the team isn’t winning. They’re not deep enough to be able to compensate for the 21-year-old not producing offense.
In games, Eichel didn’t record a point the Sabres had a .303 winning percentage (10-33). Of course, your best players need to be your best players in order to win a lot of hockey games. A winning record in these games isn’t expected. However, they need to have a better record than that in games where their top goal scorer doesn’t show up on the score sheet.
The Sabres power play is the perfect example of their how much they lack depth. For the majority of the season, the top unit was made up of O’Reilly, Eichel, Ristolainen, Reinhart, and Okposo. That unit combined for 37 of the 46 power play goals scored last season by the Sabres or 80 percent.
Pominville who got some time on the top unit scored five of the remaining nine goals, meaning only four goals with the man advantage came from outside of those six players.
To put it in perspective the Tampa Bay Lightning with the second best power play in the league last season got 55 percent of their power play goals from their top unit of JT Miller, Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman, Alex Killorn and Steven Stamkos.
Enough of how bad the numbers are, let’s focus on how to solve this issue. Botterill needs to look both internally and externally to find help. Bringing up players like CJ Smith, Evan Rodrigues, Justin Bailey, Nick Baptiste, Alex Nylander or Danny O’Regan for a full 82 game season could help.
As well as adding Dahlin to the mix as I mentioned earlier.
He has some options to explore within the organization.
Outside of the organization the Sabres general manager could go the trade route or explore his options in free agency.
A player like Derek Ryan, who I’ve talked about in previous articles is an option as an unrestricted free agent. He can add offense, play in different situations and contribute in the faceoff dot.
Michael Grabner is another free agent option. His speed is his greatest weapon and is coming off a second straight 27 goal season. The issue with Grabner is you have to understand he’s still a bottom six left winger. Don’t let the goal numbers fool you.
He didn’t do that well with the New Jersey Devils after he was traded from the New York Rangers at the trade deadline. He only played in two of the Devils playoff games and was a healthy scratch in the other three.
His possession numbers were not great at even strength with the Rangers this season with a 45.0 Corsi and -2.5 relative Corsi. The numbers were even worse during his time with the Devils.
Brandon Tanev of the Winnipeg Jets is an interesting option for a cheap free agent signing to boost the bottom of the lineup. He’s quick and gets in on the forecheck. Brandon, the brother of Vancouver Canucks defenseman Christopher Tanev, scored eight goals and 18 points in 61 games this season.
The numbers don’t jump out at you with him scoring at .295 points per game pace, but he’s only 26-years-old and has only seen NHL action in parts of two season with the Jets. His possession numbers at even strength are average with a 50.9 Corsi and -0.3 relative Corsi.
He’s making a name for himself in the playoffs currently scoring some big goals for Winnipeg. He’s tied for second on the team in goals with four in 11 postseason games.
Another interesting player in the right role is David Perron. He’s not going to come as cheap as Grabner, Ryan or Tanev coming off of the great season he had with the Vegas Golden Knights.
Like Grabner, he can be successful in the proper role. He had a career year this season as did most of the Golden Knights roster, but don’t let the one big season blind you. Even though he put up 66 points this season, he’s only hit over 50 points once. That was back in the 2013-14 season with the Edmonton Oilers.
Perron has also only scored over 20 goals one time in his career and that was in the 2013-14 season as well. If the price is high then it won’t be worth it for the Sabres to get into a bidding war for the 29-year-old winger.
If you take out this past season he’s a 0.58 points per game player which is a 47.5 points per 82 game pace. The Sabres already employ Okposo to give that kind of offense at a $6 million cap hit.
It may not be likely, but if they could get Perron at the $4-4.75 million cap hit range then I’d be interested.
The Sabres can go a few different routes in improving the secondary scoring and on the roster. The lack of depth on the roster has carried on for a few years now and it’s time for Botterill to begin to fill the glaring need.