The regular season has come and gone. We have had more than a few days of somber reflection, where opinions on players were locked into stone for the upcoming offseason.
With that being said, it is our turn jump into the fray and switch the monthly review into a “season in review”.
It is easy to be negative, which is something many Buffalo sports have come to live and learn.
Why not start with the players who have not been so good?
Right off the top, Phil Housley’s seemingly favorite forward – Vladimir Sobotka.
In a season where expectations were somewhat high for Sobotka, mostly in part because he came over in the Ryan O’Reilly deal, the results were just not there.
Sobotka put together a less-than-impressive 13 points (five goals, eight assists) in 69 games.
Looking at Sobotka’s Corsi-for percentage, he was worst on the Sabres at 44.1%, among players who played more than 16 games.
To further that, his 67.5% defensive zone starts put him fourth on the entire team.
A bad possession player taking a large amount of defensive zone faceoffs – what could go wrong?
The struggles were most certainly exacerbated by Phil Housley’s insistence to use Sobotka so much, but it most certainly felt like the player could not get out of his own way on most nights.
Next on the list is everyone’s favorite defenseman, Rasmus Ristolainen.
Not all is bad with Ristolainen, that is for sure.
For the fourth straight season, Ristolainen tallied at least 41 points and ended up only two points shy of tying a career-high 45 points.
When it comes to defensive zone play though, people start grabbing for the Tums bottle to control the heartburn before it gets too bad.
We have witnessed boneheaded decisions made by Ristolainen in the defensive zone.
One of his greatest hits was in full effect this season – following through with a hit to crush an opposing player, all the while pulling himself off the play and allowing a scoring chance to go the other way.
It feels like we saw this happen at least once a week and, frankly, it has gotten old.
Only Marco Scandella had worse Corsi statistics than Ristolainen. That in itself poses a different problem for a different time, but in a nutshell, when your “No. 1 defenseman” is pumping out a 47.8% Corsi-for, you are going to have a bad time.
The next Sabres head coach needs to figure out quick whether or not he believes Ristolainen is part of the solution, but as we have seen already, Ristolainen’s time in Buffalo could quickly be drawing to a close.
For how much the bad players regressed, the Sabres’ best players improved immensely this season.
Front and center is Jack Eichel and why not?
Eichel took the captaincy and ran with it this season. It was heavily noted that Eichel matured and developed over the season, even with the team’s endless struggles.
In 77 games this season, Eichel recorded career-highs in goals (28), assists (54) and points (82).
The sky continues to be the limit for Buffalo’s franchise player.
Another reason Jack Eichel had a career-year? Jeff Skinner.
What a contract year for Jeff Skinner. In 82 games, Skinner recorded a career-high 40 goals and tied his career-high in points (63).
The chemistry between Skinner and Eichel is something of a beauty as well. For most of the season, it felt like Skinner always knew where Eichel was on the ice and vice versa.
Skinner did everything he could to maximize his next contract that will be coming any time between now and July.
Last, but not least, is budding star Sam Reinhart.
For the fourth straight season, Reinhart’s numbers were better than the previous season.
His point total increased by 15 - 50 in the 2017-18 compared to 65 in 2018-19 - and Reinhart continued to show expedited growth on the right wing.
One of the biggest steps forward for Reinhart was his development in being able to be the leader on his own line, all while positively pushing the pace of play.
If Buffalo is able to go into next season with Skinner/Eichel on the top line and Reinhart leading the second line from the right side, the Sabres will have a few big spots filled in.